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Several days ago, I interviewed a candidate as part of a team for a Info Sec. analyst position. I myself work in IT Audit. One of the questions I asked was:

If management were to express disagreement or reluctance with a concern you raised, tell me how you would handle such a conflict?

I have always been a fan of the situational interview style, as I believe one's past behavior is a strong predictor of one's future behavior in similar circumstances.Today I received some feedback that this question came across as "Aggressive" and a bit strong.

Was this question indeed too aggressive?

How could I have worded it better for interviewing future candidates?

  • Is this the first time you ask this question to a candidate ? – Sheldonator Jun 16 '16 at 23:05
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    It's something of a no-win question... – keshlam Jun 16 '16 at 23:25
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    It's a perfectly reasonable question, though the behavioral style would be to rephrase it as "Tell me about a time when you raised a concern, but management disagreed. How did you work to find consensus?" – Alan Shutko Jun 16 '16 at 23:48
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    Personally, I find this question to be reasonable, especially if it's your interview style to be somewhat direct, efficient, and to-the-point. It's similar in register to asking, "What's one of your weaknesses?", which gets asked a lot. – LCW Jun 17 '16 at 0:22
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    This question is vague. I wouldn't say it was aggressive, unless you're currently in a disagreement with management yourself and your frustration was currently bleeding into the interview. In which case, it may actually be a good idea to narrow the scope of the question to an actual example the person has actually experienced like Alan Shutko is suggesting. – Stephan Branczyk Jun 17 '16 at 6:15
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If you are interested in their past performance you could ask more directly:

Can you tell me of a time where you had a concern and raised it to management and management expressed disagreement or reluctance? What did you do?

If you are interviewing a person who already worked as an Info Sec. analyst, they should be able to come up with a past situation and tell you what they did.

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It's a leading question, unsure what you expect to achieve with it. I'd just answer "No idea, it would depend on the particular situation."

So yes, it's a bit aggressive because it doesn't have a clear answer.

When asking questions in interviews it's best to structure them with a clear goal in mind, not to pose them in order to practice psychoanalysis on the interviewee, because interviews are stressful situations for some, any data you think you gained on them is suspect. In real life they might act totally different. And most people would be digging to work out what answer you wanted to hear rather than what they would actually do anyway.

  • If what they said is fabricated, upon hire and they meet a similar situation which is very likely given the job duties, their true colors would most likely be revealed, no? Why I said past behavior as a predictor... – Anthony Jun 17 '16 at 1:02
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    It's a bit late then though I would think, you already hired them based partly on the fabrication. You think you can use it as grounds for dismissal or something? I prefer more solid questions in an interview. – Kilisi Jun 17 '16 at 3:35
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    so could I, and I'd take each answer with a grain of salt, that's not my point, – Kilisi Jun 17 '16 at 9:01
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    as an interviewer I have gained little, as the interviewee I have basically just been told that if I do get the job I can expect conflict. When interviewing it's important to remember that you're making a first impression as well, the interviewee doesn't know anything about the background except what you tell them in a brief period. – Kilisi Jun 17 '16 at 9:08
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    @Anthony, The situation described in the question doesn't have enough detail. You can use a behavioral style in a situation question by describing a real incident in detail that actually occurred in your workplace and then assessing the candidate's response . – teego1967 Jun 17 '16 at 10:09
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I think it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask, and answering this could reveal many important aspect of candidate's personality.

To me it looks good, at least on paper. But how the other person perceives the questions depends upon many other factors as well, like the tone of voice, body language and other subtle messages communicated sub consciously. You can always introspect and ask for more details on feedback as what exactly made it look like aggressive, and what can be improved and taken care of.

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    Not only will the answer reveal at lot about the candidate to the interviewer, the fact that it was asked will reveal things about the company to the candidate. – Blrfl Jun 20 '16 at 12:14
  • "this could reveal many important aspect of candidate's personality." - what kind of personality aspects do you imagine would be revealed that could help make a hiring decision? – WorkerDrone Jun 20 '16 at 16:49
  • @WorkerDrone - For example, how candidate approaches towards situation of conflicts, what mode he chooses to communicate or convince team mates, is he open enough to have an ear for neutral opinion, he feel offended when being rejected, or take this positively, etc etc. are a few, and based on the actual discussion, context and more complementary, these could be very helpful, specially for gauging EQ of candidate. And yes such question alone should NOT decide hiring decisions. Thanks. – Yogi Jun 20 '16 at 17:08
  • @Yogi - "And yes such question alone should NOT decide hiring decisions." Then why would you ask them during an interview? – WorkerDrone Jun 20 '16 at 17:28
  • @WorkerDrone - Because it could be important As with all interviews we do not reject or select a candidate based on a single question. We ask them many relevant questions, and evaluate candidate overall. And like so intelligence and maturity of interviewer is very important. – Yogi Jun 21 '16 at 4:28
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Was this question indeed too aggressive?

How could I have worded it better for interviewing future candidates?

Talk to HR (or whoever expressed that your question was "too aggressive" and "strong"). Learn when they want you to do and not do during interviews.

It doesn't matter if you are a fan of a particular question or style of questions. And it doesn't matter if people on the interwebs think it was too aggressive or not aggressive enough.

The interview isn't about your preferences - it's about the company and finding a good employee.

Learn what the company considers appropriate, then do what they want you to do.

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From an interviewee's point of view:

I'm not sure this question would reveal much. There are some questions where the candidate has probably learned an answer off by heart after getting some job-seeking advice, and one of them is how to handle conflict in the workplace. I am sure if you asked this, you'd get their standard "conflict" answer.

Some answers have suggested asking that the candidate provides an example of when it happened, but I'm not sure this would be much better. They will still be simply telling you what they think you want to hear.

Some people will never have had this situation, or have had it but the management was able to assure them that there was nothing to worry about. If they say "that's never happened to me", they will be afraid of how you will judge them, as people giving job-seeking advice have told them that it's not good to be without an example. So now you have no way of knowing are they just making up or exaggerating an example?

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I don't think it is a fair question because most companies, teams, managers have some guidelines on how to go about this kind of thing. Some are written and unwritten.

I've worked at places where it was acceptable to pound your fist on the table until you get everyone to hear your point of view. Never give in. Never surrender. At other places, you'd be fired for doing that, so you just agree all the time. So how does my past experience help you when I answer this question?

You learn to wait and see how these debates are handled. People like to think they're upfront about this, "I don't want any 'yes' men on my team." except every time someone disagrees, they get yelled at without an rational reason why from management.

People have different temperaments and this question may let you know when someone tends to do, but there can be a lot of variability in different settings and circumstances.

It's difficult to tell people you prefer a certain type of behavior because they'll just alter their answer in hopes of getting the job. You can try it and see if you can tell who is bluffing or not, but that's pretty difficult most of the time.

If getting along with the team is so important, they should spend as much time as possible with job candidates. Hopefully, you can find the answer without asking the question. If someone thinks the question is too aggressive, they may not be a fit for your team either. I like being upfront, so aggressive would not be how I would describe this question.

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