how to respond to “tell me about a time when…” interview questions when you don’t have good examples

A reader writes:

I recently went in for a second round of interviews at a foundation I’d love to work for. (They told me it was between me and one other person.) I met with the CEO, who was relaxed and told me “we’re just going to have a conversation,” which we did. It went really well and I felt confident I was in good stead — though he was not the person in charge of hiring.

Then I met with three women in the department I’d be working in. They sat across the table from me, so that was already intimidating. One very humorless, drippy woman ran the entire interview and asked me about 10 questions, all of the “can you tell me about a time when …” variety. Some of these I know to be prepared for, but most of them were very specific and required me to fit a square peg into a round hole, such as, “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?” Well, I don’t have an example of this! Nor did I have an answer to “Can you tell me about a time where you misjudged a situation and did something wrong and then had to make it right?”

What is the point of these questions? And, frankly, why not give them to me ahead of time so I can think and try to come up with a coherent response? I ended up getting quite flustered, which didn’t make me look good and I even jokingly said I wished I’d had them in advance because I couldn’t think of examples off the top of my head. I am an excellent candidate for the job, but I feel like this tin-eared woman cared more about seeing how I handled her ridiculous questions than how well-qualified I actually am.

I wrote a thank-you note, but haven’t heard back, so I assume they disqualified me based those stupid questions. No, I would not want to work with the humorless woman, but still, I feel somewhat gaslighted by that interview.

“Tell me about a time when…” questions — known as behavioral interview questions — are supposed to be a way to explore real-life occasions when you’re used skills that are important to the job. The idea is to get away from hypotheticals (like “how would you handle it if X happened?”), which are easy to BS your way through, and instead probe into how you’ve really operated.

As an interviewer, there’s some value in hearing someone talk about what they think they’d do in the future or how they’d approach a hypothetical situation. But there’s a lot more value in exploring how they actually have operated in the past, in real situations with real complexities and challenges. Sometimes people can bluff their way through a hypothetical just by using common sense — without it lining up with what they do in real life.

That said, good interviewers are thoughtful about choosing which “tell me about a time when…” questions they ask. These questions should be framed around the biggest must-have’s for the role, and if they’re overly narrow, even strong candidates will struggle to answer them.

For you, on the candidate side, if you don’t have a relevant example you can talk about, it’s okay to say, “I haven’t run into that, but something similar I encountered was…” or “I haven’t run into that, but my thought is to handle it this way…”

If you feel like you’re doing that with a lot of their questions, that could be a flag that you don’t have the sort of experience they’re most interested in. (Or they could just be a bad interviewer.) It’s okay to ask about that — “I’ve noticed you’ve asked a lot of question about times I’ve worked with angry llamas. I really don’t have much experience doing that — is that something it’s important for the person in this role to come in with?”

Also, if you’re seeing a surprising pattern in the questions (like a lot of “tell me about a time when someone screamed at you / was upset with you / you messed up”), you can ask about that too. For example: “I’ve noticed you’ve asked a few questions about people being angry or upset with the person in this role. Is that something that has come up a lot in the past?” Or: “Can you tell me what challenges the person in this role will face in that regard?” You might be learning something significant (and perhaps alarming) about the role, and you want to make sure you’re taking away the correct message.

As for this interview … without knowing more about the job, I don’t know if the questions were ridiculous. They might have been, if those things aren’t major must-have’s for the job! This could have been a terrible interviewer or one with an ax to grind. But the questions also could have been pretty relevant. You’re right that these are exactly the sort of questions that can really help both sides to share in advance, but it’s not outrageous that this employer didn’t; most interviewers don’t do that. It sounds like you had other reasons to be turned off by the experience, but targeted behavioral questions aren’t inherently a special outrage.

{ 535 comments… read them below }

  1. Something Clever*

    The questions were good ones. The first is essentially, how do you resolve problems with a coworker. The second question is about owning up to your mistakes and then fixing them. Don’t tell the interviewer that you have never had a conflict or made a mistake. If you don’t have a dramatic example in your life, it can mean that you handle these issues easily.

    1. CP*

      This is a good point about not needing dramatic examples. When I interviewed for my current job they asked me a behavioral question about breaking bad news to a superior and I struggled to come up with a good example because nothing seemed extreme enough. Eventually I realized that my simple answer of “I send them an email about it” was really what they were looking for.

      1. Parenthetically*

        Yup. A good answer to the first question might be, “I’ve never had that happen, fortunately. There’s going to be conflict on any team but in my experience it can be handled without rancor the vast majority of the time. In one instance, [blah blah work conflict resolution skills].”

        1. PlainJane*

          I admit, I’d be flustered by the question, because I try to de-escalate before anyone gets irate–just get everyone to step back until the temperature goes down. It would certainly leave me feeling like I didn’t have an example. (Except for someone who threw a tantrum and stomped out of a meeting, but what do you say about that? “Yes, I just blinked at my other colleagues for a minute or so, then got back to the subject…”)

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            That’s actually a really good answer to that question. “I find that the key to resolving conflict is to de-escalate before tempers truly get out of control. For example…(insert story about a conflict that could have gone wrong, but you diffused it)”

            1. Working Mom*

              All good stuff here! I would also say that if you were getting a lot of those “how do you react to angry coworkers” questions, and you keep answering that you haven’t ever had a situation get that bad. Then, you counter and ask them (like Alison advised), “it sounds like there could be some challenging situations for this role, as it relates to angry coworkers. Is that something that happens frequently?” – Like Alison said, it’s a good way to gauge if the employer has culture problem. However, if they don’t – it could also be a nice “flag” to the interviewer that they’re asking ridiculous questions. For example, let’s say a normal office/no angry employees/no yelling, etc. But they’re following an interview guide blindly and just asking all the questions on it – when you ask, “Hey does this role get yelled at a lot?” that might be a good trigger to the interviewer to think, “Oh gosh, no! That never happens. It’s just a question on my list.” (To themselves: crap why am I asking these? I almost scared this candidate away!)

          2. Wendy Darling*

            Yeah I’m trying to think of how I dealt with an irate coworker… one time someone got mad at me and I was having an epic bad day so when she yelled at me I yelled back, and it was not my proudest moment and I apologized after lunch? One time a guy got real cranky but we were on a break so I just announced that I was going to go get coffee and de-escalated the situation by straight up leaving the building? And then later we had to fire that guy because he was angry and confrontational with everyone all the time?

            That said I don’t think it’s a bad question, just a question I don’t have a good answer. I don’t think any of the questions the LW mentioned were outrageous and I’m kind of worried by their descriptions of the interviewer (“humorless”? “drippy”? “tin-eared?”) and the interview (how is sitting across a table from you intimidating? What makes you feel “gaslighted” about behavioral interview questions, which are very common and not new?).

            1. Burned Out Supervisor*

              I’ve worked in retail on and off for a long time, and I’m not super great at resolving conflict with extremely angry people, but I usually answer this question by saying “[Example when a customer was unhappy about something and taking it out on me], so I put myself in their shoes and tried to empathize with them. I find that people really just want to let off steam, and if you allow that for a bit, it helps.”

            2. fhqwhgads*

              I do think possibly what makes this question tricky is the word “irate”. I think that’s what gave the OP a little bit of deer-in-headlights, because instead of taking it literally and searching for an example of someone being irate – which I totally buy may never have happened – they could’ve treated the question as dealing with someone who was to any degree “upset” and gone from there. But irate feels like an extra level up that I can see being a bit perplexing in the moment and could throw someone off. Alison’s observations about “what is this telling you about the role” are spot on though. I don’t think I’ve dealt with an irate coworker before – to do this role should I expect that to happen frequently? It’d take me off even trying to answer the question and wondering why these specifics are here in the first place.

              1. Ego Chamber*

                I mean, I would be thrown off by the word “coworker” honestly. I’ve worked in call centers and retail and a few other high-stress environments and none of them ever set the expectation that it was okay for coworkers to behave that way. (Customers, yeah, every goddamn day, but a coworker being “irate” to the point of having to be talked down by another coworker would get a write-up for sure and might be looking at a PIP if the behavior happened more than like once.)

                1. Ego Chamber*

                  Nevermind I looked back at the letter and the question was “a time when you worked with someone who …” That could be coworkers, clients, customers, anyone. I still don’t like the idea that people being “irate” is common enough that they have to screen for it, but if it was a job where you’re routinely giving people information they don’t want to hear, that could be a reasonable question.

                2. Ace in the Hole*

                  I agree. I’ve had coworkers be upset by my decisions, or be grumpy from having a bad day and allow too much of their frustration to come out on their coworkers. But irate? To me that means screaming, fuming, fist-shaking, red-in-the-face angry.

                  My solution for dealing with an IRATE colleague would be to do whatever seemed best to ensure safety in the moment, then report that behavior to their manager and/or HR. And I would probably refuse to work with them.

                  Mind you, I’ve dealt with irate customers before plenty of times. I’m actually darned good at de-escalation. But talking down an irate coworker is not part of my job and I will not allow it to become part of my job ever, period, end of story.

      2. Leela*

        This well-illustrates why interviewers should usually be a little more transparent with what they’re looking for. A lot of interviewers will ask X but mean Y secretly, and assume that the answer to X can just be applied to Y but the candidate didn’t know exactly what they were answering and might have given you a better answer if you’d asked clearly.

        1. JSPA*

          Understanding the broader applicability of such a question can be a secondary skill that’s being tested. Not because there’s only one good answer, but because there are a number of bad ones.

          What do you say if you’re generally cheerful and focused, but crap at parsing other people’s emotions?

          If you’re in a role where making those connections isn’t a significant part of the job, it may well be fine to say,

          “I’m so focused on my own work and my generally-happy internal landscape that other people’s emotions sort of roll right off. I do consciously pay attention to cues when people bring up topics that are naturally sensitive, so I’m not annoyingly upbeat if someone’s stressed. Drama almost never forms around me. I don’t insert myself into conflict resolution or sharing bad news in person, because I know that’s not my forté. A coworker once told me our workplace ‘ran on drama and factionalism,’ and I was so confused, because I truly hadn’t noticed it. If I were not happy with a situation, I’d deal with it in terms of establishing shared goals. If I were upset by a tragedy in my private life, I’d probably be extra quiet for a while, or go for a walk.”

          Not everyone has to be the Einstein of perceiving and managing emotion! But you have to convince them that you don’t emotionally stink up the place regularly, then announce that you’re smell-blind, so it’s not your problem, and leave everyone else to clean up after you.

          1. Mookie*

            Utterly agree with this. The manner with which you receive these questions and how you choose to interpret them is part of the process (when it’s done skillfully).

            Judging by the LW’s reactions—which are certainly more candid here, but probably distinguishable in the moment—I’d have reservations. Not just because of the weird, adversarial feeling towards this woman, but by a show of being perplexed by the questions coupled with a lack of imagination about how to best draw on her past to answer them substantively, along with the realization that these questions in their assumptions also invite her to ask more about the role itself.

    2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      I have to disagree. I don’t think I’ve ever angered a coworker to the point where they got ‘irate’.

      The question, as worded, assumes the worst in the candidate.

      1. sacados*

        Agreed, the phrasing of the questions themselves seems really emotionally charged. I do agree that OP’s best bet in the situation would’ve been to interpret the questions that way (“Well I can’t say I’ve ever had a coworker scream in anger and chase me down the hall brandishing a stapler, but here’s an example of when my team lead and I had a disagreement….”) but the wording would make me assume this is the kind of toxic workplace where people frequently yell and rant at others for minor mistakes.

        1. Pants*

          The questions were emotionally charged to see if the applicant is emotionally charged. What they were looking for is someone who said conflict is unavoidable—in some cases welcome—and nothing to get irate about. They wanted to see OP demonstrate that she’s level headed. Her reaction to the questions as “stupid” demonstrate that she’s not who they’re looking for.

          1. Is butter a carb?*

            But it wasn’t the OP who was supposed to have been irate, it was the coworker.
            I love behavioral questions but yes, this one was oddly specific.
            I would have asked if there was a conflict and how it was resolved. That’s different than angering and becoming irate.
            The second one however…that’s pretty common. How do you own your mistakes, how do you resolve issues, solve problems etc is the crux of that one.

          2. Rusty Shackelford*

            Not necessarily. I remember people reporting similar questions here, and realizing later that there were very real and specific reasons why their new employers wanted to know how they’d handle a coworker who screamed in anger and chased them down the hall brandishing a stapler.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              “How would you handle a coworker getting irate at you and chasing you down the hall with a stapler, screaming?”

              “Run for the door and leave. Call HR later about the incident.”

              … and start putting out my resume to escape that job.

              1. Rae*

                I had a boss who threw a stapler. He made these questions easy. Cliff notes…when the DM found out, he was fired.

                1. Wing Leader*

                  Your boss was lucky. There was an episode of Bones where a woman threw a stapler at a coworker, hit her in the head, and killed her. Just sayin’.

            2. JM60*

              I got the impression that she was asking these questions because she is difficult to work with and easily gets irate.

              1. Gazebo Slayer*

                Exactly. And they make me assume that the “drippy,” “humorless,” and “tin-eared” descriptors are actually accurate.

                Run, OP, run.

            3. Avasarala*

              Yes, the problem with asking these kinds of emotionally charged/poorly worded questions is that it sends a message to the candidate.
              “How have you dealt with someone who was angry or upset because of a mistake you made?”
              “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?”

              “Irate” is a strong word. The second sounds like if I make one wrong move someone’s going to be screaming at me. I’d be concerned that this example was too true to life.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I think I’d be saying, “Do people get irate at your office a lot? I’ve never worked anywhere that people got that irate. But I would think that I’d probably handle it by withdrawing a little to get the drama to subside, and then I’d try to go back and sort things out. I’m quite willing to apologize when I’ve been wrong, and even when I haven’t if it moves things forward.”

      2. Van Wilder*

        I don’t think it assumes the worst in the *candidate*. But I agree, the first question is odd. There shouldn’t be yelling in the workplace so a lot of candidates probably wouldn’t have an answer to that question. It could even be a red flag about the job.

        1. Collywood*

          As a lawyer, it’s kinda killing me to write this, but is seems like a lot of folks are getting really twisted up in the details of what a particular word means in a behavioral interview when that’s probably not the point of the question necessarily. I’ve been on interview panels where people are at a loss to describe a situation that they dealt with, maybe because they never encountered it, but usually the best candidates were thoughtful and said something like, I haven’t dealt with that exactly, but here’s an example of how I dealt with ____ (something that seemed like a relevant skill given the question).

      3. Celeste*

        Hmmm, well sometimes in the course of doing the job, a person can get irate when they’re not happy with what is going to be required of them to do, pay, or otherwise accept. I think it’s better phrasing to ask about how you handle people when they get angry over something.

      4. KoiFeeder*

        Yeah, “angered” and “irate” worry me in that first question. The second one just seems like a poorly-worded “tell me about a time you made a mistake and how you handled it,” but that first one is ringing warning bells.

        1. Sparrow*

          This was my thought. A “tell us about a time you had a disagreement with a coworker and how you resolved it” question is standard enough, but this particular version of it reads as extreme. I would find it odd and alarming that they thought *irate* coworkers were normal enough in a workplace that I’d have an anecdote about it. Yikes.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Yep. I’d expect a question about irate *customers* in a retail job, for example. Irate coworkers should be unusual enough that it wouldn’t come up in a job interview.

        2. Curmudgeon in California*

          Yeah, it would be a red flag for me too. Only in customer service/support are you expected to deal with irate people regularly, and they shouldn’t be a coworker.

          1. Junior Assistant Peon*

            It’s still a red flag if a company constantly has customers irate at them. This is a sign of a bad place to work!

            1. SarahKay*

              Umm…after ten years in retail (and hopefully never again!) I really, really don’t think it’s a red flag about the company if customers are irate. Sometimes people want the earth, wrapped up in a red ribbon, with a 50% discount, and will not accept that this is not something that will be available, ever.
              Probably even more so for call centres. My sister spend a year working in a call centre, then moved to become a cell attendant for her local police station. She found the new job far less stressful since not only were her new ‘customers’ generally more polite (at least to her, even if not to the actual police officers), she also had the option to just shut the door and walk away if they weren’t.
              Now if you want to say that retail and call centres are bad sectors to work in – that I won’t disagree with!

              1. Temp anon*

                I worked retail for several years and then in a call center for over a decade, irate people come with the territory, especially in a supervisory role.

                In my experience Dealing with the public, it is apparent that some people are just nasty, on a permanent warpath, or nuts. Add in people who are drunk and/or high and you can get some very nutty and awful behavior.

                They are a minority, but *every* business has irate customers, ones that are poorly run will have more, due to incompetence/creating more problems, but there is no way around it, a fraction of the public is awful. To survive for long in either environment you need to be able to take a lot of crap, let it roll off you, and move on. Many people just cannot do it, at least not well, or for long.

                1. Burned Out Supervisor*

                  I work part-time in retail grocery, and luckily if someone gets too irate with me, I have just apologized and walked away without getting in trouble with management (I work in a fun store). However, I’ve built up a reputation for not being rude to customers, so if I get a complaint, management takes it with a huge grain of salt.

            2. Rae*

              I work at a college. Irate is normal. Even when everything is fine you have students irate they got a B because they are grade grubbing, parents irate their grown kids didn’t sign a FERPA release, professors (usually tenured ones) irate that a law changed.

              I’ve worked for good schools that put students first. I’m lucky in that regard. But people aren’t always rational in their frustrations.

            3. Tisiphone*

              I worked tech support. I was subjected to verbal abuse every day from irate customers. The ones who were merely frustrated weren’t so bad, but there was at least one each day that made me hate that job.

              One of the interview questions for that job was “How do you handle irate customers?”

              My answer was to let them vent and then offer solutions. When someone is yelling at you, if you interrupt them, they will start over and add more.

            4. Ace in the Hole*

              Not necessarily. Some types of jobs just… are this way. Social services and many types of nursing come to mind. The employer can support its personnel and have a great environment in spite of it.

              For example, I work at a garbage dump/recycling center. As a public service it’s very, very difficult to justify banning problem customers. Also, due to the nature of the recycling center, many of our customers are people who have a very hard time abiding by normal social rules (and thus turn to recycling as their sole source of income), or who have issues with addiction and may well be coming to our facility drunk or high as a kite. It’s not unusual to have irate customers. However, most employees are quite satisfied since the pay is good, hours are stable, management is reasonable, we get great benefits, and tons of paid time off.

        3. Acm*

          I’m still curious about the problem of not being able to think of a situation on the spot, and I actually sort of disgree that specificity makes it harder. Some of the most common ones you can prepare for (faced conflict, dealt with an unhappy client, etc), but for new ones, it’s sort of like when someone asks “what was your most embarrassing moment” – these kinds of things tend to flee your memory unless it’s 2 am, especially negative experiences. And the longer it takes for me to try to think of one, the lengthening pause makes it hard to concentrate and recall. In a way, specific questions would be easier to jog your memory.

      5. Veronica Mars*

        Also, its really not my fault if someone becomes “irate” at me. Its not my job to manage people’s emotional outbursts. Basically nothing at work is important enough to raise to the “irate” level. Not even the peeing-in-sink boss. So, this interviewer holds a fundamental belief that its a normal acceptable thing to become “irate” at mistakes and that its the mistake-maker’s fault to manage her emotions? NOooooo thank you.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          It may not be your fault, and it may not be your job to manage it, but people get irate or are difficult and you still have to work with them.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            No? People can be stupid and irrational and manage their emotions with all the fluency of a toddler sometimes and a certain percentage of that is unavoidable in a workplace because even good hiring can’t account for everything, but if “irate” is so common that it’s considered a normal and acceptable reaction that how a candidate responds needs to be screened for, I’m not interested in that job at that workplace.

            I’ve worked at call centers, I did my time in the nightmare hellscape and I’d prefer to not return.

            1. Senor Montoya*

              I’m sorry you took this amiss, I really just meant, that at work we do have to deal with difficult or irate people. Regardless of whose fault it it that they are difficult or irate.

          2. Ace in the Hole*

            No. I don’t work with someone who is irate. I placate them in whatever way necessary and then refuse to work with them unless I am convinced it won’t happen again. No company I’d be willing to work for would think it’s acceptable for people to become irate with their colleagues.

        2. MissGirl*

          If you’re working in a client or customer-based role, it’s inevitable that something you will do will cause someone to be irate at you. Often through no fault of your own. How you handle that and what you learn from it says a lot about you as an employee. If that’s the kind of position the OP is interviewing for, it’s a legit question.

          1. Mimi*

            Yes, this.

            The question was “worked with someone,” not necessarily a coworker explicitly. I ask similar questions in interviews (often phrased more to suggest customer interaction) because I want to know how the candidate handles interactions with an unreasonable client, will they attempt to de-escalate, etc. Even though our clients are mostly great and the extreme examples are rare, those skills transfer to clients who are merely grumpy, too.

            I also ask questions like these to try to get a sense of how well a candidate listens (not in an interview setting, but in their relation of the story) and if their description of what they said and did suggests that they communicate well.

            1. Burned Out Supervisor*

              I ask this question because I want to know how people handle conflict that’s bound to come up eventually. I don’t want to hire someone who handles conflict by never talking to that person again or someone who is going to argue with me about every decision their supervisor makes (both are answers I’ve received).

        3. wittyrepartee*

          Eh, there’s things at some people’s work that’s worth being irate about. Medicine for instance. But yeah- not everyone’s job involves life or death.

          1. Tempanon*

            I had a customer threaten to call the state attorney general’s office over a $1.15 late fee. Someone else started screaming and throwing things because an item was out of stock. Someone else peed on the floor when being told (more than 1/2 hour after closing) that we were shutting down, please go to the register.

            Some people throw enormous fits over surprisingly small things.

            Ah, retail!

        4. Massmatt*

          I think you are placing a higher bar on the definition of “irate” is than many people do, and generalizing the “I’m not responsible for other people’s emotions” to an extreme degree.

          IMO there are times when someone being irate IS your fault. If you slap someone, they are going to be irate, and it isn’t true or helpful to shrug and say “Not my problem”. Ditto if you are careless and your mistakes cost other people time or money, or you are unreliable and inconvenience other people. Or are just rude.

          1. Ego Chamber*

            Isn’t “irate” closer to “furious” than “upset” and generally meant to communicate extreme anger? Or is this site-specific hyperbole like how everyone here used “mortified” every time they’ve done something just slightly embarrassing?

            (I’m not trying to nitpick word use, this definition disconnect seems relevant since I’ve nearly always gotten “How have you dealt with an upset customer or coworker?” at interviews but never been asked about working with someone who was irate.)

            1. sb51*

              To me, irate isn’t necessarily stronger than upset, but upset is more sad/teary and irate is cranky/angry/snippy. Furious is a lot stronger.

              I’d be a little embarrassed to get this question since the one time I was in a situation like this I got defensive and didn’t handle it as well as I’d like to have in the moment.

              1. Ace in the Hole*

                I disagree. “Irate” means extremely angry. Synonyms are furious, enraged, wrathful, outraged, rabid… you may use it differently, but the “extremely angry” definition is very common and it should be expected that many candidates will interpret it that way. I’m not a huge fan of using dictionary definitions in a prescriptive way, but I do think it’s fair to expect that a large proportion of people will understand words to mean something similar to the dictionary definition.

                If they meant a little bit cranky or angry there are other words that mean that. They could have said frustrated, angry, or disgruntled.

            2. Librarian1*

              I actually don’t consider irate to be a super strong word the way others here seem to. I think it’s closer to upset than to furious, but I agree with sb51 that upset is more sad/teary and irate is more angry/snippy.

          2. Artemesia*

            Or if you are selling a defective product or one with confusing instructions and a help desk in a foreign country where they can only answer with canned answers from a manual and not listen and solve the problem — customers being irate may well be the companies business model.

      6. RVA Cat*

        I have to wonder if it’s saying something awful about the manager – unless they’re interviewing to replace the irate person they *fired*.

        1. TootsNYC*

          or it says something significant about the people she’d work with that she hasn’t met.

          I did have an interviewer ask me about working with people who got angry a lot, and I had an answer, which was that I’d done that before, and I just focused on being even and keeping the drama down. That I wasn’t phased by yelling or swearing, but that I didn’t want to work with someone who was -mean.-.

          They specifically mentioned that this was a factor springing from one person on their staff who was very valued, but he could blow up from time to time.

          1. Sparrow*

            Yep, if I were OP I would absolutely be assuming that someone on the team is a volatile jerk most hires find unpleasant to work with. I would definitely be asking some follow-up questions.

        2. J!*

          The focus on those questions really makes me think they’re trying to replace someone awful and don’t want a repeat.

      7. Dust Bunny*

        Seriously. I can think of once incident where I asked a coworker one too many times if she needed help and she *slightly* snapped at me, but it’s hardly something I could turn into a weighty interview question (she came in immediately after, we both apologized, and that was the end of it). And I’ve worked for a guy who we suspect had some legitimate mental health struggles and could be really childish and difficult, but he still wasn’t in the habit of getting irate over stuff. This just has not been a thing at any of my jobs. Or my personal life.

        I mean, they can ask me how I’d handle it but my answer would still have to be hypothetical because I just don’t have an example.

        1. Mary*

          I think I’d count that as irate! I don’t think it has to mean people shouting at each other.

          My team currently has no manager, which means we’re having to figure everything out by consensus, and since there’s no obvious pecking order we’re having quite a few team meeting a where we all get a little gritted-teeth and putting our point a little more forcefully. I’m finding that it’s very easy for that to happen in a meeting with 6-8 people when everyone’s trying to get their point across, and a few times I’ve contacted people directly afterwards one-to-one to check in or understands more about where they are coming from. I got a call from a colleague last week that was very, “aaargh, it’s fine, it’s fine, but I wish you hadn’t sent that without asking me first, can you check in with me next time”.

          I think I’m sometimes a bit overly sensitive to minor changes in people’s demeanour, but all of those have been situations which I would happily describe my coworkers as irate, but that doesn’t mean anyone’s shouted or that we’ve irreparably damaged the working relationship or anything.

          1. Is butter a carb?*

            ‘irate’ means great anger. Really really pissed off so that you are seething and may not be able to control yourself. Snapping or irritation is not this.

            1. Tau*

              Yep, this is such an odd conversation! For me, “irate” is on the same sort of level as “ragingly furious”, “seething” or “livid” in terms of extreme anger… it doesn’t have to mean people shouting, but it’d definitely be the sort of emotion you’re unlikely to contain with just a single outward expression of irritation (also, well beyond anything I’d consider appropriate to experience at work). Apparently this reading is not universal… but OP, if someone asked me to come up with a time a coworker was irate with me, I’d draw a blank too.

            2. Mary*

              I don’t agree! I think someone’s put it really well further down—irate is an emotion, not an action. Some people might be throwing things and shouting when they’re irate, others might be very cold or clipped or whatever.

              When I’m furious at work I ask very precise questions to try and pin the person I’m furious with into a corner. If you know me well, you’ll know I’m furious. If you’re the person I’m furious with, you probably don’t. I’m not not-irate just because I’m professional with it.

              1. WellRed*

                If your coworkers know when you are furious, it might be time to consider why they are so well versed in it.

          2. Senor Montoya*

            That;s an excellent example right there — how do you come to consensus, what do you do when of course people disagree? If you give details, I;m gonna love that answer.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            She was definitely not irate. She was . . . acutely irritated, at most. For about three seconds. It was nothing.

        2. wittyrepartee*

          I had someone throw a temper tantrum that involved turning red and stomping his feet because of a minor error. I think it was while he was starting a new diet, but… yeah that was weird.
          The next day he just seemed ashamed and we ignored that incident.

      8. Jennifer*

        Agreed. She’s asking about a specific situation that seems to has happened at her company. Which is concerning.

      9. bluephone*

        That’s what I was thinking–it sounds like something *bad* went down at that workplace and the interviewers are paranoid about repeating the pattern. It’s also possible that the interviewers are part of that bad energy.
        It’s frustrating to have an interview turn bad, especially when it started out so well, but I’d tell myself it was a bullet dodged. At least that way, you’re not stewing about it.

        1. selena81*

          …I’d tell myself it was a bullet dodged. At least that way, you’re not stewing about it…

          lol, i have to admit that i often do exactly that to feel better about myself. Especially with one-off job-applications for small companies where i won’t run into the company again in the future
          (reaching to find things that were ‘wrong’ to make it less of an ‘they rejected me’ and more of a ‘pfft, like i even want to work for them’)

        2. Artemesia*

          The questions just sound like standard behavioral interview questions to me. I have hired badly with people who can put on a face in my early days and learned how much more powerful both skill tests and behavioral interviews are. If the candidate finds them intimidating it might be because they don’t have the skills needed.

      10. hbc*

        I don’t think it says anything bad about me that I’ve had coworkers irate with me. I have the sales guy who threw a tantrum because an order for his customer wasn’t scheduled, which I had to handle when two of my direct reports call me while I was on vacation. (He was that out of control.) I walked them through how to handle getting the order in, and it turned out he was just being an idiot and the system clearly showed it had been shipped.

        Pretty sure that anecdote has me smelling like a rose, and was a large part in me getting my next job. Not that I love being The Jerk Whisperer, but it’s an unfortunately valuable skill to be able to calmly use logic on raging buffoons to the point that they hardly ever come at me like that again.

      11. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        Same here. We did have a permanently irate coworker, but none of us had angered him to make him irate – he had already come to us like that. Eventually ended up being let go because he was constantly irate at everything and no one could work with him due to that. This is not a normal, everyday reaction in a coworker. What I don’t like about this question is that it has no good answer. Either you say “I don’t have an answer to that”, which makes you look bad, or you admit to having angered a coworker to the point where they got irate, which also makes you look bad. I like Alison’s suggestion to ask the interviewer what prompted this question.

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          You could potentially turn it around and say “I didn’t make this guy irate, but here’s how I handled it,” or “it turns out he hadn’t read my email, so there was no reason for him to be irate in the first place,” or something along those lines. But yeah, “someone you angered” rather than “someone who was angry” is oddly specific.

        2. Le Sigh*

          Not necessarily. LW was interviewing for a foundation, and many of those jobs involve working with clients, board members, donors or partner organizations. There’s opportunity for conflict; usually it’s typical conflict, but you don’t necessarily have to do anything to cause someone to get irate. Irate is a strong word (and maybe the interview made a overly strong word choice), but clients, donors, and board members can be irrational and it can be your job to handle situations diplomatically. If it was a job like that, providing any kind of example of how to de-escalate or manage these situations diplomatically is useful to know.

      12. Ettakit*

        It just said “worked with someone” so I would take that as a customer or something equivalent rather than a co-worker. I work in student services in higher ed, so I’d easily be able to answer these questions and they’re fairly normal in the field because we come across irate customers (students and parents) on a semi-regular basis.

      13. Yorick*

        Yeah, I agree with Alton Brown’s Evil Twin. Also, the question sounds to me like they have a bunch of jerks who scream at people.

        Off the top of my head, I can’t think of a time when I made a coworker angry at all, much less they were irate.

    3. Person from the Resume*

      Eh, I think the first question is specific to the extreme. I haven’t encountered irate co-workers fortunately.

      But the second is just about admitting you made a mistake and how you dealt with, acknowledged, or apologized for it. And the fact that the LW couldn’t think of a single situation where he made a mistake makes me think the LW is someone who denies making any. Honestly that coupled with using such negative language to describe the interviewer makes me think the interviewing company dodged a bullet with him.

        1. Hills to Die on*

          This jumped out at me. If someone doesn’t have a sense of humor, I would be fine with working with that person. Is she so bad because she asked you behavioral questions you weren’t prepared for?

          Also, where I work, there is a list of set questions you must ask and cannot deviate from that list per company policy so as to give a fair interview to everyone. She didn’t necessarily decide the questions just because she was the one reading them off.

          You seem very focused on her for ….sitting there and not joking around? Why was she drippy and tin-eared? I don’t get it.

          1. Allypopx*

            Yeah….I understand the LW viewed this as a negative experience and is probably writing this still a little miffed, but this letter is really jarring and harsh about something pretty benign.

            1. Myrin*

              I agree on all counts. It’s very obvious that this whole experience left OP frustrated and dissatisfied, and I really like the underlying question of the purpose of and dealing with behavioural questions like these, but OP seems emotional and upset about the entire scenario – not to mention that one specific interviewer! – to a degree that I find… unusual, maybe?

              Like, I totally get how unsettling it is to feel put on the spot and to frantically search one’s brain for something, anything to come up with, and I also think that the first question especially was strangely worded, but also… it doesn’t sound that unusual or that out of place?

              I don’t mean this harshly in any way, OP, but the whole letter screams “I flubbed this interview because I didn’t expect it to be held in this style and now I’m looking for ways to make me feel better about the whole experience, which I’ll do by writing them off as ridiculous and ‘tin-eared’.” to me. Which is, to some degree, a very relatable and normal human reaction but I also hope you’ll be able to let it go eventually and not get overly invested in it again and again retroactively.

              1. amcb13*

                I think part of why it stood out was the gender contrast between the CEO, who was described only in positive terms, and the other interviewers, who were described only in negative terms. While I agree that it’s entirely possible that OP encountered one truly lovely man and three truly unpleasant women, I would also encourage OP (regardless of their own gender) to think about the ways in which they process information, questions, and interactions differently with people of different genders.

                1. Daisy*

                  Yes. There’s no obvious reason why ‘that [adjective] woman’ should have to be sexist… but in my experience it’s a phrasing beloved by very sexist people. You rarely hear people use ‘the [adjective] man’ to that extent.

            2. Pilcrow*

              This letter kind of reminded me of the “cheap ass rolls” letter from a few months ago, to be honest. Lots of inflammatory language for the transgression.

              1. iglwif*

                YES. I was trying to think who this LW’s general tone and attitude reminded me of, and it’s that one.

          2. QuinleyThorne*

            I had to look up “tin-eared,” because I’d never heard that before. For others who are as confused as I was, according to wiktionary: “2. (idiomatic) Insensitivity to the nuances of the current situation or the subtleties of a craft; indifference to somebody else’s attitudes and moods.”

            Between that and the “drippy” comment, I’m getting the impression OP tried to be clever and the interviewer wasn’t impressed.

            1. Burned Out Supervisor*

              Don’t ever be funny or clever in an interview. My husband tried it and it fell on extremely deaf ears. He didn’t get the job.

          3. Kiwiii*

            +1 LW seems to Hate this woman and speaks about her negatively multiple times, I wonder if she argued their answers or called them out on something inappropriate they said to make them react so poorly to her.

              1. Kiwiii*

                Sure, maybe, but someone humorless on an interview panel doesn’t usually inspire this sort of response.

          4. Massmatt*

            I agree, the LW seemed to have a big issue with the interviewer. Maybe it started with her just getting rubbed the wrong way, but escalated when she was rattled by the questions. The questions themselves don’t seem terrible to me, though I like Alison’s possible follow up, asking if they have had trouble with irate coworkers in the past, etc.

            1. TootsNYC*

              Those questions, worded that way, DO seem terrible to me. Both of them start from a presumption that the OP has messed up bigtime, and the focus is just weird.

        2. kittymommy*

          What is “drippy” supposed to mean? I’ve seen it referenced before but I honestly have no clue.

            1. TypityTypeType*

              I imagine LW is using it in the sense of a (rather old-fashioned) slang term: “She’s such a drip.” Meaning someone dull or colorless, with minimal-to-zero detectable personality.

              1. KayDeeAye*

                I expect you’re right, and that’s my main thought, too. But my first thought was nasal drip, and while I didn’t really think that was the most likely interpretation, well…

                The OP’s adjectives really rubbed me the wrong way here.

                1. EM*

                  In Australia, at least where I grew up, “drippy” means stupid, but in a particularly gendered way. Teenage girls and young women are called “drippy”, men wouldn’t be – the closest thing I can think of might be dizzy, ditzy or dim.

      1. KRM*

        If I were nervous in an interview though, I may have a hard time thinking of when I “misjudged a situation and had to make it right” vs being asked about a time “you made a mistake and how you went about fixing it”. The first seems so specific and I would likely stumble trying to match my interpretation of those words into something in my life.

        1. Curmudgeon in California*

          See, I could come up with an example for the mistake one – part of becoming senior in my field is making mistakes in ambiguous settings and fixing them. The adage “If you haven’t screwed up prod at least once you haven’t done anything.” holds true. What determines whether you last is whether you admit it and can fix it.

          But “make a coworker irate”??? If a coworker gets irate, it’s their problem. If they act out, I tend to make myself scarce so I don’t compound the issue by getting angry in return. I have a temper, and someone being a nasty, abusive jacka$$ will trigger it, so I avoid the situation.

      2. selena81*

        I get how ‘i cannot really think of a conflict’ makes it seem like you are lying and trying to hide the time that you caused a huge conflict.
        But i swear that is how my brain works: i remember facts (how to link multiple tables in sql with proper use of indexes, in which year my nephew was born, etc), and general rules of conduct (if someone asks if you know where the toilet is they are not looking for the answer ‘yes’).
        But i don’t really memorize, for lack of a better word, feelings or complex chains of social events (‘so then i said… and my manager said…and then we both apologized’)

        1. ShanShan*

          That’s important information about you for the interviewer to know, though.

          If you’re good at technical skills but bad at soft skills (to the point where you don’t even remember situations when you had to use them), then that indicates that you’d be very good at some jobs and terrible at others.

          1. Sparkly Lady*

            Everyone is good at some jobs and terrible at others, but I don’t think being bad at remembering conflicts indicates lack of soft skills. It could indicate the reverse–that a person is so good at defusing situations that they never register as beyond the norm.

          2. Yorick*

            Actually, I think someone who remembers the details of every time they had a conflict might have poor social skills (like they overly obsess about negative things that happen)

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Came here to say this. The derision in the OP’s letter tells me more than the alleged idiocy of the panel’s questions.

      4. Burned Out Supervisor*

        I picked up on this too. I could feel the condescension dripping off this letter to the point I felt bad for the interviewer.

    4. Veronica Mars*

      Really? I had the exact opposite take. I was internally screaming “run away!” the entire time I read this. Why does this woman think that irate screaming is a normal part of life at work, to the point that OP would have direct experience with it?

      If she wanted to know about resolving problems or owning up to mistakes, she would have asked that. Like Alison always says, trust what the interviewers are telling you about themselves. And in this case, they want to know how you’ll handle getting yelled at by them for every little mistake.

      1. ACDC*

        Same! As someone who worked at 2 different places that involved incidents with coworkers screaming at me, I would never pursue a job where it was even hinted that this behavior occurred and was tolerated there too.

      2. Morning Glory*

        Irate doesn’t automatically mean screaming or yelling though, that’s taking the word to its most extreme possibility.

        1. KoiFeeder*

          How would you define irate, then? When I hear or read irate, it’s usually safe to assume that there’s a visible display of anger, such as raised voices, slamming doors, punching or hitting inanimate objects, etc. etc.

          1. Morning Glory*

            I’d define it as very angry. In the workplace it could be a strongly worded email, angry facial expressions combined with a clipped tone of voice, or sending a complaint to the person’s manager.

            1. Veronica Mars*

              But… why is anger something you think is a normal part of a workplace?
              To me the scale goes annoyed->mad->angry->irate (with irate defined as “feeling or characterized by great anger” (and we would only know they were feeling it, if they characterized it to us).
              And at least in my experience, people use “angry” or “annoyed” if they mean angry or annoyed. They use irate when the other two don’t adequately convey the level of emotion.

              I work very hard to remind myself that there’s not much at work worth of tipping into the ‘mad’ category, let along angry or irate.

              1. Morning Glory*

                But… why do you think I said it was normal in the workplace?

                All I said was that it didn’t necessarily mean screaming, because it doesn’t.

                1. Veronica Mars*

                  Well, the intention of my original post was that it’s reasonable to conclude from this question that “irate” is a normal part of this company’s day to day. And if so, it’s a company I would avoid. So whether the technical definition is closer to “screaming” or “visibly angered” its still not really a company I’d want to work for.

                2. Morning Glory*

                  I think our interpretations of why the question was asked are just different, then.

                  I think a lot of behavioral questions are not at all about the day-to-day, but about potentially important situations where the candidate’s behavior could have great impact on the outcome. I don’t think many people make serious mistakes every day, but one of the top behavioral interview questions is about how someone reacted when they realized they made a serious mistake. The last kind of question I answered on this was how I’ve persuaded people who were resistant to an idea or change to try it out. This was not at all part of the daily tasks of the job, but it was something that I would need to be able to do on rare occasions.

                  I don’t think it is necessarily a red flag that the interviewer asked a question about how a candidate would react to a coworker being angry with them! Because it may happen rarely, but if it does occur, then how the candidate reacts could be really important. Some colleagues are great at conflict resolution, trying to understand where the coworker is coming from, and how to move forward in a constructive way. Others escalate and turn a tough situation to work through into a nuclear war.

                  The language choice that the OP used to describe his interviewers was much more of a red flag to me than any of the language the hiring manager used. I think that they dodged a bullet with him, and not the other way around.

              2. Salsa Your Face*

                Any of my experiences that I would classify as “irate” have been with people outside of my organization–customers, consultants, vendors, etc. I think people are a little more inclined to fly off the handle when they’re not interacting with people inside their own workplace.

            1. wendelenn*

              Interesting, because I interpret it as really angry e.g. yelling, blisteringly snide email, etc.

              1. Yorick*

                Honestly, to me, “irate” in an email would have to include something extreme, like cursing or insults. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d know the writer was irate.

            2. LCH*

              a synonym of irate is ballistic.

              so i interpret it as so angry one might be unbalanced, throwing things, screaming.

                1. KayDeeAye*

                  I’m sure it does. In fact, I’m really sure. People sometimes get attached to certain words, sometimes to the extent that they forget about the synonyms. I mean, think about all those kids who get a stern talking-to and later describe it as “He yelled at me.”

                  And I used to work with a woman who invariably used “incensed,” as in “I was incensed.” Almost nothing made her angry or pissed or irate and irritated. Everything was “incensed.”

                  My point is that while most people don’t fixate on a particular word to quite this extent, a LOT of people don’t differentiate as carefully between various synonyms as some of the regulars here at AAM seem to think they do.

                2. Lissa*

                  Yeah, it sounds similar to irritable which could be it. I always think “irate customer” and imagine foot stamping anger, not incandescent rage.

              1. Escapee from Corporate Management*

                I read it as extreme anger. As in “the boss is irate at your mistake, so you had better start mailing out resumes.”

              2. Myrin*

                I mean, it’s the adjective to “ire”, from Latin “ira”, which, at least in the catholic catechism, is one of the seven deadly sins and as such, well, not mild. Of course plenty of words have retained their form while their meanings have changed towards one spectrum or another, but I’d never gotten the feeling that that was the case with “ire”/”irate”.
                (I’ll be taking off my smart-aleck’s glasses now but this is actually a part of my field I’ve spent a lot of time on, albeit not in English, and I get Very Excited whenever I get to talk about stuff like that at least a little.)

                1. Cat*

                  I mean I’m not arguing about the dictionary definition. I’m just saying that if three people in this comments section had a different impression, it’s possible people do too.

                2. Myrin*

                  @Cat, oh, totally, I didn’t mean to argue that in any way! I just like background etymological-ish stuff like that and since this thread was already way off-topic anyway, I thought, why not?

                3. Yorick*

                  @Cat: Maybe whoever wrote the question had a milder emotion in mind, but that still means it’s a poorly-worded question because “irate” objectively doesn’t mean something like mild annoyance.

            3. EnfysNest*

              I’m genuinely surprised to see this much of a disconnect in the comments about how to interpret the word.

              “Irate” to me is at least equal to “furious”, probably even more extreme. To me, it has a connotation of someone so angry that they are edging towards out of control, like moments away from potentially becoming physical. I would never use it for mild annoyance.

              I wonder if the interviewer is one of those who uses it as a mild term and the LW is like me and thinks of it as an ultimate extreme, and that’s part of what threw things off. I’m among those a little thrown off by the attitude with which the LW describes the interviewer, so even if there was a disconnect in the interpretation, I don’t think that’s the only issue at play here, but it might have contributed.

              1. Goodgrief*

                So many comments on how to interpret “irate”! People not sticking to the point makes me irate.

            4. Salsa Your Face*

              I wonder if it’s the similarity to the word “irritated” that’s driving that perception? Irritated and irate are opposite ends of the spectrum to me, despite their similar sounds.

            5. No bees on Typhon*

              Are you maybe getting it confused with “irritated”? Because “irate” is most definitely not a mild emotion.

            6. Hiring Mgr*

              I think it’s because despite the missing “p” it sounds very much like pirate, and although pirates can be dangerous they’re often portrayed as cartoons (Captn Hook) or dashing and handsome (Johnny Depp), so it makes them less scary than a real life pirate might be. But this is speculation only as I’ve never met a pirate in person.

          2. Andytron*

            When I hear irate I think curt, snippy responses and visible displeasure, not yelling and throwing. Irritated and dickish, not violent.

            1. Ann Nonymous*

              Then what word would you use for extreme anger and towards-the-violent-side of expressions of anger? That is what “irate” means; not mildly upset.

              1. Morning Glory*

                Irate is an emotion and not an action, though. The angriest I’ve felt in the workplace – like, the angriest ever – I still didn’t raise my voice or scream or become violent.

                That didn’t mean I wasn’t angry, or that I didn’t have reason to be angry, but it seems really weird to me that people keep assuming these really extreme actions based on a word describing an emotion.

                1. hbc*

                  I agree. I don’t usually go there, but when I’m irate, I’m very still, silent, and very, very physically hot. If I have to talk in that mode, I’m very curt, and I’m pretty sure you can read all over my face that I’m furious.

                2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

                  Agreed. I don’t think of ‘irate’ as being a mild emotion, but I do think of it in terms of a more controlled affect, as opposed to out-of-control ranting and raving.

            2. Mary*

              I wonder if this is a UK/US difference? I’d definitely understand “irate” as someone who was annoyed but controlling themselves, rather than someone giving vent to their anger.

              1. KayDeeAye*

                I don’t think so. (I’m an AmE speaker, and I also don’t consider “irate” as synonymous with “extremely angry.”) I think it’s just an individual interpretation difference. No matter what the dictionary seems to indicate, there truly aren’t clear differences in meaning between “anger” and all of its many synonyms. The difference in meaning is an individual thing, and it depends a lot on things like context and tone of voice.

              2. londonedit*

                I was also wondering if it was a UK/US thing, but it seems not. Irate to me would be more like extremely irritated, like someone who was bristling with irritation but not actually furious and raging. I was surprised to find out that the dictionary definition is ‘extreme anger’ because that’s not how I’ve ever heard it used.

                1. Mary*

                  Yes, exactly.

                  I keep thinking about the Monty Python sperm song: “if one sperm gets wasted, God gets quite irate”–to me that’s definitely that God is like, “I have TOLD you time and time AGAIN–“, and the humour is absolutely about God being in irritated-parent mode, not that God is absolutely raging.

                  (…but the US/UK difference of “quite” is also a minefield, soooo…”

            3. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

              Yep, same. And I’d easily be able to come up with at least one good situation where I had a personality clash with someone that would fit the parameters of the question.

            4. Yorick*

              “Irate” would be, like, burning with anger, even if your response to that is quiet. Even if it’s a quieter reaction and doesn’t involve yelling and throwing things, it would be a pretty inappropriate emotional display at work.

          3. Senor Montoya*

            When I;m irate, I;m somewhat clipped in my answers and I am not smiling. I often get a…tone. So my colleagues know when i’m not a happy camper.

        2. Anja*

          I would agree with you, Morning Glory.

          I’ve been irate at work before. It wasn’t a healthy work situation, admittedly, and I’m no longer there. Someone offended me greatly – in front of other staff. I was irate. It was almost certainly seen clearly on my face. I spun on my heel and left the conversation (no raised voices, no aggressive movements, no loud noises). I spoke to my boss. My boss then spoke to the person who angered me to offended me to clarify that that was not okay. But my yelling at someone would not have improved the situation. The guy who angered me would’ve had an answer to this question without having been faced with any physical or verbal intimidation.

        3. ampersand*

          But why use the word irate if you don’t mean screaming/yelling? Otherwise they could have just said “angry” and it would have gotten the point across. Or: very angry, or annoyed, irritated, etc, if that is what they meant. “Irate” is a special category of angry, and it is not something you want to encounter at work!

          1. KayDeeAye*

            I disagree. Irate is – for me, at least, and I am apparently not alone – a word that means “angry and irritated.” It could involve yelling, but so could angry. I mean, would you be more likely to say someone “screamed angrily” or that someone “screamed irately”? The difference between the two words is really not at all clear.

            1. ampersand*

              This is such an interesting discussion! I had no idea so many people had differing interpretations of this word. Someone else mentioned that maybe it’s regional–maybe so? To me, it’s far beyond irritated. A gnat in your face is irritating. Irate is when you hope the other person isn’t prone to violence.

              I think we need a poll: where people live and how they define irate. :)

              1. KayDeeAye*

                That would be cool and fascinating – but probably not conclusive. :-) I don’t know, of course, but I’d be surprised if there is a significant regional difference. I think it’s just individual. Dictionaries make distinctions between synonyms, and careful writers/speakers will try to follow such distinctions. But the fact is that a lot of people choose a synonym based on how it sounds, and to some people, “irate” just doesn’t sound that angry (maybe because of its similarity to “irritation”?) I found one site that described the “anger scale” like this: “annoyed, then vexed, then irate.” Interesting, but where does “angry” fit then?

                I think it’s contextual, too. For example, an “angry letter” sounds, well, angrier than an “irate letter” – at least to me. People have emotional reactions to words that have little to do with their dictionary meanings. I mention elsewhere in this discussion that I used to work with a woman who was addicted to the word “incensed.” She almost never used anything else, which is a shame considering how many fine and useful synonyms there are for that word.

                So…we have no way of knowing how this particular interviewer rates “irate.” There’s just no way to tell without more context. Her reasoning could be as simple as: “Well, I already used ‘angered’ in the sentence and so I don’t want to use it twice, and ‘irritation’ isn’t strong enough. So I guess I’ll use ‘irate’.” Hey, at least she didn’t go for “enraged”!

      3. AnotherAlison*

        Well, there were 10 questions and that was only one example that was a red flag. The question about a time the interviewee misjudged a situation is pretty common. I think you would have to be pretty inexperienced or not very self aware to not have an example of a time you misjudged a situation. They don’t have to be egregious examples of bad judgement, but it could be as simple as having trusted someone to do the work they were assigned on time without reminders and that person didn’t do it–you misjudged their ability to direct their own work.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          TBH, you can often answer with a pretty spectacular error IF it didn’t happen yesterday, and if you take responsibility, are clear on what you did wrong and how you resolved it, and have specifics about what you have done/continue to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

        2. Just Another Manic Millie*

          “an example of a time you misjudged a situation. They don’t have to be egregious examples of bad judgement, but it could be as simple as having trusted someone to do the work they were assigned on time without reminders and that person didn’t do it–you misjudged their ability to direct their own work.”

          At first, the only time I could remember having misjudged a situation was when I was working at a company where the supervisor was in charge of determining when you were allowed to take a vacation. The company PTB couldn’t have cared less – it was up to the supervisor. My supervisor said that vacation time was allocated according to seniority, because not more than one person in our department was allowed to be on vacation at one time. As I was the newbie, I was on the bottom of the totem pole.

          I stayed at that company for more than eleven years, so eventually I moved up to the top of the totem pole (with the exception of the supervisor). That was when I found out that I had misjudged the situation. He decided that married people had priority over single people, because married people could take a vacation only when their spouse could, but single people could take a vacation anytime. As I was the only single person in the department, I went back to being at the bottom of the totem pole. What I did to make it right was leave the company.

          Another time I misjudged a situation was when I was baited-and-switched into being the receptionist (when I had applied for an admin position where a B.A. and the ability to type at least 80 wpm were required). I was told that Minerva was the only person who could cover for me at the front desk. I misjudged the situation because I inferred that Minerva would cover for me. She did everything she could to avoid it. When I called her, she picked up the phone and said, “Can’t talk now!” and promptly hung up. When she passed by and I asked her to cover for me, she kept on walking. The way I handled the situation was to jump out of my chair, grab her, and scream that I needed her to cover for me. I also told her that I was angry that she always hung up on me whenever I called her. She said that she hung up on me because she thought that I just wanted to chat. She promised to give me a chance to say something in the future. However, in the future, she did not answer her phone one single time in the rest of the five weeks I worked there. I had to take messages for her from clients and her husband because she just would not answer her phone. I don’t know if that counts as making things right.

          One morning, the office manager ran out the door without saying a word to anyone (except maybe the owner, but he didn’t tell us anything). Minerva stayed as far away from me as possible. Finally at noon, four hours after my workday started, she slipped up and I saw her, and I ran over to her and grabbed her and screamed that I had to go to the ladies room. After she came back from lunch, she continued to stay away from me. She knew that I didn’t dare tell the owner that she wouldn’t cover for me, and the office manager wasn’t around, so she figured that she was home free. Luckily, she slipped up a little after 4:00 PM, and I grabbed her and screamed that I needed to go to the ladies room. That was how I tried to make things right.

          When she sat down, I said that she hadn’t covered me so that I could go to lunch. She gave me a sheepish smile that said “Busted!” I told her that I was going to lunch, and since I needed to go to the bank and the drugstore, I wouldn’t be back. Besides, I was entitled to one hour for lunch, so it wasn’t as if I was cheating the company. Then the owner came over. Minerva said, “Millie’s going to lunch and she isn’t coming back!” I agreed and said that I was entitled to one hour. “Oh, okay, you can go,” the owner said, because he didn’t know what else to say.

          The next morning, one of the executives asked me if I could stay late. I said, “No, and I might as well tell you now that tomorrow I’m going to give two weeks notice.” During my last two weeks, Minerva still did not answer her phone even once, but she made sure to cover me for lunch without my asking her to do so. I guess she was afraid that if she didn’t, I might just walk out of the office at 4:00 PM without saying anything to anyone.

          As for trusting someone else to do his work, what happened at another company was that I was supposed to make a list of the supplies we needed, and Fergus was supposed to pick them up. I wrote down a number of items, including Scotch tape. But when Fergus came back and I put away the supplies, I saw that there wasn’t any Scotch tape. I asked him if the store was out of it. He said no, that he didn’t get any, because we had a lot of it. I said that I didn’t know that, and I asked him to show me where it was. After looking for it, he confessed that we didn’t have any. Immediately the office manager went to get some Scotch tape, and upon seeing that we didn’t have any, she screamed at me for not having ordered it. I didn’t manage the situation very well, because I tried and tried to tell her what happened, but she wouldn’t listen and kept screaming.

          Another time at that company, it was Fergus’ job to take the outgoing mail at the end of the day to a mailbox. I was supposed to take it if he didn’t for one reason or another. The mail was kept on the front desk. So one day I saw Fergus pick up the mail and walk out the door. I left the office about one minute later. The next morning, when I walked in the door, I saw all of the mail on the front desk. The office manager immediately ran over and started screaming at me for not taking the mail down. I tried telling her that I had seen Fergus walk out the door with it, but I had to admit that I had no idea how the mail wound up on the front desk. (The mail was left there overnight, instead of someone else taking it to a mailbox, so that they could prove that I had walked out the door and couldn’t be bothered to take out the mail.)

          When Fergus showed up, I said, “I know you took the mail out yesterday, because I saw you do it, but somehow it wound up on the desk. Do you have any idea what happened?” He knew exactly what happened. After walking out the door, instead of taking the elevator downstairs, he walked down the hallway (our office was one of several offices on the floor) until he reached the other door leading into our office, because he wanted to say good-bye to Wakeen. And he left the mail on Wakeen’s desk. Wakeen could have taken the mail down himself, but he didn’t, because it wasn’t his job. So he brought the mail back to the front desk and dumped it there. He could have told someone that Fergus had left it on his desk, but he didn’t. He gave everyone the impression that Fergus had left the mail behind, and even though I was supposed to take the mail out if Fergus didn’t, I just couldn’t be bothered doing so.

          I don’t know if an interviewer would have been satisfied with those stories.

          1. Pilcrow*

            I wouldn’t have been satisfied. That’s a whole lot of “screaming” on all sides and no problem-solving. (Really, I’m sitting here imagining an office entirely populated by Tasmanian devils.)

            1. WellRed*

              I’m guessing (or hoping) this commenter uses the word screaming for all less than pleasant interactions. Otherwise, wow! All that screaming is the bigger issue.

            2. Glitsy Gus*

              Yeah, a lot of these stories come down to “This person wasn’t helping me but I just put up with it until I quit.”

              If your story about the office supplies went more along the lines of “Fergus didn’t think we needed tape so he skipped it even though I had it on the list. When that turned into a misunderstanding between me and the office manager, I created a printable spreadsheet checklist with all the standard supplies so an official “shopping list” could be generated for each run. I emailed this to both Fergus and the Office Manger so there would no longer be any confusion as to what was ordered. If Fergus thought we had something, or if I missed something, he could then ask me about it before he left for the pick up. Otherwise he got everything checked off on the list. After that we had no more miscommunications.” That would show the problem solving skills the interviewer is likely looking for.

            3. Just Another Manic Millie*

              In the first example, where I wound up on the bottom of the totem pole because I was the only unmarried person in the department, I didn’t know what else to do. I couldn’t talk to my grand-boss or great-grand-boss about it, because the rule was that the supervisor was in charge of deciding on his reports’ vacation times. And my supervisor would have been angry at me for going over his head. I tried to let it go, but then I realized that it would be a permanent thing, and until they hired another singleton to work in my department I would always be on the bottom of the totem pole. I decided that leaving the company was a better solution than being a doormat.

              In the second example, I felt that I had no choice but to scream. What happened was that whenever Minerva passed my desk and I needed to go to the ladies room, I would say, “Minerva?” She would stop and look at me. I would then ask her to cover for me for one minute. She would lift her chin and walk away, not saying a word. Anyone who happened to be nearby was always mystified and would ask, “Why is she doing that?” “It’s because she doesn’t want to answer the phone,” I would answer.

              The first time I screamed at her, I told her that it was because when I asked her in a normal voice, she just ignored me and walked away. “That’s not true,” she said. “It’s just that I hear you say my name, and I wait and wait and wait for you to say something else, but you don’t say another word, and I get tired of waiting for you to say something, so I walk away.” I told her that anyone who was in the vicinity always heard me ask her to cover for me, but she insisted that she never heard me say a word. I felt I had no choice but to scream in her face, so that she couldn’t deny that I asked her something. And even though she promised to answer the phone and give me the chance to ask her to cover for me, she never did.

              I consider screaming at her a way of problem-solving, because if I hadn’t screamed, I would have been sitting at that desk all day long (from 8:00 to 5:00) without a bathroom break and goodness knows what would have happened.

              The third and fourth examples happened at what I call The Job From Hell. Very toxic. People screamed all the time. The owner even had a screaming fit when he discovered that someone had thrown out a box that had contained Tetley teabags. He actually went around and asked everyone if they had thrown it out. I said that I hadn’t, because I hadn’t, and he believed me. The next day, the office manager screamed at me for having thrown the box out. She said that Fergus had said that I threw it out. She tended to lie a lot, so I asked Fergus if he had said that. After he admitted it, I asked him why he said it, because, since I hadn’t thrown it out, he hadn’t seen me throw it out. He said that I threw it out because he figured that I threw it out. I told him to tell the office manager that he had made a mistake in accusing me. He refused. I then got in his face and screamed at him until he admitted his mistake. No one said anything to me about my screaming. It was the way things were done there. I solved the problem of working for a toxic company by leaving.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Yeah. Try to pick examples that would satisfy an interviewer. Not everything goes well all the time and most people are aware of that. What you want to do is show where you took a difficult situation and calmed it down. So this type of example is not going to work out.

            New-to -the-workforce me was overly honest. Shoot myself in the foot honest. I thought I had to give the severest example for any question they asked. Then it dawned on me (no Alison back in those days) that all I had to do was show success in some manner. I did not HAVE to relate the ugliest story in my employment history, nor did I have to relate stories that show me as failing. A success story would indicate that I had learned something from any previous failures I may have had.

            1. Just Another Manic Millie*

              I just thought of an example where I calmed things down, but again, it involved screaming. When I worked at a real estate firm, people were very touchy about being given calls that weren’t for them. The problem was that quite often, the caller didn’t know whom he/she wanted to talk to, so he/she made a guess, and the receptionist and I didn’t feel comfortable asking, “Are you SURE you want to talk to that person?”

              One day, Hortense the accountant came running out and screamed at the receptionist, “Why did you give me that call? When I answered the phone, the woman said ‘Hello, Bernice?'” The receptionist tried to tell her, “But the woman said that she wanted to talk to someone in Accounting.” Hortense didn’t hear say that, because she kept screaming and screaming. The receptionist screamed back. So I picked up the call on hold and said, “May I help you? I understand that you want to talk to Bernice in the Accounting Dept. Is that correct?” The woman said yes. I said, “I see. We have an employee named Bernice, but she is not in the Accounting Dept. So would you rather speak to Bernice or to someone in the Accounting Dept.?” The woman said that she wanted to speak to Bernice, and I put her through. This could have been avoided if the woman said that she wanted to talk to Bernice instead of making a guess that Bernice was in the Accounting Dept.

              And there was the time that Mary Ann came out and screamed at the receptionist for having given her a call from someone who wanted her refrigerator fixed. Maria was the one who should have gotten the call. Since the caller couldn’t remember Maria’s name and asked for Mary Ann, it would have been better if she had asked for the person in charge of getting refrigerators fixed.

              And there was the time that a woman asked to speak to the owner. I tried to give him the call, but he wanted me to take a message. When she said that her oven needed repairs, I was horrified, because if the owner had taken that call, he would have been very angry. I asked, “Why did you ask for the owner? He doesn’t handle repairs.” She said, “He’s the only person at the company that I know.” I said, “I wish you had said that you wanted to speak to the person in charge of getting your oven repaired. That’s Maria. In fact, she was standing right here when you called, and if you had said that you wanted to talk to the person in charge of getting your oven repaired, she would have been happy to take your call. But you told me that you wanted to speak to the owner, and while I was trying to connect you to him, Maria left the office. I’ll have her call you when she gets back.”

              I don’t know if those examples would have satisfied an interviewer. I guess I’m just lucky that I was never asked about working with rude or irate co-workers. The worst question I was ever asked was if the interviewer’s company was the only company that I had applied to. I said no. (A friend told me later on that it wasn’t the interviewer’s business. I agreed, but I said that saying so would not have helped me get hired.) He then asked me why I wasn’t chosen for any of the other jobs I had applied to. I was so taken aback that all I could say was “I don’t know.”

              After that, I found out that what I should have said was, “Actually, I don’t know for sure that I haven’t been hired elsewhere. This afternoon/tomorrow morning I have an appointment for a third interview at a company. And while I was waiting for you to interview me, I checked my messages. One company wants me to call their Personnel Dept ASAP, and another company said that they have good news.” I practiced saying this before every future interview, but no interviewer ever asked me again why nobody else wanted me.

              1. Nonnula*

                You… don’t know why these examples wouldn’t satisfy an interviewer? If you told me you solved a problem by screaming, or that all of your problems involve screaming, I would never hire you in a million years.

              2. Pilcrow*

                Screaming aside, only one of your examples shows _you_ in a positive light (sorting out the Bernice situation). For the one with the caller who mixed up the owner and Maria, your explanation to the caller was way too long and condescending to be a good story. The rest of them are a long, rambling complaints about former workplaces or situations where your behavior comes off just as bad* (e.g., Minerva).

                Shorten the stories, take out the “screaming” (call them annoyed or irritated, call yourself assertive or firm), and, most importantly, focus on what _you_ did well. Even if it’s a story about a mistake you made, put some positive spin on it like lessons learned or what you did to solve the problem/prevent it in the future.

                * I realize that Minerva was being a jerk, however, not being able to perform a core function of a receptionist (finding cover) except by screaming does not look good.

          3. Kelly*

            You have GOT to be kidding. You didn’t literally scream at anyone, right? If you did, you are the problem in these situations.

      4. irene adler*

        I’ll agree that this question warrants a red flag. But I’m thinking that they want someone who will not come unglued at such behavior or won’t try to fight back when faced with such behavior. They value the angry person’s abilities over the well-being of the employees (not suggesting that this is a good thing!). They are not gonna try to change the behavior of the angry person either. So they look for folks who can take the outbursts.

        Here’s where I’m coming from:

        Here at my work place, we have a manager who is a bully. He will pull anyone-not just his reports- into his office and chew them out. The premise is that this person did something to anger him and he’s going to exact that pound of flesh. You never know when you did something or what you did that angered him. No hope of predicting this. Sometimes he makes up things and goes on a tirade. I’ve been his victim many, many times. Half the time I’m left with no clue as to what the problem was. Sometimes he likes to bait people, get them upset, then get into a shouting match with them, justifying his actions by claiming the other guy started it. A real piece of work.

        Management tolerates this because he gets the job done. He’s able to get the work production of 8 people from his crew of 4.

        Yes, I have complained. So have others. And I’ve put this into terms of how this adversely affects product. Doesn’t matter. They take his side. Or they say they are helpless to get him to change (“he learned this at his prior company and we can’t change him!”). Or they explain that he cannot be replaced. **eyeroll**

        (Yes, I’m trying to get out of this place. )

        1. Rusty Shackelford*

          If this guy pulls someone he doesn’t manage into his office, to yell at them for something they didn’t do, what happens if they just… turn around and walk out?

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Prolonged upset can raise health care costs for everyone surrounding the angry person.
          But this angry dude sounds like a heart attack looking for a place to happen. (I mean he, himself, would be the patient in a 911 call.)

      5. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘Fortunately I’ve never irritated a colleague to the point of irate voice raising! However, there was a time when a co-worker and I had a difference of opinion about a project we were working on, and we were both very sure of our position…’

        Sometimes interviewers don’t phrase questions well – just like candidates sometimes are their own worst enemies in the interview. It happens. Savvy candidates know how to handle this kind of thing, instead of getting huffy.

    5. The New Wanderer*

      I think it was the specificity of the question that was the issue for the OP – it’s challenging in the moment to think about the question that’s probably really being asked, like how do you handle mistakes or unhappy colleagues. Best strategy is to pause and see if you can reframe it (to fit something you do have as an example) before answering.

      But the specifics come across like, if the OP’s example didn’t include an irate colleague, the interviewer wouldn’t have accepted it as a real answer and might have kept pushing. Just like all the interviewers who don’t like it when employees treat questions about what animal/tree/pizza topping would you be and why as jokes.

      1. Fake Eleanor*

        One thing I started doing during a protracted job search last year was writing down a few unusual situations that highlighted something I had done or how I handled it and having that page open in my notebook to jog my memory. I listed a situation (that I could easily expound on) and next it it wrote all of the types of behavioral Qs that it could be applied to, even tangentially. This helped in two ways: it jogged my memory when I froze on behavioral questions, and it reminded me to work in certain stories that I felt showcased things I wanted to mention about performance and growth in past roles.

    6. Salsa Your Face*

      I had a question about dealing with someone who was angry at my most recent job interview. I gave a bunch of examples of things I did to work with her, resolve her issue, and avoid taking it personally, but when I got to the end of the story and said “eventually I had to bring in my manager” my interviewer lit up. He wanted to know that I knew when when to escalate situations. (And yes, I got the job!)

      1. Senor Montoya*

        Yes, I’m *always* looking for that as part of the answer, unless it is a minor situation. Minor situations are lesser examples, because they don’t give you the opportunity to show that you know when to escalate/ask for help. If all of your answers are minor situations, my concern is either that you don’t have experience with more serious situations (that’s a problem, we need staff who can handle difficult and ambiguous situations), you don’t recognize what a serious situation is, or you;re hiding something. The last option not my go-to, something else needs to be happening in the interview for me to think that. But the other two will give me pause.

      2. ampersand*

        To me, an interview like this reinforces the sense that sometimes interviews feel like quizzes–and there is a right and a wrong answer! I wonder why we don’t just quiz people who are interviewing for jobs (I know some industries do) to see if they give the right answer. I realize there are only best practices and no one, right way exists to interview people, but it really does feel like a game sometimes!

        1. Washi*

          I get what you’re saying, but a quiz would most likely take the form of a hypothetical “what would you do” when the whole premise of behavioral questions is that what people have actually done in certain situations is a better predictor than what they think they would do. (Or what they think the interviewer wants them to want to do!)

          Plus, it’s not so much that there’s a right/wrong as assessing for degree of fit – does the thought process the person describes sound generally like the kind of thing that would fit in on your team? The interviewer’s face probably lit up not because he would only hire someone who said that exact thing, but because as the story was wrapping up, he was probably thinking “if that happened on my team, I hope the person would loop in their manager…oh great, she said that too!”

          1. ampersand*

            Ah, that makes sense–he wasn’t necessarily looking for that exact answer but was glad she arrived at “involve your manager” given the nature of the issue.

            I agree with you–it’s better to ask what someone has done vs. what they think they would do. I feel like people could/would not give honest answers to interview questions when those answers are less than flattering (in other words, they could easily lie if it would make them look better) but what I’ve found is that people can be pretty honest during interviews. They don’t always gloss over bad behavior, handling situations poorly, etc. It’s useful information to have about a candidate–I suppose behavioral questions do work most of the time. For reasons I really can’t pinpoint, I don’t love them, even though I can see how they’re useful.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          We used to have honesty tests. Then we moved to integrity tests.

          The problem with these tests in the past was that they eventually pan out to have biases against protected classes.

          I took an honesty test back in the 80s. I failed. A lot of people do. So I was jobless right before my wedding. (No, not still bothered by that, why do you ask??) It was not long the testing company made newspaper headlines because a court ordered them to stop using the test. The control group was a group of just white males. I never did figure out why I failed the test, except being born female.
          Like dominoes the retail company who used the test in my setting also went out of business for unrelated reasons.

          Fast forward I took an integrity test in the mid 2000s. That was another amazing experience. The test giver informed me that she COULD NOT tell me the results of my own test. Since this was a retail management position, checking back was the norm. So I said, “How do I check back and not appear to be a stalker?”
          She didn’t know. I gave up and moved on.

          I ended up at another branch of the same chain. But they were not doing integrity tests. After a while, they started doing them and NO ONE could pass the test. I mean not one single person. This went on for months and we ran low on help. Finally someone figured out that they had the wrong answer key. wth.

          After reading these tests I realized it IS a game. You aren’t putting down the correct answer, you are putting down the answer they want. Standardized questions or tests bring on a whole new set of problems.

      3. Stormy Weather*

        Yes. Variations of that show up in project management interviews a lot because we might be in charge of a project, but the people on the project team don’t necessarily report to us. Sometimes you gotta.

    7. Senor Montoya*

      Yes, those are good questions, and Alison’s suggestions about how to respond when you don’t have an answer are helpful.

      I will say, though, that not being able to answer some version of “tell me about a time when you made a mistake” is a yellow flag at a minimum. It may indicate an inability to acknowledge error, a lack of accountability, poor judgment, inability to learn and change. If you are otherwise a stellar candidate, it may not knock you out, but for sure we are going to probe hard in those areas when we call your references. If you are not stellar, or there are other weaknesses or areas of concern, you may not be a top candidate, or even be eliminated from consideration.

      We are really alert to that question in particular in the search I am currently running, in part because we have a recent and generally good entry level hire where that was not asked in the interview, and we are having serious problems with them. They won;t say I don’t know, they won’t ask questions about difficult or ambiguous situations, they try to keep from being observed for training and to keep their notes and files away from review (not super overt: sessions get canceled and then never get rescheduled, they get “too busy”, and so on). It’s a bad problem, and I’m one of a team that’s been asked to work with this employee to try to get them on track. If we can’t, a formal PIP is next, and then firing is possible.

    8. Leela*

      I feel like the question
      “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?”
      Could maybe be reworded differently, this is reading quite combative and negative to me, and also like people are more likely to default to telling you about a generally angry, screamy boss they used to have and how you handled it, when what they REALLY want to know is probably more like how you’ve followed up after dropping the ball enough to cause problems for other people. People also tend to try and dodge out of these questions by saying that’s never come up (even though that could totally be true for people!) but that’s also on the interviewer, not making it clear that this question is about following up after conflict, whether or not you were technically at fault, so people tend to answer not knowing what the interviewer will be reading into their answer (which would probably change how they framed it to be more accurate, not just to look better). It is a good question though and it should be answered, but IME a lot of hiring managers don’t ask this well and don’t really probe into the answer, just record it and tick the box that they asked it.

      I’ve had someone answer the question “Tell me about a time you’ve encountered conflict at work, what was it and how did you resolve it?” With “I have never had conflict at work”. I…..doubt it. This person was in their 40s, never once conflict came up, not even with a policy or anything? I really, really doubt it. So we asked “How about conflict outside of work?” And she said that she’d never encountered any there, either. That’s impossible to believe. Eventually we got her as far as “Well….I had conflict once, I had a dog that needed to go outside but I didn’t have a fence.” And she just stopped there and we waited until she’d speak again, and finally we said “so…how did you solve that ‘conflict’?” and she said “I got a fence.” And ended there. I think she was trying to present herself as a conflict-less employee but we really do need to get a feel for how people resolve conflict. Do they escalate when needed? Do they escalate constantly when it’s not needed? Are they able to approach any level of conflict themselves? Do they try to resolve it personally or publicly, do they write an e-mail with a bullet point list and a suggested compromise or walk into their shared office and start reaming the person? Stuff like that is what we’re trying to get at with these questions. I do agree that they’re not always asked in the best way though, a lot of times they’ll ask a question in a very opaque manner and act like your answer can be copied and pasted as the answer to the transparent version of that question but it can’t always be, because the candidate didn’t really knowing what they were supposed to be answering.

    9. Jane of all Trades*

      That’s exactly why I ask these types of questions in an interview. I don’t really care about what conflict you previously encountered, but I do look for somebody to acknowledge some ownership in the conflict. Did they take responsibility? What did they do to resolve the issue? Red flags are stories about how everybody else wronged them, or, frankly, not being able to come up with an answer because we all have encountered conflicts, and hopefully there are some that a person learned from in some way, or took ownership. Also in my profession it’s important to be able to think on your feet – if somebody got very flustered by a relatively easy question I’d worry a little about situations where they have a client on the phone and have to think on their feet.

    10. Burned Out Supervisor*

      “Don’t tell the interviewer that you have never had a conflict or made a mistake.”

      Exactly, you need to have an example, because frankly, if you tell me “Gee, I’ve never made mistakes in my work” I either think you’re totally un-self aware or lying.

    11. Sam*

      Your distilled versions of these questions are good interview questions! But the questions as described in this post are filled with a distracting and counterproductive amount of specificity that is likely to throw plenty of good candidates off track when they have to come up with an answer on the spot. This is bad for both the employer and the candidates.

      I’ve handled plenty of conflict at work, but if you ask me in an interview about a time that I made someone irate, I would be thrown for a loop. I don’t usually process workplace disagreements by using emotional language like that.

    12. SarahTheEntwife*

      The first question would have flustered me a bit since while I’ve had plenty of professional disagreements with coworkers, and even some coworkers that I just plain didn’t get along with, I’ve never had a coworker become overwhelmingly angry at me. (Librarians are not in fact all quiet people, despite the stereotype, but we do seem to trend toward passive aggressive snubbing rather than in-your-face anger when we get mean.) But I’d probably answer with some combination of disagreements with coworkers and times when customers have yelled at me.

  2. JP*

    The example questions that OP quoted sound suspiciously specific. That said, I really don’t love the way OP characterized this individual interviewer.

    1. Parenthetically*

      Agreed on both counts. Sounds to me like they’re trying to screen out a particular personality type. But OP, you’re using language that makes this whole situation really emotionally charged, and I don’t think it’s a helpful way to look at it.

      1. Person from the Resume*

        Yes! That’s what actually struck me most about the LetterWriter. They are using very judgy and negative langue to describe the interviewer and it doesn’t look good on the LW.

      2. Washi*

        Totally agree. I’m guessing the OP is still feeling some residual frustration and embarrassment, and it’s coloring the entire experience in retrospect.

        OP, it sounds like you’re trying to allay the experience of not doing well in an interview by telling yourself the questions are stupid and you don’t want to work there anyway. Honestly, what I’ve found gives me a sense of relief is telling the story to a friend with complete stark honesty in all its brutal cringeworthy glory! Own the fact that you were taken by surprise, that you didn’t know how to answer some clumsily-worded questions, and that the whole thing makes you grumpy just thinking about it. It always feels impossible at first to tell anyone about messing up, but then once I do, it’s like a huge sigh of relief to giggle over it with a friend.

      3. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

        I think they were frustrated. Interviews are stressful in and of themselves. If you do them right, you go through a ton of preparation, stress, and nervousness. It can be disappointing to encounter a weird or less than friendly interviewer at the end of all that. I mean, looking back, I’m glad I didn’t get hired by any interviewer I didn’t like, but it can be frustrating at the time.

    2. Stella70*

      I’ve gotten the “misjudged the situation” question by interviewers at two different companies over the years. My sense was that they were trying to find out how readily I could/would admit I was wrong and how I corrected course.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Yes, that’s exactly what I’m looking for with that question. Everyone makes mistakes, I want to know how the candidate handles the aftermath.

      2. spock*

        Yes, I ask behavioral questions and if someone told me they’d never misjudged anything I’d assume it’s more like that they were lying or not self aware than had truly never misjudged something. I’m more interested in someone that can own mistakes and learn from them then someone who thinks they can do no wrong.

    3. Morning Glory*

      Yeah, agreed. Sounds like it would not have been a good fit on either side, honestly. OP shouldn’t feel too upset about not getting it, but also, the hiring managers definitely made the right call by not going with OP.

    4. JSPA*

      I also had trouble squaring what’s de facto a “never had enough conflict to need to resolve it” with the judgmental characterization of the interviewer and the level of suspicion cast on the (frankly pretty normal) interview situation of three interviewers on one side of a table, and the interviewee on the other. It makes me wonder if some of the letters of recommendation might have raised some flags for the interviewers.

      The other obvious option is that the place is all angry bees, and they plan to yell at whoever takes the job, in which case, problem dodged.

      That said, OP might want to circle back with the references (or take a trip through memory lane) to make sure they don’t come with a warning about drama, language use that stirs stong feelings, not noticing or not take responsibility for workplace tension that they’ve helped to create, etc.

      Could be that OP is only venting pass-ag on the internet (which is as safe a place to do it as any, I guess?) and is not at all standoffish, prickly, or quick to take umbrage in the office itself. But “it’s your job to make sure I find the interview non-challenging” isn’t convincing me that this is 100% true.

      OP, interviews are allowed to unsettle you, or to make you think on your feet, or to include an element of short-term, situational power imbalance. If you think you’d have a personality conflict with a potential boss, it’s 100% legitimate to nope out of the job, but you don’t have to mock their personality or delivery to somehow legitimize that choice. If you easily get to “BEC” stage with people, or get defensive whenever a situation contains an element of power imbalance, that’s a “work on yourself and your reactions” issue.

      1. GrumpyGnome*

        Thank you, you nailed some of what bothered me about this letter. Having 3 people interview you across a table is incredibly normal to me. That’s been the way I’ve been interviewed for the majority of the jobs I’ve gone for, so I’m not sure what the OP expected here. I’m also not thrilled with how the OP categorized the interviewer. Maybe that person really is exactly as described, but it feels more like a situation where this is a bit of retaliation because the interview did not go well.

        My last 3 interviews have been mostly behavioral questions like this, and the 3 I had before were a mix of those and other questions about my background. I admit that it may depend on what field one is in, but in the financial world, this is pretty par for the course. None of those interviewers gave me those questions beforehand either.

        OP – I’d recommend at minimum doing some research about behavioral interview questions. Prep some answers for some of the common ones, that would give you a foundation for future interviews. I’d also really examine the strong negative feelings you’ve portrayed in the letter about the interviewer and questions.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Irate may not have been the best choice of words…but a lot of what was described sounds pretty normal to me too.

      2. Crazy Broke Asian*

        Yep, the characterisation bothered me too. Also, ‘gaslight’? That’s taking a weighty word and using it to a normal situation.

    5. humorless woman*

      Yeah, why the hate for the interviewer? She’s just doing her freakin’ job. Behavioral interview questions are more valid than hypotheticals and open ended questions. And the examples given are pretty straightforward questions.

      1. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

        The issue isn’t that the interviewer used behavioral questions, but weirdly worded ones. One basically assumes/accuses the LW of angering a coworker regardless of whether that happened. It comes off antagonistic. I think the LW dodged a bullet.

        1. Parenthetically*

          “basically assumes/accuses the LW of angering a coworker”

          No it doesn’t. I agree that the question as given was weirdly specific and emotional, but that doesn’t mean it’s a personal accusation (!!!) against a random interviewee — by far the most likely scenario is that they asked this same question to all the candidates — and reading it that way is what’s got LW all het up with the “drippy/tin-eared/gaslighting” nonsense.

          1. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

            I agree the intent isn’t to actively accuse, but wording it like “you made someone angry” isn’t the way to go. I understand that the interviewer probably meant “tell me about a time you handled conflict” or something, but they should have just said that. The LW overreacted as well, but I assume they were professional during the interview, and I definitely think they dodged a bullet.

      2. humorless woman*

        I feel like there’s a focus on the precise words used that doesn’t match with how interviews really happen. Yes, I have a set list of questions that I ask everyone, but I can’t read from a sheet of paper, so sometimes the phrasing ends up slightly different. Even if the phrasing was clumsy that time, it’s still pretty clear what they were really asking about. “I haven’t had a coworker be angry with me, but I have dealt with conflict when…” or even “I just want to make sure I understand what you’re asking, are you saying ___” Interviewers aren’t perfect and they aren’t trying to trick people.

        1. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

          I understand that is what the interviewer implied, but someone choosing to word the question that way would raise an orange, if not red, flag for me. “Tell me about a time when you handled conflict” is a much more common question than “tell me about a time you made someone angry”. The latter would make me go, “WTF?!” Maybe it was a bad fit, but it’s for the best of both the company and the LW that they’re not working there. It’s usually easy for me to tell I won’t be a good fit if the interviewers makes me feel uncomfortable.

    6. LlamaLlama*

      OP’s characterization is all I took from the question and leads me to believe they correctly didn’t hire OP.

  3. Bernice Clifton*

    I think the questions sound way more specific than they actually needed to be which is probably what would have tripped me up, as well. Like the first one could be, “Can you tell me about a time when a colleague disagreed with you and how did you handle it?” and second “Can you tell me about a mistake you made and how did you handle it?”

    1. Marny*

      Same. It might have made more sense to first ask, “Have you ever had an experience of a coworker losing her temper at you?” And then either, “How did you handle that?” or “How do you think is the best way to handle that?” I know for me, I’ve never had a coworker become irate at me (at least, not to my face :)).

    2. Washi*

      Yup! If the interviewer were writing in, I would definitely advise that they re-word the question using your examples.

      I would also say that on the interviewee side, being able to think on your feet enough to get around poorly worded questions is a skill that will serve you well. I think Alison’s advice to talk about something that’s similar is great, and you can always tack on “is that the kind of thing you were looking for?” at the end.

      I know there are interviewers out their who ask gotcha questions and are trying to trip people up, but I think most of the time, a weirdly worded question is just a whiff from someone who maybe doesn’t have a ton of experience interviewing. No need to take it personally, just answer your best guess of what they’re asking and clarify as needed.

    3. JSPA*

      That’s what made me wonder if something came up when they talked to a reference. Like, “I’m not sure they even realized X, but it was difficult for the office, even though not entirely their fault.”

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with this. I love “tell me about a time…” questions, and they are typically the most helpful in determining how good a fit someone is with the job (if you know the attributes that make someone good at the job, anyway). The first one, though, is way too specific, and the second could use a bit of retooling as well.

      The irate coworker question is a red flag, but these sorts of questions, when well-phrased, are not weird or something a good candidate couldn’t answer (or at least use Alison’s haven’t-encountered-that-exactly-but option). I also work in a position where being able to think on your feet is important, so being asked for these questions in advance would be a cue to me that the candidate was not a good fit for the job. These are not trick questions and they don’t require advance preparation – it’s not like being asked to do a presentation or a case study for an interview.

      1. Annony*

        Yeah, that question makes me think that there is someone in that organization that has an anger problem and they are screening for candidates who can handle it.

        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          Yep, that was my read as well, and thank goodness they asked it early so OP knows she dodged a bullet.

          My industry tends to be higher-stress and very direct (no sugarcoating), and I do ask about how a candidate would feel about/deal with working in that sort of environment; however, we’re not into screamers here, and I would want to know if someone was yelling at my team. That’s not the type of place we want to be, and it’s not normal.

        2. a clockwork lemon*

          I work in the same office with, but not on the same team as, someone who’s got some Ish of some sort (not willing to speculate or armchair diagnose) that results in loud outbursts periodically coming from broski’s cube. Nothing he does escalates to the level of firing or anything like that, but it’s extremely annoying and I could see how if someone was hiring for his team (or, honestly, hiring his replacement) they would want to know how a potential hire would react if faced with someone prone to being obnoxious.

          It’s not inherently a red flag that this was a question LW got asked, given that they didn’t give us specifics of what their role might entail. Based on LW’s own language, there also might have been something that happened in the interview that made the interviewer want to know how they’d act in a situation where stress levels were high and tempers were running short. We’re all human, it happens, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anyone’s got an anger issue.

    5. Lana Kane*

      That’s how I phrase my “tell me about” questions as well. In my experience, some candidates can get thrown off by these kinds of questions, so why make them needlessly wordy or charged? Just keep it simple.

      1. Mary*

        I would say you want 2-3 fairly simple ones, and 1-2 slightly more complicated ones, just because you don’t want all of them to be rehearsed. There’s a big benefit in seeing a candidate think through a question and being able to probe for the details you want, partly to make sure the answer is true. They shouldn’t all be at that level of complexity, though.

        But you also need to create the kind of rapport where the candidate feels OK saying, “I’m going to have to think about that one–how about this example? Is that the sort of thing you’re looking for?” And to be able to break down the question if necessary, “Well, this is really about conflict–can you tell me about a conflict you’ve had in the work place and how you resolved it?”

    6. selena81*

      Agreed: it sounds like way too complicated versions of questions like ‘what did you do when you screwed up?’ or ‘what did you do when someone else screwed up?’

      Could be a red flag about specific conflict in their department, or it could just be that the hr-intern went a little wild when told to come up with a list of questions.

    7. darsynia*

      “Can you tell me about a time when you didn’t get the promotion you wanted because a good friend and coworker got the promotion, and they stopped talking to you afterwards??”

      It felt very specific, yeah. The experience seems to have colored LW’s opinion about the entire interview, which makes me glad that they chose to write in. People don’t need to add ‘it’s good that they didn’t hire OP’ in order to comment on the letter, though. That feels mean. If you’re turned off by them, at least they wanted to know how to handle things better next time!

  4. Lady Glitter Sparkles*

    These questions immediately made me think that the place is possible full of yelling, is toxic or has a few easy to anger employees/managers. I would take the specific questions as a peek into the company. Or maybe the person who used to work in this role used to make everyone crazy!

    1. Oh No She Di'int*

      This was my thought. I had an employee who basically did this same thing when interviewing her own potential replacements. She would ask incredibly specific questions that reflected some very specific challenge or situation that she had encountered while in the job. Basically the questions were just versions of “what would you have done if you were me?”

      This sounded like the interviewers way of saying, “The last person in this position couldn’t handle Screaming Dan. Can you?”

      1. EvilQueenRegina*

        My ex boss once created a scenario with a very vague meeting request and the test for that was to say what information they would need to find out before they could arrange the meeting. I took one look at that and immediately knew it was her way of testing how the candidates would react to one particular person who is known for such vague requests!

    2. Lily Rowan*


      When I was interviewing for my current job, I got a zillion behavioral questions, and it seemed like half of them were about working with difficult people. This would have been a red flag, except I was 90% sure they wouldn’t be as difficult as the people at the job I was trying to leave, and I was right!

      1. Lily Rowan*

        And actually, I did make someone irate in that job, but it is obvious to anyone I’ve ever told the story that the other person was ridiculous.

  5. QuinleyThorne*

    “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?”

    This question is suspiciously specific enough that it would raise a red flag for me; it sends the message that the person in the question is someone you’ll have to work closely with.

    You may have dodged a bullet OP.

      1. QuinleyThorne*

        Looking at the question again, it could be that they’re referring to someone outside of the organization, like a customer or a client. In that context the question doesn’t seem as weird since angry customers/clients are a relatively common thing in public-facing organizations. That said, I feel like if that were the case they would’ve just phrased it that way, and it’s unclear how public-facing OP’s role would’ve been.

        1. Anonymous Penguin*

          That’s definitely what I wondered if it was. An awkwardly worded/mis-worded attempt to ask the age old question “How do you deal with angry clients/customers?”

        2. Mary*

          I had almost exactly that question when I got my first academic admin role: “some of our academics still think that our administrators’ role is to do whatever they’re told. We’re trying to change that attitude, but sometimes you’ll have to tell someone much more senior than you and potentially much older than you that they are wrong and that they can’t do that or you can’t do that, and they can get quite forceful and angry. How would you handle that?”

          1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

            Yes, but that makes a lot more sense with context, versus making the interviewer guess what the context is. (Am I going to be yelled at a lot in this role? Do they want me to give in when I’m yelled at? Do they want me to push back when I’m yelled at? Do they want me yelling at others?)

            I used to give a similar question during interviews and staff trainings. We had some staff whose job it was to shut things down when they were not in compliance with safety standards, and of course, lots of people hate being told no and get irate, and furthermore, some of the Managers on Duty didn’t understand how our area worked and would try to override safety standards and threaten to fire staff who enforced them. (Yes, evil bees.) We needed them to navigate this by doing the right thing in the face of being screamed at and threatened, without adding fuel to the fire or panicking that they’re going to lose their job over it.

    1. AnotherAlison*

      The question says “worked with someone”, but I wonder if that can be broadly interpreted to include clients, vendors, etc. I do work with a few managers who have lost their minds with employees, but those seemed to be very specific instances. I’ve worked with more irate clients than coworkers, and I don’t think that would be a crazy example question. I’m sure if you’ve been in customer support or worked in retail, you’ve had many irate customers.

    2. RC Rascal*

      To me, this question is a red flag part of the story. I am wondering if the OP is paraphrasing. If this interview was for a customer service type role, it would be a legitimate question to ask, “Can you tell me about a time when you couldn’t make a customer happy and they became irate. How did you handle it?”

      This kind of situation happens all the time in food service/hospitality, retail, and customer service.

  6. ACDC*

    I think this may be a blessing in disguise that this job didn’t work out. I once had an interview in which the person asked me how sensitive I was, if I was easily offended, etc. She turned out to be an abusive nightmare, and these questions were her way of weeding out “problematic” employees that would quit soon after being hired because “they were too sensitive.”

    1. CW*

      Sounds like she is a narcissistic bully. I had a former boss like that – in fact, 13 people quit in less than a 2 year span under her. Most couldn’t last a month. I lasted a month and a half and the lady I replaced lasted 8 months. We were the longest of the two to last there. Sad, but true.

      But yeah, you dodged a bullet.

    2. Stormy Weather*

      Ouch! I’m sorry that happened to you. Definitely a narcissist, because the problem couldn’t possibly be her.

    3. Leela*

      that’s a well-documented abuse tactic (I didn’t do anything wrong, YOU’RE just too sensitive), I’m glad you got out and I’m amazed that company is keeping her!

  7. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    “Can you tell me about a time when you were on the side of a mountain in rural Oaxaca with a bunch of Mexican forest workers, trying to get them to meet with leaders in sustainability in the US to set up a global effort to certify sustainably produced paper and other forest products?”

    “Why yes, I can.”

    1. mrs__peel*

      I was thinking of Werner Herzog’s “Fitzcarraldo”.

      “Tell us about a time when you transported a 300 ton steamship over a steep mountain in order to start an Amazonian rubber plantation to fund your dream South American opera house”.

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “Well, I learned a lot the first two times I did that, so let me tell you about the third time which was both more challenging and even more successful….”

  8. Helena*

    How does asking these questions constitute gaslighting? Gaslighting is psychological manipulation. These are interview questions that left the OP flustered. Acknowledging it is not on me to tell someone what there experience was or was not (so am *I* gaslighting??)…I also think there is risk in de-valuing words like that.

    1. Fikly*

      I…think that the LW came away from the interview with the CEO that the next interview was more of a formality? And thus they are feeling like they were gaslit when it turned out not to be so?

      Not that they even know that, as they have not been rejected or offered the position as of when the letter was written.

      1. TreenaKravm*

        But that kind of assumption is rather strange, no? Especially if you haven’t had a formal, “real” interview before your interview with the CEO? I assume all informal meetings with super higher ups is just to get their general stamp of approval, but they give that stamp to 3-5+ candidates and then the hiring manager goes from there.

        1. Fikly*

          And yet how many times have we seen people write in here saying “but I thought the job was mine!” when they were one of multiple candidates left?

          It’s a strange, flawed assumption, but it gets made because people desperately want to get hired, and humans have a tendency to delude themselves.

          1. TreenaKravm*

            Oh for sure, just agreeing that the LW was seeing things they wanted to see instead of being rational about what was happening.

    2. Manon*


      Gaslighting is an abuse tactic. It’s meant to make the victim doubt their own mind and position the abuser as logical and in control. I wish people would stop using it to refer to any instance of lying or just plain rude/strange behavior.

      1. posting under a different name today*

        THANK YOU. As someone recently out of an abusive relationship with a person who did this to systematically manipulate me and reduce my self-esteem, it’s frustrating to hear people use the term so casually.

        A person you meet once or general internet troll cannot gaslight.

      2. hbc*

        Yeah, telling kids that Santa exists is more gaslighting than whatever went on in that interview, no matter your opinion on the appropriateness of the questions.

      1. Van Wilder*

        It’s kind of like 1950’s slang to call someone a ‘drip.’ I think it means like a stick-in-the-mud, which I realize is also slang. A un-fun, humorless person.

    1. The New Wanderer*

      I’m guessing humorless with little emotional affect? Or just a generic insult for someone you didn’t form a rapport with.

    2. Valprehension*

      I read it as “she’s such a drip!” as in, kinda outdated slang for a stick-in-the-mud?

      1. MCL*

        I (in the Midwest) have heard it used to describe someone not very intelligent. Though I’d say it’s probably something I’d hear my 67 year old dad say; I don’t hear it a lot among people my age (mid-30s).

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

          West coast parents, this sounds like surfer slang to me and it reminds me of what the folks would say “uncool”. Lacking in the coolness, maaaaan.

  9. Roman*

    And this is why I have trouble with interviews in general and have a dismal rate of success in interviews, I may have ‘ok’ answers to 2-3 behavioral questions, but most interviews ask way more than that and I absolutely get flustered and fumble through interviews. For me, getting the job is 99% of the problem.

    1. bluebonnet*

      Same here. It doesn’t really matter how many times I may have encountered the situation they ask about, and getting the questions in advance doesn’t necessarily help, because my memory is so bad I just don’t remember. Or don’t remember specifics. Post back if you find a solution. :/

      1. Goldenrod*

        What has worked best for me – but you do have to memorize a few examples – is to write a list of general categories. The common ones are “weaknesses/failure,” “teamwork,” “systems of organization,” etc.

        Once you have a few categories, think of specific examples from your past work life and actually write them down. Print the list and carry it with you. Read it over and over.

        If you have 5 or 6 examples from your work life, you should be able to use them for a variety of questions. You should always prepare for “Tell me about yourself” and “why do you want this job?”

        The most helpful book I’ve read by far is Robin Ryan’s “Sixty Seconds and You’re Hired.” She has really great advice on how to prepare for behavioral interviews.

        1. Mill Miker*

          “think of specific examples from your past work life and ”

          This is the part where I struggle every time, even if I have weeks to prepare. I know I’ve been in the situation before, I know it ended well, I know I was proud of myself for how it went, I know what techniques and approaches are available, I know which ones have/haven’t worked for me in the past, and I know how I would approach it in the future. I do not generally know, however, any of the details of the situation, which approach I used, which ones I knew at that time, how long ago it happened, or sometimes even who else was involved.

          1. Pibble*

            Won’t help you with past examples, but maybe keep a notebook to jot down those details in the moment when you’re happy with how you’ve resolved a problem so you’ve got them available for the future?

            1. Mill Miker*

              That’s a good idea, although I have been known to forget the experience of an interaction the moment it’s done (if not sooner), despite knowing a lot about what information was exchanged, and what things were accomplished.

              1. Sparkly Lady*

                Oh my gosh, I thought I was the only one with this problem! I’m very task oriented, so my brain tends not to retain work-related incidences very well. It’s kind of like an issue is solved (or a conflict is resolved) and my brain ticks things off and moves on.

                It’s a huge problem for performance reviews for me as well. Anything that involves summarizing past accomplishments, challenges, or estimating length of time for work is very, very hard. I do try to write things down, but when I’m overworked, I don’t have time (or don’t prioritize the time).

                I’ve been stumbling over interviews because of these behavioral questions recently as well.

          2. KC*

            I don’t think you need to be all that detailed; most of the time, interview responses are only about 1-2 minutes long for this type of question, and you can’t add much context in that period of time. Really, all they want to know is your habits and tendencies. It doesn’t matter if the incident was 3 years ago involving Karen Smith on a teapot delivery project; most likely, you’d deal with similar situations in similar ways anyhow. And given there are people who will proudly state their horrible behaviors in interviews, the goal is to screen out the truly oblivious and awful people!

    2. blackcat*

      Can you practice them?

      There are a few pretty normal ones that you can think about ahead of time and rehearse.

      Or, right after an interview, jot down the questions and practice them for next time.

      1. Roman*

        That’s not really my issue, the issue is a lot behavioral questions asked during interveiws I don’t have a real life professional example I can provide. Like I said, I can maybe answer 2 or 3 sufficiently, but most interviews ask a lot of behavioral questions which I don’t have enough answers for.

        1. irene adler*

          Exactly! That’s what I run into. After the first half-dozen behavioral questions, I get flustered and just cannot find “one more example”.

          I think the record for such questions that I’ve been subjected to was something like two dozen. There were no questions whatsoever about the job skills (lab position). The feedback I got from that interview was that I was not serious about my career in Quality. Demoralizing, to say the least.

        2. Rusty Shackelford*

          As someone who’s been on the other side of those behavioral questions, they don’t always have to be work-related. If I ask you about a time a team member didn’t pull their weight, and your best example is from a situation from a graduate school project, that works for me.

          1. JSPA*

            In a pinch, other real – world situations where you had to maintain a professional demeanor under stress, with people you encounter at least semi-regularly, can also work. Organizing long – standing volunteers or other coordination roles. Community event or activism when the designated organizer didn’t show, stress levels were high, and you played a significant role in reaching an effective, safe and broadly acceptable interim plan of action, and received belated public thanks from the loudest naysayer. Brought a counter – proposal before your city council / county council / coop board / planning commission when they were at a deadlock and both sides were initially exasperated to have another voice speaking up. You launch by saying, “my professional roles have been pretty placid. If the underlying question is about combining effectiveness, professionalism and grace under pressure, what springs to mind is the time when…”

    3. Senor Montoya*

      It really helps to find as many versions of these kinds of questions as you can and to practice answering them. There may be some that are super specific to that employer, but most of them are variations on common topics.

    4. Loves Libraries*

      Me too, I’m a hard worker but I get flustered too in interviews. I work with adults who behave like adults and don’t have lots of examples to give off the cuff.

  10. Van Wilder*

    As an interviewer, I rely on behavioral questions. I tend to choose ones from the list provided by HR that relate most to the biggest weaknesses I’ve observed in people that have worked for me.

    E.g., I’ve had employees that can’t handle competing priorities —> question becomes “Tell me about a time that you had multiple deliverables due at the same time. How did you prioritize?” I’m digging for thought process, ability to juggle, and how they communicated their conflicts to their managers. It doesn’t have to be a complex answer.

    That said, the first question about “irate” people is very odd, unless it was a client-facing position with a population that is known to be angry.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      The only interview question I’ve ever suggested is “tell me about a time when someone convinced you to change your mind” and the only thing I’m looking for is any answer — small, big, whatever, but no answer (“nobody’s ever convinced me to change my mind”) is a big flag. The irate one does seem deeply, worryingly specific though.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I like this one too. Especially around these parts, we have to be flexible in thought processes because omg the horror when that doesn’t happen, yikes.

        I also ask about their ability to adapt to change, since we’re tech adjacent and evolve. I have worked with people before that if you upgraded anything or tweaked any process it sent them into a tailspin of doom. We cannot have that mentality or our product will die.

      2. Van Wilder*

        I like this one. Especially for experienced hires coming from a different background (where their expertise may not line up exactly with this job.)

        1. pamela voorhees*

          I’m glad you guys like it! It’s proved really insightful for us — you’d be stunned how many people confidently say “oh, I don’t change my mind once I make a decision” and are really proud of that. My only caveat would be that we used it for pretty high level folks, since it’s sort of a difficult question for entry level applicants (“well, I get told to do something, and then I have to do it, because they’re my boss.”) Hope it gets good answers for you!

    2. Lucia Pacciola*

      I tend to use them as fairly straightforward shibboleths. There’s certain experiences anyone in my field can reasonably be expected to have, if they’ve been around long enough. If you’ve been in IT systems administration for a few years, you’ll have at least one story that answers the question, “tell me about a time you accidentally crashed a production server.”

      If you don’t, then either you don’t have the kind of experience I’m looking for, or you’re not thinking about your work experience in the way that I’m looking for.

      If your story includes how the accident happened, how bad the impact was, how you recovered, and what steps you took to prevent it happening again, you’ve passed half the interview right there. (The other half is just telling me that Google is one of your go-to technical resources.)

  11. TiaTeapot*

    I think those are bad ways of wording good questions (and wonder whether they think the employee they’re replacing was a candidate for anger-management therapy). The first is about how you handle interpersonal conflict in the workplace, the second is about how you handle having been wrong.
    Still, I’d be put off by the implication that I had *of course* angered coworkers to the point where ‘irate’ was accurate (I’ve done retail customer service, so ofc have handled ‘irate’, but. Not the same). And while everyone misjudges, makes errors based on that misjudgement, and then has to fix things, the tone I get here is less ‘how do you resolve error’ and seems much more… judgemental.

  12. HelloHello*

    The first one does seem worryingly specific, and would make me question if people regularly got yelled at in the role I was applying for. That said, it could probably best be handled by saying “I’ve never had anyone yell at me! But here’s how I handled a situation where someone was in a bad mood/difficult to work with/very exacting with their demands/etc.” (And then do some digging to see if this was a job that involved getting yelled at a lot and nope out of the place if so….)

    The second question seems perfectly reasonable, though. I can’t imagine anyone hasn’t, at some point in their work life, done something incorrectly, and it would be odd to me if a candidate couldn’t think of or wouldn’t admit to a time where they had to correct course.

    1. KRM*

      I just think there’s a pretty big interpretation gap between “tell me about a mistake you made and how you fixed it” and “tell me about a time you misjudged a situation and corrected it”. In the first one I can tell you how I failed to take a metric into account when interpreting data, and had to go back and reanalyze and send it to the team. But I wouldn’t use that for the second question because I don’t feel that what I did was a misjudgment. It was a mistake! I make mistakes! I’m human! But misjudgment seems so loaded as a word, I would have a hard time with it.

      1. Bee*

        I think the reason for this is because a “mistake” might be as simple as entering a number in the wrong box, whereas they’re looking for something that you had to genuinely learn from, not just…double-check your work.

        1. Filosofickle*

          Right, I’d give a much better answer to “misjudged” than “mistake”. Mistake is like you said, not double-checking. Singular, discrete things. Misjudging leads me to much more interesting stories about process and mindset. My story would be the time I misread a client and delivered work they absolutely hated — you might say it made them irate! — and then I had to regroup, regain their trust, and deliver something they loved. I could talk about what I do differently now to avoid this. (We thought they wanted a safe and conservative solution, but they wanted something big and brave.)

    2. iglwif*

      Yeah, that’s how I would approach it too. I actually have had someone literally yell at me, but that was one time in one really amazingly unhealthy team situation; OTOH, I have dealt with a wide range of people who couldn’t have what they wanted and were mad about it over email, and that’s where I’d be likely to focus my answer: how I reacted, how I went about calming down, how I responded to them and calmed *them* down, what compromise solution we ultimately reached. Situations when it made sense for me to escalate to my boss; situations when, later on, a direct report escalated something to me and what I did about it.

      And that’s the kind of thing I’d be looking for from a candidate, too–I would not word the question that way, because it’s weirdly specific, but I’ve done writing and editing for long enough to know that many, many people write bad interview and survey questions just because they … are not very good writers, not because they have some malicious intent or are incompetent in other ways.

      And the second question IS entirely reasonable. IMO, if you don’t think you’ve ever misjudged a work situation, there’s a work situation somewhere in your past that you don’t realize you misjudged. When I ask a question like that, I want to know what you learned from the experience and also how you handled yourself in the immediate “OH CRAP” discovery period at the time.

      1. iglwif*

        Posted too soon!

        ETA: I would like to know, for example, that when someone went over your work with you the first time you did a new task and asked you–professionally and politely–to please re-do it correctly, your reaction was not to tell your supervisor you were upset and were going home for the rest of the day.

  13. so many questions*

    As someone who is not neurotypical, I have a lot of problems lying. I can’t just make up situations to fit the behavioral questions the way everyone tells me I should. I just think “well, that’s never happened” and I don’t know what to say. I also don’t really want to bring that up, because in general it doesn’t affect my work in any way.

    I hate behavioral questions with a burning passion. I know they’ve kept me from jobs.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      Can you maybe suggest alternative examples, and ask if they want to hear those instead? Something like “Well, I’ve never had anyone become irate and yell at me — but I have dealt with unhappy customers before. I could tell you about how I handled someone crying?” which no, isn’t the same, but might be close enough to what they’re asking?

      1. Allypopx*

        This is what I’d suggest. And I know that’s probably SUPER hard for someone who’s not neurotypical to correct a question in the moment. Maybe you can practice a list of answers that relate to buzzwords in questions – this is my dealing with a angry person scenario, this is my dealing with a crisis scenario, etc?

      1. Allypopx*

        I read it more as “as a non-neurotypical person, it’s harder for me to slant a question into something more accessible to me if I don’t have a straightforward answer to the exact question asked”, which would make sense.

        But yes don’t actually falsify information!

      2. so many questions*

        When I’ve told friends and co-workers that I had real issues with this, they have told me they always just make up answers to these if they don’t have an incident that fits, that they just create one.

        I’ve tried just saying I don’t have the specific experience, but I think I’d handle it (however), and they always seem disappointed and as though I haven’t answered them well. They want an actual time when a co-worker was yelling at me, even if that’s never happened.

        I try to practice but they can always throw me with creating a weird circumstance I’ve never experienced. The last interview I did, I was asked to “tell me about a time when you called out someone in your personal life on their racism”.

        I really think behavioral questions kind of suck. Or maybe they’re being used badly, but either way, they are a barrier for me.

      3. Koala dreams*

        I took that to mean the part of your advice that referred to coming up with a similar question, and then answering it. It takes imagination to come up with a general situation that not only is similar to the original question, but also fits with your experience.

        “I haven’t run into that, but something similar I encountered was…”

    2. Washi*

      Do you mean that when you are advised to pivot and talk about something related but not quite the same, that feels like lying? Because that’s definitely just good interview technique! It is hard though. What helps me is to re-word the question in my mind in simpler language, like “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?” becomes “what’s a time when someone was mad at you?” And that helps me switch gears to a related example.

    3. ThatGirl*

      I don’t think you need to make things up, but as others have alluded to, it’s helpful to think about what they’re really asking – interviewers want to know how you handle mistakes, or conflicts with coworkers, or other common workplace situations. If it’s something that hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s OK to say “well, I haven’t encountered that situation, but most likely if it did happen I would ____”

      The last time I was job-searching, I wrote out a bunch of answers to behavioral questions in a notebook and practiced a lot of them out loud. It helped me feel more confident. Think about the broader implications instead of the specifics.

  14. Ptarmigan*

    A major bank asked me in an interview to describe a time that I had to present results that might offend other people (they made it clear that they meant for gender/race/protected class reasons). That was a very hard one to answer. The best I could come up with was a time that I had to represent federal (traditionally green), state (traditionally blue), private (traditionally yellow), and Ute tribal (?? color) ownership on a map and wanted to choose a color that wouldn’t be offensive so that the map wouldn’t cause problems in a public meeting. But spelling out what that actually meant in terms of colors felt offensive itself as I answered.

    1. Brett*

      That’s actually a great answer btw, but that’s coming from someone who knows how unbelievable difficult it can be to choose color scales for maps, especially when multiple stakeholders are involved in interpreting the map.

      1. Ptarmigan*

        Part of what made it a not-great answer (from my perspective) is that it was from a different industry (not banking/finance) and involved a totally different type of work (GIS, lease analysis, etc.) than the job I was applying for.

        1. Senor Montoya*

          No, not a problem if it’s from a different industry and type of work. The question isn’t getting at type of work, it’s getting at your soft skills so to speak. Your example is perfect.

          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Hard agree. Thinking your answer has to relate to *this job* is too rigid. If I’m a good interviewer, I’m not asking how you avoid offending bankers. I’m asking how you avoid offending *people.*

        2. Brett*

          Many of the best behavioral interview answers I have heard have come from different industries, or even from school and volunteer work.

    2. Hey Karma, Over Here*

      That sounds like the best anyone could come up with. That is an excellent example, I think more because it goes deeper than most examples other people have. I bet other people’s examples would be telling a group of stakeholders in a company that their materials are not diverse, or that their campaign is offensive because [reasons] Your example is much more abstract. You can’t tell someone one, I know you hate green because you come from a blue state, so how about this, but not that cuz you will offend these people. I have no details from you and I’m already fascinated.

    3. Allypopx*

      Ooh tricky. I worked somewhere that was ADA exempt and didn’t have an elevator…got lots of complaints I had to handle. That’s all I could come up with. I really like your answer!

  15. Fikly*

    Here’s the thing. If your takeaway is “these are stupid questions, I shouldn’t have to answer them” you are going to keep yourself from many many jobs, regardless of your qualifications.

    It doesn’t really matter if these types of questions are effective or not. They are quite popular and common these days, and if you want to get past interviews to a job offer, you need to learn to play that game, and focusing on how stupid the questions are will not help you learn how to deal with answering them.

    It’s like on competition shows, when there’s a challenge and some of the competitors aren’t familiar with a particular technique needed. The ones who go “I don’t know how to do that, I’m going to fail” or “that’s a silly technique, I shouldn’t have to use it” are inevitibly the ones who end up going home. The ones who go “wow, I haven’t done this before, let’s figure out how to do it” end up staying 9 times out of 10.

    1. Nom de Plume*

      I agree. The contempt for the interviewer in this letter comes through loud and clear for me. I’d wager that you didn’t hide your contempt and they’d why you didn’t get a call back; not because you didn’t come up with a slick-enough response to their “stupid” questions

  16. Goldenrod*

    I had a very similar experience. And I had prepared a TON of examples of my behavior in past situations and was very ready for behavioral questions. But one interviewer asked me a way too-specific question about a situation that would never come up for someone with my jobs – it was “tell me about a time when you persuaded a group of people to do something a different way.”

    As an admin assistant, I am virtually never in the situation of persuading a group of people of anything! I’m not a decision maker in that way. I had to say, “I have never been in that situation” and instead shared a time when I persuaded the executive I supported to do something a different way.

    The interviewer seemed miffed that I didn’t have an example for her specific question – but I honestly think she was just trying to be clever by coming up with an unusual question. I don’t think the situation was particularly relevant to the job I was applying to either. Also, Alison’s suggestion was good – in retrospect, I could have asked, “Is this the kind of thing that comes up a lot in this job, and if so, how?”

    Next time!

    1. J!*

      Our admins are constantly trying to get us to do things differently than they’ve “always been done.” Fill out a form when you need office supplies don’t just come up to me when I’m in the middle of something. We’re moving to a new phone system, can you help me test it and make sure your voicemail is working. Please use slack for XYZ instead of sending me a million emails. Etc.

  17. Quill*

    The irate one and the mistake one seem to me like they are VERY SPECIFICALLY looking for someone who isn’t like the previous person in the role.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      It makes me think they are VERY SPECIFICALLY looking for somebody who will absorb a lot of abuse at the hands of an employee that they aren’t bothering to manage properly.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Or warning of the situation due to high turnover in the role and exiting people citing that’s an issue *face palm*

  18. Clementine*

    I advise job-seekers to think through these sorts of questions in advance, and even write out scenarios from their past work experience. Also, if your work experience is limited, you can look at volunteer organizations and school situations. It’s okay to slightly rephrase the question if you are clear about doing so. “I have not had to deal with an irate colleague, fortunately. Once, my colleague and I had a serious misunderstanding and blah, blah, blah, and … I had to deal with the fallout very quickly by doing X, Y, and Z. I apologized to her, and after that, we made sure that all tasks were written down with assignees in Q program.” (In this case, the colleague could have gotten irate, so the problem-solving is the same regardless.)

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      “I advise job-seekers to think through these sorts of questions in advance, and even write out scenarios from their past work experience. ”

      In fact, I’m pretty sure Allison’s interview guide that you get when you sign up for her newsletter covers a lot of these kinds of questions, which is super helpful.

  19. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    Ah the old “oddly specific scenario” interview questions. Always a red flag!

    For example the one about how to deal with a colleague who is upset with you and becomes ‘irate’ – most likely due to an actual specific personality you would have to work with if you had the job… could you deal with them? Maybe it’s yes, maybe you even thrive on a lot of conflict or whatever but you’d probably want to ‘probe’ about those situations with the interviewer for your own insight.

    1. Filosofickle*

      The only time I can think of having an irate coworker is when a boss spoke angrily to someone else in my department. I handled that by later going to his office and telling him, quietly and calmly, that yelling isn’t ok and I’d walk if he did that to me. He never did. (And, actually, I don’t think I ever saw him do it again.) I wonder how this answer would go over?!

    2. Senor Montoya*

      Or perhaps the interviewer asked a badly worded question. My go-to response with oddly or badly worded questions is not House of Bees! (although I keep that as a possibility, I’m alert for buzzing in other questions). I try to figure out what category of question it is: dealing with conflict, interpersonal relationships, taking responsibility, prioritizing, whatever. And answer accordingly.

  20. Indy Dem*

    My sample questions when I’m next part of an interview panel:

    Can you tell me about a time you’re boss has sent you to a funeral to deliver work to the deceased’s family member?

    Can you tell me about a time where you boss/co-workers has eaten your lunch out of the company fridge?

    Where do you stand on heating fish in a company microwave?

    Can you tell me about a time where you’ve had ducks at your company? No, no, I mean actual ducks.

    1. Quill*


      Can you tell me about a time when an office prank war got out of hand?
      Can you give examples of how you’ve handled bosses who want you to drive 8 hours on top of an 8 hour workday or camp in national parks when attending a conference?

      1. Stormy Weather*

        I can tell you about the time everyone brought in Nerf guns and had constant wars.

        I didn’t want to spend the money on a Nerf gun, so I collected the ammo and traded it back for chocolate.

    2. Well Then*

      Can you tell me about a time when your boss dumped pee on top of the dishes in the office’s kitchen sink?

    3. Jennifer*

      How would you handle it if the office freezer was filled with 35 cuts of meat from an unknown source?

      Have you ever lied about a client meeting so you could go home and nap?

      How would you handle it if one of your direct reports was hoarding breakfast burritos in his desk drawers?

      1. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

        “How would you react to offering to bring in delicious Hawaiian rolls for a company-wide potluck and then someone else brings in cheap-ass rolls as a sort of slap in your face?”

        1. Jennifer*

          “I’d put those 35 cuts of meat on the grill, slice up all the rolls and make me a good ol’ sammich.”

    4. bluephone*

      “How would you handle it if your supervisor asked you and 20 other randos to shop for, cook, and serve a dinner for 40 people who pull in 6-figure salaries, on 3 hours’ notice? Out of your own pocket? And the venue is 90 minutes away and you have to get yourself there? And no you won’t be fed or reimbursed in any way? And it’s for a charity so OF COURSE you can’t complain?”

      1. RC Rascal*

        Follow up question: How will you handle it if said exercise ruins your only interview suit and you have another interview scheduled for later in the week, with an organization that isn’t crazy? What will you do???

    5. irene adler*

      If the head of HR’s boob became frozen to a metal railing, how would you separate her from the railing?

        1. Elizabeth Proctor*

          Every time I read CHEAP ASS ROLLS I get a smile on my face and sometimes actually laugh out loud at the memory of that.

    6. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

      Can you tell me about a time when your boss taped your mouth shut for an entire meeting because you had the audacity to have a bad idea when you were asked to come up with ideas?

    7. Plush Penguin*

      Tell me about a time you denied giving an employee their birthday off, on the basis that their birthday is February 29th and that day did not occur in the calendar year.

      1. Faith*

        Hey, it just occurred to me that if that employee is still there (god I hope they’re not), they will actually get their birthday off with no grousing from that LW.

    8. Pretzelgirl*

      Can you tell me about a time, where your mean office manager wouldn’t move, so you bit him? What was the result?

    9. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Tell me about a time your boss taped your mouth shut because you spewed a bad idea during a morning standup.

    10. EvilQueenRegina*

      How would you handle black magic in the office?

      Tell me about a time you had to justify not donating your liver.

  21. blackcat*

    So I agree with the everyone who says that the word “Irate” is a red flag, but I’m in academia, and I’ve always been asked something about dealing with difficult personalities or similar. Unfortunately this is just par for the course in some areas. And even when it’s not phrased as tell me about a time when, I do try to use anecdotes.

    I’ve also answered some questions along the lines of, well X happened, I did Y, but in retrospect, Z would have been better, and here is a broader lesson I learned.

    1. Goldenrod*

      This is true. Almost every interviewer will ask a question about conflict, and how you handled it.

  22. CoffeeforLife*

    Google had my back on “tin-eared;” another meaning is inability to appreciate the nuances of language.

  23. CheeryO*

    Hm, those sound very similar to questions that I had when I interviewed for my current job (state government). They ask them because they can reveal important information. For example, we work with the public, so it’s important that someone is able to empathize with a complainant and express complicated technical information in a way that’s easy for a layperson to understand.

    If you’re getting flustered, I wonder if you’re overthinking things a bit? The example doesn’t have to be perfect, and there might be more than one right answer. For me, they were mostly looking for a thoughtful answer that wasn’t, “I’d hang up on them/yell back/recite the regulations verbatim without any additional explanation or context,” because there ARE people in our job who do those things, unfortunately.

    1. CheeryO*

      Also, I definitely answered a few of them with hypotheticals since I had limited working experience, and I still got the job. Just one data point.

  24. Funbud*

    I gotta stick up for the LW. If the one interviewer asked 10 questions, all of the “Tell me about a time when…” variety, I would be inclined to think she’s a lousy interviewer. I could see one, maybe two of these type questions, but 10? I hate those questions myself but the “tell me about when you made a mistake” is a pretty common question and I can see the value in assessing how the candidate answers.

    I think the LW’s emotional tone here was colored by how much she wanted the job and admired the employer and this interview experience was disappointing.

    1. 867-5309*

      Lousy interview? Sure. Difficult person? Maybe.

      But that doesn’t explain the complete onset of ire from OP. Perhaps they were sensing some hostility or other undercurrent of a bad attitude and were trying to dig into that.

      1. Mel_05*

        Well, the LW is angry now, thinking back on the situation and writing about it.

        I’ve often been calm in the moment, but gotten angrier and angrier about a sitting the more I thought about it later.

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I think we should remember that lots of folks email Alison in the heat of their feelings [we’ve seen OP’s pop up and admit that it was like the day of the interview!]

    2. Brett*

      Understand that behavioral interviewers are often tasked with evaluating the candidate behaviorally on 4 or 5 different measures, without taking into account their technical skills.

      As the interviewer in that situation, you do not want to end up evaluating an entire measure based solely on one answer, so you ask 2 targeted questions per measure and look for some overlap between answers as well.

    3. Fikly*

      If that was your only interview, you would probably have a point. This seems to have been at least interview #3, at which point it is entirely reasonable to have an interview focused on one area/skill type.

      Also, it is increasingly common these days for the actual interviewer to have no control over the questions being asked, so to assume that the questions are a reflection of the interviewer is also an indication that the LW doesn’t have a good understanding of current interview norms.

    4. Senor Montoya*

      At the interviews I’m leading, we ask about a dozen questions, of which 8 or 9 are behavioral-based or something similar. Some of them are specific to the functions of the job (Llama Grooming, Teapot Painting) and some are more soft skills type of the kind the OP mentions. I like to think we are doing a good job interviewing. We’re definitely getting good info with those questions. The hiring officer thinks we’re giving them good candidates to choose from.

  25. Ms Fieryworth*

    As an interviewer I like to give context as to why I’m asking a question like this, it seems less random that way.

    For an admin role I might say: One of the duties of this role includes answering the phones. We often get calls from people who are trying to find information on X company (name is really similar to ours). We always provide the phone number to X company, but sometimes the caller will get upset or frustrated. Have you dealt with a situation like that where you have someone upset about something you can’t actually fix? How did you handle it?

    1. Allypopx*

      Yep, I try to do this too. Or write scenarios instead, that are highly relevant to the job. “A volunteer says something dated and potentially offensive, how would you respond?” for example.

    2. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

      I’ve only ever done one round of interviews as the interviewer, but when I asked behavioral questions, I did the same thing. “Sometimes we have clients who are angry at court outcomes or upset that we can’t represent them. How would you handle this situation?” “We often have clients who repeatedly go back to the same abuser and require legal help over and over again for years. How would you deal with that?” (The guy who ended up getting the job answered that question with something along the lines of, “Of course I’d help them, but I’d probably be frustrated in private” – which was very truthful and honestly fit in with the culture of the office.)

    3. Sparkly Lady*

      I like that a lot. I think that phrasing is very helpful for people like me (and probably the OP) who take the questions very, very literally. I was asked a very specific scenario twice in a set of interviews for a job (with two different interviewers), and it was a situation that I had honestly never been in. It never occurred to me to re-frame it with a similar type of situation or to answer in a hypothetical. (I did ask the second time whether this was a situation that commonly occurred in the workplace environment, and I was told no.)

  26. 867-5309*

    OP, I would encourage you to think about the anger you have toward this interviewer: Sure, you were caught of guard and didn’t like the questions, and arguable one of the two you provided as an example was concerning, but the massive insults being thrown to the interviewer in your letter seem unnecessary.

    “One very humorless, drippy woman ran the entire interview…” “Tin-eared.”

    They might be the ones who dodged a bullet.

      1. Morning Glory*

        Yeah, honestly that was so off-putting it really took away any sympathy I may have had for the OP. Whether it was sexist or not (I lean toward yes), it reeks of bitterness and unreasonable expectations of the interview process.

        Also, in what world would the interviewers not sit across from him? That’s how interviews work, and it’s courteous to the interviewee because it allows him to address all of three of them at once in a natural way without whipping his head back and forth.

      2. Maya Elena*

        Not everything negative + said about a woman == sexist. I’ve interviewed with one or two people like this, and meet others in other contexts: who stonewalled, weren’t friendly, my greetings and small talk fell flat, had a look under their face like you disgusted them…. And they were disproportionately women, though I’ve had shitty antisocial behavior from men too; it’s just usually a bit different.

        1. LTL*

          It’s the language OP uses to characterize the interviewer that reads as sexist. As mentioned elsewhere in the comments, it’s rare for someone to refer to “the humorless man”. When men are called out for anti-social behavior, their gender isn’t specified. Along with the other adjectives the LW used (“drippy”), the description as a whole just seems… genderized.

    1. SimplyTheBest*

      I mean…some people suck. Some people are humorless and insensitive. I don’t think there’s a really an issue saying so.

      1. 867-5309*

        Insensitive is a very different turn of phrase.

        I just think some of these frustrations might have spilled into the interview, which made them concerned.

  27. Senor Montoya*

    “very humorless, drippy woman ran the entire interview and asked me about 10 questions:”

    I’m that drippy woman running your interview, asking you a number of questions like that. And asking pointed follow up questions, too. I’m not humorless, but like many people running a search I’m professional and straightforward in manner, and it is in both your and our best interest to get down to business and keep focused on the point of our meeting, which is the interview. I am pleasant and I will smile at times during our encounter (mostly at the beginning, when we’re still doing pleasantries, and at the end when we’re answering your questions), but most of the time I’m listening intently to your answers and taking notes. I’m not policing my face.

    That probably sounds defensive, but my point is, your description is concerning: if you see the folks on the search committee as drippy and humorless, we’re going to pick up on that. One of the things we’re looking for is soft skills, can you get along with others, will you fit comfortably with our team.

    1. Allypopx*

      YES this is super important. It’s not just about the words you use to answer a question. If I’m interviewing I am spending the whole time assessing attitude and culture fit. How do you handle it when you can’t think of an answer? How do you interact with different personalities? How do you act under pressure? If you’re nervous, what does that look like? Are you confident, smug, demure, quick on your feet, easily flustered, personable? None of these things are make-or-break on their own, but together they definitely have more of an influence on my decision that how good well prepared you were to share your strengths and weaknesses.

    2. Lana Kane*

      I know for a fact that behaving in a professional way has made some people think I’m humorless or a snob or whatever “drippy” means. I’m polite, I’m relaxed, but I also keep things business-like. My job as an interviewer isn’t just to ask questions, I also need to interpret them, keep an eye on how people present themselves, and be prepared to ask appropriate follow up questions. I’m looking at body language, communication skills, how the person interacts….It’s a lot, and I take it seriously. And I will guarantee that even in a panel interview, I’ll at least be asking 10 questions!

    3. Jennifer*

      “One of the things we’re looking for is soft skills, can you get along with others, will you fit comfortably with our team.”

      The interviewee is looking for the same thing. If the OP’s assessment was that this woman was humorless and cold and therefore not someone they wanted to work with, their opinion is just as valid. Maybe the interviewer and the OP were just looking for different things.

      1. Allypopx*

        I guess. But OP got along well with CEO and there’s no real commentary on the other women in the panel. I can see exposing interviewees to a variety of personalities to gauge their performance – and no one gets along with everyone. Plus the foundation itself the OP is very excited about.

        I’d find it strange if this one offputting person was really a dealbreaker, given how emotionally invested the LW sounds, but if so then yes they are certainly entitled to that perspective.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        Sure, that’s completely legit. OP may not want to work with someone like me, that’s not a problem at all.

        My concern is that in the context of the whole letter, the OP seemed pretty upset about very typical interview situations: panel interview, behavioral based questions, lots of questions, not conversational (= different from the encounter with the CEO), one person running the show, questions were difficult and/or challenging, plus the wording was, I guess, dismissive? taking it personally? I;m not trying to whack the OP for individual words, but rather the entire description gave me a vibe.

        I wondered if the OP were new to the work world, or had not ever had to interview or interview in this way . Don’t know, of course.

          1. Senor Montoya*

            No worries, I didn’t take it personally — your point is a good one, the candidate should be evaluating fit just as much as the employer.

      3. SimplyTheBest*

        Thank you for saying this, because it’s absolutely true. I have 100% turned down jobs because of cold and humorless hiring managers.

    4. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I actually make myself come across as reserved/humorless because people don’t expect a frigging court jester to give them an interview usually! So yeah…funny how in this situation, that’s viewed as a bad thing.

      I mean I’m not stonefaced or anything but I’m pretty buttoned up. Whereas most would say that I’m not that drippy on a regular day. I’m in “This is business mode”, just like if I’m making a business deal of other magnitudes, I don’t yuck it up much. Because we’re talking about something serious…your future, our future, our pocketbooks and if we want to try this thing out together or what.

    5. Viette*

      The start of the letter* has a lot of the hallmarks of a situation where LW got their hopes way up and then said hopes were, to their mind, dashed very unfairly by the unpleasant, badly-formulated interviewers who kept them from an otherwise amazing job. I don’t think that job exists, and either the LW got irrationally mad at the interview panel for “blocking” them, or the interviewers (from their future department!) are throwing up red flags and being annoying.

      Either way, this is not a job with the CEO who LW likes so much, at a vague version of this amazing organization. It’s in a single department, with these three women, including the drippy tin-eared humorless one. I can’t tell if LW wanted and expected to be a charming shoo-in for the position and is pissed off that they weren’t, or if the interviewers (people they’d have been working with!) asked weird questions and kinda sucked, but either way: the interview did what it was supposed to, eh? LW is not a good fit for this job, the real one, the one that they’d have to go to every day.

      *It’s “a foundation I’d love to work for” and position is down to the LW and “one other person”, and the chat with the CEO went great and “I felt confident I was in good stead — though he was not the person in charge of hiring.” And then the LW “met with three women in the department I’d be working in”, who they did not like AT ALL.

  28. Ray Gillette*

    Red flags for both the OP and the organization here. At best it was a poor match. But wow, this brings me back. I’m pretty sure the last time I dealt with anyone I would describe as “irate,” it was when I was waiting tables at a crappy chain diner in college.

  29. MollyG*

    While interviewing for a post doc position I was asked “Tell me about a time you lead a multi discipline team.” Utterly ridiculous, lead a team, yes, be on a multi discipline team, yes, but it would have been very rare to lead one.

    1. spock*

      But what if they are looking for someone who has experience leading a multi-discipline team, or at least they’d consider it a plus? It’s not ridiculous to ask about things they care about.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        They might have been wanting that experience for the role, but it’s rare for a grad student to have had the chance to lead a multi discipline team so asking it to grad student applicants as a routine question is usually pointless. Makes more sense to directly ask the few applicants who have done this and have it in their CV, or ask the more open ended “have you ever led a m-d team?”

  30. BeenThere*

    I once interviewed for a technical writing position for which I was very well qualified. I interviewed with about 5 different people, and every one of them asked me about how I handled difficult Subject Matter Experts. When I finally interviewed with the VP and he asked the same question, I said, “I’m happy to answer your question, but first I have a question for you. All of the previous interviewers asked that same question. Can you give me some background on where that question is coming from?”
    Turns out, they had an Extremely-Difficult-To-Work-With Subject Matter Expert. Two technical writers before me had quit because they couldn’t work with that SME.
    I answered his question, got the job, and eventually was transferred to another position. I dealt OK with the SME, but I always wondered what made him so valuable that they were willing to make so many other people unhappy and frustrated by keeping him.

  31. Just a Thought*

    I’m struck by how many commenters feel they have not made a coworker irate. I sure have! I couldn’t give a 100 examples …. but I find that the stress of getting projects done can, at times, bring out some of my less fabulous attributes (think, “so sure I am right” type). When I interview and ask about responses to negative human stuff, I am looking for an appropriate level of introspection for the level of responsibility and interaction the position will require.

    I mean really …. aren’t we all a bit annoying!

    1. Lana Kane*

      Oh I’ve annoyed some coworkers! But I have never seen them reach the point, at least in my presence, of being irate.

    2. Allypopx*

      Ha! I definitely have. And I’ve also not handled it great at times! And I can tell you what I learned from that. Broadly, if the specifics elude me in the moment.

    3. Myrin*

      I think most people are balking at the term “irate” in particular, not the question’s general sentiment; it’s basically the furthest-progressed form of anger which isn’t generally something you regularly encounter at functional workplaces. In fact, right at this moment, I can’t even think of an example in my private life where someone got irate at me!

      1. RVA Cat*

        This. I’m taking it to mean “angry to the point they’re irrational”, which, what do you do in the moment but walk away? (I’m picturing the co-worker screaming, cursing and at the point of throwing punches.)

        1. Just Another Manic Millie*

          I just thought of a time I made a co-worker “angry to the point they’re irrational,” but she didn’t scream or curse or throw punches.

          We were in an open office in New York City. Sansa sat in front of me. Her supervisor sat to the right of me. Sansa and I lived in New Jersey, not near each other, but we both took a bus that went north on the NJ Turnpike and wound up at Port Authority bus station. At the end of the day, we would leave the office together and walk to Port Authority.

          She started coming in late all the time. She always blamed it on an accident on the Turnpike or in the Lincoln Tunnel. I was always early. Her supervisor started asking me if I had seen an accident on the way to work. I always said no. Even if I had lied and said yes, it wouldn’t have done any good, because I got in early. Her supervisor started to ask her how I always managed to get in on time and never saw an accident.

          She got irate, but instead of acting angry, she got all passive-aggressive and decided to pretend that she didn’t see or hear me. If I needed to ask her a question about work, I had to do it when her supervisor was sitting at his desk nearby. Otherwise, she just didn’t hear me. When she walked into the break room to get coffee and saw me there with Cersei, she would say, “Oh, hi, Cersei! So it’s just you and me here! Where’s everyone?” Cersei would say, “Millie is here.” Sansa would say, “Oh, I didn’t see her.”

          I didn’t know what to do. I’m sure that if I had asked to speak to her privately, she would have said, “Anything you want to say to me you can say in front of my supervisor.” And then if I had talked to her about her being late and getting angry at me for no reason, she would have said that that wasn’t the case, and it wasn’t any of my business what time she got to work. I couldn’t talk to the office manager about it, because you’re not supposed to tell on someone who is late all the time if it doesn’t interfere with your work (it didn’t interfere with my job), and Sansa would have denied everything (and would have been furious at me).

          How I finally handled it was to say to myself that if she could be passive-aggressive, I could, too. So I would regularly tell the other people in my department, “It’s 9:00! Time to stop goofing off and get to work!” (None of them ever complained.) Sometimes I would say, “Oh, look! It’s after 9:00. I guess Sansa isn’t coming in today.” (No one ever asked me why I was so preoccupied with Sansa.) I would get a feeling of satisfaction when I noticed Sansa’s supervisor looking at the clock (prompted by what said to the people in my department) and realize that she was late again. Who knows, if I hadn’t said anything, her supervisor might not have looked at the clock.

          I was very happy when Sansa left the company. I really really hate passive-aggressiveness, but in this case, I felt that I had no choice but to retaliate in this way. But I don’t know what an interviewer would think of this story. Luckily, no interviewer ever asked me how I had screwed up in a previous job.

          1. Warm Weighty Wrists*

            I would like to push back a little bit on the idea that you had no choice but to be passive aggressive. Unless I’m missing something, the only issue that affected your work was her refusal to answer your questions. If she wasn’t answering your work-related questions if there wasn’t a supervisor nearby, you had every right to tell her directly that, regardless of her personal feelings, she needed to answer your questions when you asked them. If she continued to hold up your work, then it would be time to call in a manager. Calling attention to her being late, which did not affect you, seems at best irrelevant to the issue and at worst retaliatory.

            1. Just Another Manic Millie*

              “you had every right to tell her directly that, regardless of her personal feelings, she needed to answer your questions when you asked them.”

              I know that, but if I had said that to her when her supervisor wasn’t around, she would have pretended that she didn’t hear me. And I bet that if I had complained to the office manager, she would have insisted that I made the whole thing up. If I had said that to her when her supervisor was around, she would have acted surprised and said that she always answered me right away. And I bet her supervisor would have backed her up, because whenever he was around, she always answered me promptly. The only thing I can think of that I could have done was get someone in my department to stand nearby and witness her ignoring me when her supervisor wasn’t around. But then he might not have willing to back me up when I complained to her supervisor or the office manager. He might have said that he didn’t want to be a tattletale or get her in trouble.

              That happened at another company, when a temp was hired to answer the phone and do light typing. When I found out that one person wanted her to type a file label, and another person wanted her to address an envelope, and she refused, saying that she was not supposed to do any typing, I was furious and wanted one or both of them to accompany me to the office manager to let her know. They didn’t want to get the temp in trouble, but I managed to force once of them to accompany me and back up my story that instead of doing light typing, she was refusing to do any typing.

              It’s just that I was unhappy that we had been friendly enough to walk to the bus station together and talk and now she was snubbing and ignoring me. It wasn’t just that she pretended not to hear me when she could get away with it, she also pretended not to see me. Quite often she couldn’t remember my name. When I told her my name, two seconds later she not only couldn’t remember it, but she couldn’t even remember that I had told her what it was.

              I read an advice column about what to do when someone is angry at you. The columnist said that you have to ask yourself “How did I contribute to this situation?” I knew how I contributed to this situation. I got to work on time. I knew how I could make it better. I could start coming in late all the time. I could take the train instead of the bus. I could move somewhere where I didn’t take a bus that went north on the NJ Turnpike to get to New York City.

              But I didn’t want to do any of those things. I didn’t want to take the train because that would mean taking a local bus to the train station and then waiting for the train. And I would have a much longer walk to the office from Penn Station than from Port Authority.

              I didn’t want to do nothing because then I would feel like a doormat. So I called attention to her being late. Yes, it did affect me, because if she hadn’t started coming in late, there wouldn’t have been a reason for her to ignore me and pretend that I didn’t exist. I doubt very much if her supervisor ever said to her, “I wouldn’t have noticed that you were late today, but I heard Millie tell some people that it was 9:00.” The supervisor never said a word to me about it, nor to my supervisor, nor to the office manager, or I’m sure I would have heard about it.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        Yes, and that’s a problem for the LW. Entirely possible the interviewer used a poorly chosen word. I would tuck that word away for consideration when evaluating the job, if I were the candidate, but I wouldn;t immediately assume people are running around the office screaming. I’d come back to it when we’re at “what questions do you have for us” and probe on culture, interpersonal relationships, that sort of thing.

        1. Lana Kane*

          Especially since just in this comment section, I’m seeing different interpretations of the word irate. To me it’s angry past the point of reason, others seem to interpret is as just upset or annoyed.

    4. KP*

      Early in my career, I have a very clear memory of walking into my apartment, dropping my bag, punching the wall, then sitting on the floor and crying.

      I was irate. I was furious. I was sad and frustrated and any number of things because a coworker had really messed with my work in a way that made me look bad. I didn’t get irate AT HIM, but I did privately. I had handled the situation as professionally as I could at 23. Just because someone isn’t showing you their irate face doesn’t mean you haven’t seriously upset them.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Over a decade ago I crashed my first car because I was so irate over someone screwing up a big order for us.

        Nobody knew it was that bad but holy hell, I was fuming all over the place. A lot of “Double count the screws, double count the screws. If I have to do this myself, I will but this order was marked as a special order and you didn’t count the screws!” I didn’t scream but I was seriously spinning and everyone saw it.

        Guess what. Bros counted those GD screws and didn’t mess that up again for a very long time…not to that magnitude.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I think it’s because they’re stuck on the “Harshness” of the word. I feel we get tripped up on that a lot around here…it’s not always as literal as we take it.

      I assumed it meant got into a conflict of some kind, either you screwed up, they screwed up or whatever, colleague conflict is what it is.

      I have dealt with pissed off staff and pissed off customers my entire career at times. Times are usually pretty solid and good but yeah, things go sideways plenty. I just had an issue when training someone about how they couldn’t ask for a doctor’s note for a single day of sickness [it’s not legal here given our sick leave law], that was fun stuff because I was retraining someone from the old way of thinking and he thought I was making things up. I had to send him links…and then read it to him because of language difficulties, thankfully we bumped fists and went about our business and he stopped asking for doctors notes.

      But doing HR and accounting stuff, you piss lots of people off ;) From accounts being locked for being in default, to you know…laws and junk like that. I’ve seen quibbles on the shop floor as well over who put what where even that are usually quickly sorted out but holy crap, don’t put the box there, Gary will not be pleased! etc

    6. Jennifer*

      I guess I don’t really want to work anywhere where the stakes are that high if someone makes a small mistake. It depends on the field. At the places where I’ve worked, if I were asked that I’d be very taken aback. I work pretty independently, as do most of my coworkers, so we’d have to work pretty hard to make someone irate.

      But yeah if I were a surgeon and someone made a grave error that caused a patient serious harm – I guess I’d be pretty irate.

    7. Mel_05*

      I’ve definitely made at least two coworkers irate, but it was about such absurd things I would hate use those examples!

      One was mad that I saw a color differently than her (yellow vs orange)

      And the other messed up something for me and then got angry that I was unhappy about it!

      I guess they both turned out ok, but ugh!

    8. That Girl from Quinn's House*

      I worked somewhere where we were always short-staffed and underresourced, so we typically had people working long days, over long weeks, over weird split-shift cycles so they weren’t sleeping regularly, and coming into work sick, without time to deal with personal health or family situations that might be pressing outside of work. It’s very easy to become irate, when your workplace resembles a CIA interrogation. But typically if someone’s a decent person, they’ll be forgiven when they crack, and they’ll pay it forward by forgiving you when you crack.

      But ideally? I don’t want to be in a workplace where I’m worn to my breaking point on a regular basis any more. It’s awful.

    9. Rusty Shackelford*

      This reminds me of the reactions to that divorce movie, where some people are all “yeah, this is what marriage is like” and other people are like “if my spouse yelled at me like that I’d smother him in his sleep.” But also, the fact that you’re using “irate” and “a bit annoying” as synonyms might also mean you’re one of the half(ish) of the world who thinks “irate” means “mildly irritated” and not “furious.”

      1. Amethystmoon*

        True — there is a difference. People in general misuse the English language a lot these days.

    10. Amethystmoon*

      What if everyone made the coworker irate? I mean seriously, I once worked with someone who got irate at very, very small things. I would apologize profusely, and she was still irate. And I was the only support person at that job who knew what they were doing, to the point where someone who was very, very finicky offered to be a job reference. She also would get irate at my coworker for things like typos. The sad part was she was actually at manager level, but eventually, she got fired. I guess she got irate at someone who actually had power.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Yuck, that power level makes me cringe.

        The only people with temperamental problems I’ve dealt with are on a much lower rung, so I just laugh at them and shrug at their anger most days. How do you deal with them? By ignoring them and working around them if necessary, by being above them and kicking them out the door the moment the chance comes up.

        How do you deal with someone being awful, oh I deal with them graciously right up until I show them the door. Literally, the last person with a bad attitude and would get angry about some weird stuff, I got to give him his walking papers. Bless his heart, not my problem anymore.

        But again…also in a much higher power position =( So my stomach drops when people ask powerless folks about this because they somehow thing you’re supposed to magic a fix. When in reality, the person getting that kind of attitude is the problem, not the person they’re aiming the steam at most days.

  32. KP*

    I’m surprised by how many people see a red flag in the word “irate”

    I work in a highly-regulated industry where mistakes and carelessness can kill people. I am not yelled at, but if I make a serious mistake, I may seriously damage my professional reputation along with that relationship. No one has been abusive to me, but I know when they’re upset.

    Sometimes they’re wrong. Like, I got accused of lying once when I was definitely not lying. It was a miscommunication. But this person went to straight to my direct supervisor as well as my grandboss with his concerns. My supervisor smoothed it over. But I would describe his response as “irate”….he just wasn’t irate in my presence.

  33. Annastasia von Beaverhausen*

    I’ve interviewed a lot of candidates and always use this type of question – firstly because they are the standard at my employer, but also because they really do provide insights that you don’t get with ‘What would you do if ‘X’ happened?’ type questions. (For info I use a combination).

    Many of the people I interview are quite young, and often don’t have a relevant work experience to draw on, so they will use a school example (an irate class mate) or an example of an unhappy customer if their experience has been retail or service based, and those are totally fine.

    As to if the questions were dumb – I wouldn’t be so sure. I don’t tend to include irate, yelling coworkers in my line up of questions as that type of scenario would be VERY strange at my job. Its possible that this interviewer has given you some very valuable information about the job you’re applying for – namely, the staff includes a yeller. I do ALWAYS include a question along the lines of ‘Tell me about a time when the outcome of a project was different than what your supervisor was hoping for. What did you do and what was the outcome?’ That’s basically a ‘Tell me about a time you buggered everything up, and what did you do to fix it?’ This is an incredibly useful question, because everyone makes mistakes at work – how they respond is really important for the interviewer to know. I had a candidate answer that question by explaining that she HADN’T screwed up, her boss was a jerk with unrealistic expectations, and she gave him the what for until he backed down. That was VERY useful information for me to have when contemplating being this person’s manager.

    Anyway, hang in there. This type of interview is becoming much more common for exactly this reason – people reveal things about themselves in this type of interview that they don’t in other types.

    I will say that the one interviewer sounds like a not-very-good one – unless there is an operational reason not to put candidates at ease, that’s really the first thing a good interviewer should do. As an unrelated aside, a local airline has notoriously horrid interviews, with people behaving badly, being cold and unpleasant, borderline abusive to candidates. The justification is that air passengers can be real jerks sometimes, and they want to see how a person reacts under that sort of stress. Reportedly, the company is very good to work for, and is kind and caring to their employees once they are hired, so who knows.

  34. CM*

    I think behavioral interviewing has become so strongly recommended as a best practice that everyone has started to ask ‘Tell me about a time when…” questions without thinking much about whether they’re really telling you something you need to know. It’s easy to use this technique badly. In particular, a common trap is to pick a specific thing that happened once at your workplace and you’re still traumatized about, and ask about that. The “tell me about a time a coworker became irate” sounds like one of those. And 10 is way too many IMO — it is a lot of pressure to come with these examples.

    My suggestions: think of several situations in advance where you handled conflicts or mistakes, and make them fit the question asked. Feel free to interpret the question a little differently or redirect the interviewer if you don’t have something directly on point — people have good scripts above, like, “I don’t think anyone has ever been irate with me at work, but I think everyone has an experience getting into a disagreement with a coworker…” and tell a story about that.

    1. Tau*

      Yeah, this is my go-to for behavioural questions. I don’t think on my feet well, particularly with open-ended things, and if I have to think of a “time when…” on the spot I will almost certainly not come up with anything. So I generally prepare a bunch of anecdotes from my work life, including
      – times I was challenged and succeeded
      – times I made a mistake and recovered from it
      – times I genuinely failed at something
      – times I had a conflict with a coworker
      – and OK maybe one or two awesome success stories

      I tidy these up a bit in my mind, figure out how to tell them to cast me in a decent light (like, for “complete failure”, what can I show I learned from the experience, what can I say I’d do differently today), and then when I get a “tell me about a time…” I rifle through my prepared anecdotes and pick the one that fits the best.

  35. nep*

    An interviewer once asked me something like ‘Tell me about a time when you really messed up.”
    Right now my example could be how I answered that question in that interview. (!) I really flubbed it. I had a decent example in mind but my nerves got the best of me and I messed up. Lesson: I hadn’t practiced/gone through the answer in my mind nearly enough.
    It is tough to be ready for each and every possible “Tell me about a time when” question. But I know I need to practice more of them and more thoroughly.

    1. nep*

      (Similar to what CM says…What I’ve worked on doing since is building a handful of really concrete examples/stories in mind that involved some conflict or challenge, that I can draw on for many variations of this type of question.)

  36. LindsayAerin*

    I can’t remember the exact question but I had a “tell me about a time interview” question once that I blew. To be fair I was 18 and it was in First Year University and I was interviewing for a paid summer internship on Parliament Hill (I am in Canada).
    I actually did get the position, and when I was more comfortable with the person who hired me I asked about because I was certain I blew it. He said something to the effect of absolutely everyone we interviewed struggled with it so we realized it was not a good question and didn’t base decision making on it.
    It was a case where everyone applying was young university students and the question if I recall was geared to people with more professional experience so obviously all the candidates really struggled with it.
    Also they didn’t pre-schedule the interview – just called early one morning (pretty sure on a Saturday) and I was still asleep after being out at the bar the night before (don’t judge our drinking age is lower here in Canada) so I really felt like I bombed that interview.
    All in All that hiring manager didn’t seem to know what he was doing.

  37. Kat*

    The most irate a co-worker every got at me was a guy who shouted at me about removing the newspaper from the restroom because he liked to read in there. (Since it was the restroom our guests would use as well as employees part of my job was to make sure it was tidy.) Not sure how that would go over as an interview answer but its a good story.

  38. Itsjustanothergirl*

    The company I work for loves “tell me about a time” questions. We ask many through all of the interview process because culture fit is really very important to us in addition to finding the right person for the job. I’ve asked both those questions in interviews – not necessarily the irate part, which does seem odd and a little concerning about what kind of people work there – but finding out how you handle conflict with your coworkers and what you do when you make a mistake are hugely telling about how you work and the kind of person you are.

    In a case where you haven’t run into that circumstance (though I find it hard to believe you’ve never made a mistake and you’ve never had a conflict with your co-worker), a ‘How I’d handle it’ would still get your message across.

  39. !*

    Sure, the questions could have been worded more effectively. But honestly, your disdain for the interviewer is what shines through here. I bet they picked up on that, which is why you did not get an offer.

    You seem to be blaming the interviewers for you not having taken the time to prepare for the interview by thinking about common behavioral questions.

  40. Senor Montoya*

    One other thing to add, OP — the encounter with the CEO was not just a conversation, it was an interview too. Although the CEO was not the hiring officer, they were likely sharing their impressions with the hiring officer.

    Everyone you encounter, from the time you enter the office til the time you’re out the door, is part of the interview. We set up times for the candidates to meet members, but we also ask the receptionist for their impressions, the admin who sets up the interviews, etc.

  41. Impska*

    I once had a similar interview, with a male and female interviewer, except that every question seemed framed in a way to make it seem like the question was actually about the other interviewer.

    Male Interviewer: “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?” – with an angry edge to his voice, staring down the female interviewer

    Me: Blah blah blah.

    Female Interviewer, staring back at the male interviewer: “Would your response have changed if the person was a giant misogynist?”

    Me: Umm… No?

    Male Interviewer: “That’s not important! Tell me a time when you had a really difficult coworker!”

    Me: Blah blah blah

    Female Interviewer interrupts: “What if you really really hated him?”

    Male Interviewer: “I already asked that. Tell me a time when you felt like you had to work with someone on a team that you didn’t think pulled their weight.”

    When they asked if I had any questions for them, I asked if they had had a long day of interviews. [No – this was their first one.] And I asked if they thought their firm was a friendly place. [Yes – Why wouldn’t it be?] I told them that the tone of the interview made me think it was a little tense. The woman huffily claimed not to understand why. They apparently agreed not to extend me an offer. It may have been the only thing they ever agreed on.

    1. 1234*

      WTF. I can just imagine working on their team. They would probably give you conflicting directions, some of which just to piss off the other person.

      You dodged a bullet.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      The only thing missing from this crazytown story is that “later I saw on the news that the entire building burned down and they didn’t know what happened…”

  42. Shantini*

    I always tell folks at the beginning of the interview, “if after the interview you think of something new, or feel like you forgot something you really wanted to add, please feel free to email me about it! I know sometimes it can be hard to think of everything in the moment”. I think it helps take some of the pressure off and relieves some of the feelings of “kicking yourself” because you wish you had answered differently.

  43. Delphine*

    This is a good reason to frame these questions as hypotheticals (“What would you do if…”), instead of demanding interviewers come up with examples on the spot from their professional lives.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      If you are hiring someone very young or very new, you might want to reframe some of the questions in this way, but see Allison’s first paragraph about hypotheticals. If you are looking for someone with experience, you definitely want to see examples of how they’ve acted on that experience.

      1. Rockin Takin*

        When I interview people fresh out of school or with little job experience, I will tell them they can answer with school experience. Like if they had an issue with a lab partner, or messed up a big test. You can still generally gauge how a person would do in a certain job based on some of those answers.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Demanding? It’s an interview. You ask questions, the candidate asks questions, you both answer them.

      Alison addressed why you use past experience rather than hypotheticals. Everyone’s great at telling you what they would do, but that’s not the same as what they did do. Past performance is a better predictor or future performance.

  44. Chronic Overthinker*

    “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?”
    Maybe irate is a strong word, but you can still re-frame the answer with a genuine conflict you’ve had with a co-worker or even a customer/client in a previous position. They are awkward sounding questions, but if you frame them using your past experience and tweak the question to fit your answer you can find a happy medium. Although this phrasing does seem to raise some red flags for me. You can always clarify the question to find out if that sort of thing is a common occurrence on the job.

    “Can you tell me about a time where you misjudged a situation and did something wrong and then had to make it right?”
    This one is more of a “read between the lines” question. It’s about making a mistake and how you corrected it. Everyone has had a lapse in judgment at work. Talk about the scenario and how you fixed it. Interviewers honestly don’t intentionally phrase things to trip someone up. And if they did, that’s a big old red flag.

    You may want to send an additional email if you can with “better” answers to the questions. I have done that in the past and my interviewer took it into consideration. We all get flustered or anxious in the moment. Good luck in future interviews and try to reach out again if you can. You might be pleasantly surprised, or at least get a better view of the position.

  45. Senor Montoya*

    We don’t share any questions in advance. We aren’t asking any weird or Gotcha questions, but we do want to see the candidates thinking and perhaps encountering something a bit challenging. If everything’s able to be prepped perfectly, that’s not helpful to us. We don’t expect *perfect* answers.

    1. Autistic Farm Girl*

      By not sharing your questions in advance you’re effectively stopping many people on the neurodiversity spectrum from getting a job with your company. I can’t deal with random questions being thrown a me in a stress situation like an interview, sorry that’s not “helpful” to you… and it doesn’t mean i’m not good at my job.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        But I’m not interviewing for whether or not you’re good at your job, I’m trying to assess whether or not you’d be good at the job for which I’m interviewing – and mine *do* require being able to think on your feet and plan B, C, D to get something done on tight timelines. I can’t speak for every other department/hiring manager in my organization – that’s just how mine is.

        My oldest child has autism and some other comorbids, and a job in my department would be a bad fit for them because they simply cannot process the information and act quickly enough for what it would require. They have other strengths, and we plan to help them find a job (hopefully a career) that plays to those. I would want to find that out in the interview, not when they froze up or melted down in the middle of a fast-paced day of deadlines. No jobs are a good fit for everyone.

        1. Autistic Farm Girl*

          So because your kid cannot deal with it you’re assuming that any neurodiverse person can’t. Also neurodiverse isn’t just autism.

          I work a fast paced job that requires me to think on my feet, there’s a difference between that and being able to answer interview questions about random situation. It’s not great that you’re actively discriminating against neurodiverse people. But if your company is cool with it then ND people are safer not working for it anyway.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            Actively discriminating against people? Wow. No, I actually work for a place that wins awards for diversity and inclusion, and my hiring process, along with everyone else’s, has been vetted and is monitored for compliance.

            I’m assuming that people who are thrown by answering basic questions about how they handled a type of situation in the past are going be similarly be thrown when they’re in a novel situation with a tight deadline and people whose expectations need to be managed breathing down their necks. I don’t diagnose people in interviews (or ask about their health or needs for accommodation) and could very well have ND people on my team, but they answered the interview questions well without an advance copy.

            And I’m very well aware that autism is not the only type on neurodiversity, it was merely an example, and that should have been pretty obvious. We have a pretty wide and diverse array in our network of families from our travails with schooling, healthcare, and therapy. But thank you for talking to me like I’m an idiot who is unfamiliar with the topic and assuming the worst of me.

      2. Senor Montoya*

        TBH, for our jobs, people have to be rather good at reading faces, nonverbals, ambiguity in interpersonal interactions, and social situations. We are indeed screening out people who can’t do that, or who can’t demonstrate that during the interview, but people who can’t do that will not be successful at these jobs. Not saying people who can’t do those things aren’t good at *their* jobs, they just will not be good at *our* jobs.

  46. Excess of Joy*

    1) LW misused gaslighting to mean->put me in a slightly uncomfortable situation. That is a flagrant weakening of the word and reflects a pattern on the internet of using gaslighting to mean “I’m unhappy with a situation.” Gaslight does not =misled or uncomfortable or confused, etc.
    2) As a social worker and former psychotherapist, interview questions about dealing with irate/escalated individuals are incredibly standard. The question did not read to me as being specifically about angry coworkers, it could have been about clients and a valid concern on the part of the interviewers.
    3) Why is the LW so very fixated on the specific interviewer and her lack of humour, etc? It’s a job interview, not a stand up open mic night. There is definitely some missing context. Losing out on a potential job is emotionally draining, but it can also be an opportunity for introspection and to reflect on skills that need growth. The LW seems to be directing their disappointment into anger toward the interviewer rather than acknowledging their role in handling the questions poorly.

  47. BananaSlug*

    OP, since you are interviewing the employer as well, the interview situation is giving you insight on whether or not it’s a good fit for you.

    I interviewed for a senior management job recently. The position was described in a very hazy way. And yet, several people asked me what my five year plan would be. I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me? You have barely described what the role would be like day-to-day!” The information was not available online/through research either. I was able to speculate and provide some examples, but I was also a bit irritated because the question seemed like a Catch-22. If I didn’t offer concrete examples, I would seem indecisive and like I couldn’t think on my feet. If I did, I risked offering suggestions that wouldn’t work, which might make me seem like I was arrogant/too pushy/too quick to suggest a plan without asking others for input.

    I was the #2 choice and I was actually kind of glad. Every time they asked, I wanted to say, “It would be the height of arrogance to suggest a five-year plan without learning more from your team.”

  48. Serious Pillowfight*

    Ugh, I don’t have any new advice to give, but just wanted to say I feel your pain. I lost out on a job for which the hiring team had already chosen me, but some out-of-state higher up wanted her chance to interview me (read: trip me up) before an offer was extended. We had what I thought was a productive phone interview, only to get hit with radio silence and no offer. I found out later from an inside source that this woman apparently hadn’t liked my answer to “What is your dream job?” After researching, I learned this is nothing but a trick question. (Hint: The correct answer is to say something like, “My dream job is a place where I can collaborate with a team and feel like I’m making a difference!”…Don’t name an actual job.)

  49. Autistic Farm Girl*

    Maybe it’s a British Civil Service thing, but we don’t get asked anything else than this type of questions. And we also have to answer them in written application. We get trained for it!

    We’re told to use the STARR method to answer: Situation, Task, Action, Result, Reflection.
    Apparently it’s meant to help structuring the answer and going through a narrative that makes sense.

    I’m not a big fan of them, i get thrown off easily under stress (that whole autism thing) and i don’t recover from it. I also hate when interviewers suddenly bring up stuff that weren’t mentioned anywhere before! Got one recently that asked me about a time where i’d managed a budget. Nowhere in the job description did it mention that, but she wanted to see if i had. I hadn’t (not at work anyway). I failed the interview because of that.

    1. Mary*

      I think only the Civil Service uses it quite that formally, but the wider public sector and lots of larger organisations use it a lot too. We call it competency-based rather than behavioural in the UK, and we teach the STAR technique in university careers teams.

      There’s also CARE, which the health service loves–Context, Action, Result, Evaluation.

  50. PurpleGerberDaisy*

    OP, from the looks of the comments, those questions could be a red flag or just weirdly worded. It’s unfortunate when a question or two trips you up.

    I will say that I’m glad I’m not the only one that has gotten behavioral questions that made me pause. My last interview, I was asked two very similar and very specific questions: 1)Tell me about a time when you distrusted a co-worker and how you handled that 2) Tell me a time when you saw a co-worker do something inappropriate and how did you handle it. My first instinct was to search my examples but nothing was coming to mind so I then started to panic and went completely blank. I was able to laugh about it after as those were some huge red flag questions. In hindsight, I wish I’d questioned them about it and clarified the questions.

    1. MissDisplaced*

      But the thing with sone of these is, do they really want to know the truth?
      I actually would have an answer for: Tell me about a time when you distrusted a co-worker and how you handled that. But the thing is, it involved the president of the company and kickbacks from a vendor, so no, I’m definitely NOT going to tell a prospective employer about that situation.

  51. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    I worked for a very large retailer and we had to ask a set series of behavioral questions exactly like that to everyone interviewing for a corporate role.

  52. Amethystmoon*

    My company does send the questions to internal applicants. Almost everything is a story-type question. One thing I would advise, research the most common types of these types of questions beforehand and come up with a response. Also if you don’t have anything in your job, sometimes they will take things from volunteering. I have used Toastmasters experiences before.

  53. MissDisplaced*

    The questions themselves weren’t bad, and it’s normal to ask one or two of them, sure. But TEN? Yikes! That would be quite hard to answer on the fly. And sometimes you really don’t have an answer if what they’re asking never happened to you.

  54. Daffy Duck*

    I don’t give much weight to interviewer personalities anymore. I had an interview where the woman came across as very emotionally cold and uncaring. She had absolutely no facial expression or tone changes when asking me questions or listening to my answers and looked over my head. I’m not sure if she was trying to scare away folks or what (retail job). I walked out thinking she hated me.
    I got the job (desperate at the time so I took it). She was actually a very nice lady (although a bit quiet), sympathetic, and great to work with.

  55. foxinabox*

    Oof, this type of question is a horrible experience for me. I have a lot of issues with my memory and recalling examples or past experiences on the fly is more or less physically impossible for me a lot of the time….all the skills, wit and experience in the world won’t change the fact that if you ask me what I did yesterday, I will draw a complete blank. Nightmare.

  56. CW*

    I can never answer those type of questions properly because my mind always goes blank. Plus, I am still a fairly junior so I don’t really have any real life experiences to share. Unfortunately, when I was unemployed and looking for a job, a little more than a few employers asked me and I always started sweating and sometimes stuttered because it just made me a nervous wreck. At one interview, the person interviewing me kept making reanswer the question because I couldn’t answer it properly, as I had no examples to tell (the word “blank” in parenthesis are where we said something but I don’t remember what):

    Interviewer: Tell me about a time when you had to do (blank).
    Me: Well, um I had to (blank)
    Interviewer: But you still didn’t answer my question.
    Me: Okay no problem, I did (blank).
    Interviewer: I know, but you still didn’t answer my question.
    Me (sweating profusely): Well, I-I (blank)
    Interviewer: That’s good, but you still didn’t answer my question.
    Me (sweating like a m*therf*cker and getting frustrated): Okay, I did (blank).
    Interviewer: I don’t think you understand, because you still didn’t answer question.

    At that point, I was sweating like a waterfall and felt like passing out because I was so nervous. I totally blew it and never want to go through that again.

  57. Sparkly Lady*

    This comment thread is so interesting to me because I’ve had a spate of unsuccessful interviews recently after having very successful interviews the previous two times I was on the job market. My previous interviews didn’t include behavioral questions (maybe they weren’t a thing yet?), and I think I’ve been way too literal in my understanding of them.

    I can look back on some of the interviews and see some questions that I almost certainly didn’t answer with the type of information the interviewer was looking for. I do wish interviewers would rephrase and help, though. It’s frustrating to feel like poor skill at interviewing would be gatekeeping me from jobs that I’ve done very well at in the past.

  58. Doctor Schmoctor*

    “Can you tell me about a time when you worked with someone who you angered and they became irate and how you handled it?”
    This one is not great. Too specific. But you can still come up with an answer. Something like “I always try to resolve problems in a calm and rational manner, so I’ve never had a situation where I angered someone and they became irate. But if it happened, I would bla bla bla, etc.”

    “Can you tell me about a time where you misjudged a situation and did something wrong and then had to make it right?”

    Everybody has misjudged situations and made mistakes. I think you should be prepared for this type of question.

    At least they didn’t ask “If you were a tree, what type of tree would you be?”

  59. Rexish*

    If I’ve not experienced it. I just take what I have whitnessed with coworkers and take them as my own story or maybe something that has happene doutside of work and change “book club” into “work” or take a smaller thng that has happened and make it sounds a bit bigger.

  60. Cheese Cheese Cheese CHEESE*

    News flash to you, and apparently a lot of the commenters – an interview question isn’t automatically stupid, or inappropriate, or offensive or whatever just because you can’t answer it. The interviewers are trying to establish if you are a good fit for the role, not massage your ego. And frankly given your language in the question I think the company are the ones who dodged a bullet here.

  61. Rockin Takin*

    I’ve been on both ends of this, but as a hiring manager I really prefer to ask these types of questions.
    We have a lot of issues on our staff where we hire people and then find out they don’t get along with coworkers easily. If I ask the candidate “Can you give an example of a time where you didn’t get along with a coworker or supervisor, and how you handled that?” and they answer that they never have conflict and always get along with everyone, it’s usually a red flag for me. Or, like in one case, I found out the guy had been fired from his last job for yelling at his supervisor (!).

    Also, depending on the job, they might want to ask you questions like this on the fly to see how you do under pressure or thinking quickly. Like if the job had a lot to do with communication, that might be important so they know during tense meetings you can handle yourself.

    As the interviewee, if I don’t have a good work related story for the question, sometimes I’ll pull info from my life.
    “Tell me about a time you had to change how you do something to work with someone from a different background?” I usually talk about being married to someone from a different country and how I relate to my in-laws who still live there. You can get creative with your answer.

    1. Anon Here*

      I have had mixed results with pulling examples from non-work life! I think it can work or backfire depending on the situation.

      The main downside is that it can make you come across as inexperienced, or even naïve about workplace norms (assuming that other parts of life count as work).

      However, it can also be a great way to bring up relevant and/or interesting hobbies, and just to form a more human connection with the interviewer. It’s very, “Know your audience.”

  62. Ancient Alien*

    I could answer this question in an interview, but it is oddly specific, so I would answer it and then immediately ask if people being “irate” is a regular occurrence there. I think by asking this in this way, they are tipping their hand about what the work culture is really like there.

  63. Moose*

    Once I interviewed for a position as an administrative assistant. One of the questions was, “How do you do with people who yell at you?” I noped right the hell out of there. Obviously it meant that the person I would be working for was toxic and aggressive and yelled at their assistants.

  64. agnes*

    Love the advice to ask about why they are asking that question. In my experience a lot of very specific “tell me about a time” means that that situation is one that crops up frequently. And if these questions involve how you dealt with an obnoxious co worker or boss, you can bet $$ that the situation exists in reality in that job.

  65. CF*

    Well, I am the OP. I admit some of these comments were hard to read—but also helpful. It was indeed an unpleasant interview, and probably did not bode well should I have had to work with this woman. Most importantly, I need to prepare some answers to these sorts of questions so I don’t get so flustered in the future. I do better when interviews are more of a back-and-forth conversation. This woman felt more like an adversary, and I suppose I did write my OP while feeling pissed and defensive.

    Thank you for the feedback.

    1. CF*

      I actually *just* heard back from them. The (lovely) woman who conducted my initial interview said they were very impressed with me but ended up hiring someone local. (The job required an epic commute for me, though she said I could have worked remotely most of the time.) She also said she definitely wanted to use me for freelance projects and had something in mind. So, phew. I will take her at her word and assume I didn’t botch those questions as much as I thought I did. Thanks again, everyone.

    2. Ancient Alien*

      Yes, OP, you can prepare for these questions and you should. Speaking from experience it goes MUCH smoother when you actually sit down and write out your responses to the most common behavioral questions (just Google it for a good list). I bombed a couple of behavioral interviews before I started this approach and it was a game changer for me. I don’t know your learning style, but it works very well for me to literally write out my full responses to these questions. I find that once I get into the interview, i have plenty of material to speak confidently about and can frequently leverage one of those top ten responses into pretty much any behavioral question they have. It’s a little time consuming up front, but it is so worth it in the end. I learned this the hard way, but I’m glad i no longer try to wing it with these questions as they now seem to be ubiquitous. Best of luck to you.

  66. Anon Here*

    In my experience, these questions tend to be overly broad, and that’s why they’re hard to answer. “Tell me about a time when you provided great customer service.” (This one seems to come up a lot, not just in customer service jobs.) “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake, and how you fixed it.”

    I would have a much easier time with more specific questions. “Tell me about a time when you overcame a language barrier to provide great customer service.” “Tell me about a time when you sent the wrong email to the wrong person. How did you follow up to resolve it?”

    In fact, they should just look at AAM and ask about scenarios that come up here. “Your boss rejected your travel expenses because you ordered a side of guacamole. What would you do next?”

  67. Miranda Priestly’s Assistant*

    These questions are weird and potential red flags! It seems like they want someone with lots of experience with people getting angry at them.

  68. PennylaneTX*

    I had this exact problem in three rounds of interviews with an organization last year. I was given really specific “Tell me about a time when” questions (Tell me about a time when a superior didn’t follow your suggestion, things went awry, and it turns out that your suggestion would have prevented resulting issues–WHAT). I took it as a bit of a red flag because many of the questions pointed to inter-personal conflict within the org. And, as Alison said, not great interview questions so also a red flag

  69. anonymouslee*

    How does this qualify as “gaslighting”? That term gets so overused on the internet nowadays.

  70. boop the first*

    I worry that I would have way too much fun with these questions and scare an interviewer off. That’s the benefit, I guess, to having low-level jobs for 15 years, I have such a WEALTH of problems to choose from! I guess I’d have to pick the funniest ones.
    Like, what about that time I intended to order 4 pounds of fresh jalapeno peppers but accidentally ordered 40 POUNDS OF FRESH JALAPENO PEPPERS OMGGGGGGGGGGGGG

  71. Calyx Teren*

    This person might be an analytical sort of person who isn’t good at off-the-cuff responses. Those of us who are can find it hard to imagine, but analytical types are just as intelligent and competent but need time to reflect before coming up with answers.

    The questions are good ones, but interviewers should be aware if they’re weeding out people who would do a good job. That’s a tough one to address systemically, because you don’t know in advance what type of candidate you’ve got. As an analytical candidate responding to this in the moment, it might be useful to have a stock phrase like, “I’m the sort of person who thinks and prepares before I speak, which is an asset in my chosen profession of [x]. But it does make it harder for me to extemporize! Can you give me a moment to reflect?” Might work… or it might be a good idea for analytical types to read up thoroughly on different types of interview questions and do more preparation.

    Credit for articulating this insight about analytical style goes to ARC Leadership Dynamics, a wonderful group of people who have provided exec coaching at my well-respected company for a decade.

  72. Former Employee*

    I once angered a coworker by existing. She thought that if I wasn’t there that she would have the job I had.

    Obviously, there was nothing I could do since I had no plans to leave.

  73. Allonge*

    This whole thread is very interesting, and a good lesson learnt – to me it was always ‘clear’ that these situational / behavioral questions ask you to tell about a time that is the closest to the situation they are describing. So while I agree that the irate question is not a great phrasing, I would have no problem going with the time that my boss was just pissed off at our whole team, and how I handled that, even though I did nothing to anger her, so it’s, like , 75% of overlap only.

    I suppose I expect the interviewer to ask a follow-up question if that does not answer the question they really had.

    This may well also be connected to the fact that English is not my first language, and I work in a place where this is true for most people, so if we asked this question, we would be 1. unlikely to use the term irate and 2. would certainly be prepared to clarify, if someone were to look like ‘huh, irate?’.

    But as someone who occasionally interviews people it is good to know that neither ‘lets go with the closest I can think of’ nor ‘they will explain what they mean if I ask’ is clear to a lot of people.

  74. Mannheim Steamroller*

    “… she let me know that I was the first person she’s had the feedback meeting with and that the ill consequence of this wasn’t intended.”

    I have never believed in “unintended” consequences. If a given result happens, then it clearly WAS intended (or at least known as a possibility).

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