“Can you describe your working relationship with your colleagues?”
This is a question most people can answer without hesitation, but hesitation might just be warranted depending on the quality of your past working relationships.
Even if you had to deal with office rivalry at some point in your career, this article will look at how to tackle this question in the most tactful way possible.
Variations Of This Question
Before we start, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different variations of this question so you don’t get caught off guard.
The most popular variations are:
- How do you get along with your coworkers?
- What would your colleagues say about you?
- How would you describe your relationship with coworkers?
- Do you get along well with your coworkers?
- Do you easily get along with coworkers?
- Describe working with previous coworkers?
What The Interviewer Really Wants to Know
In an ideal work environment, everyone gets along.
Being able to maintain good relationships with your coworkers is going to be an important factor in the vast majority of roles. After all, you’ll be around your colleagues for a minimum of 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
Interviewers ask this question to gauge whether you’re likely to get along with the team they’ve assembled, as the past is a great predictor of the future.
They can also use this one to gain insights into your work habits, as it ties into other questions around working with teams and being a team player.
How To Answer: “Can You Describe Your Working Relationship With Your Previous Colleagues?”
When it comes to answering relationship-based questions like this one, your reply should have three components:
1. Focus On Desirable Relationship Attributes
The first part of your answer should be simply naming specific relationship attributes that best describe your past working relationships.
To be clear, these should be positive attributes. If you’ve had disagreements or dust-ups with some colleagues in the past, this isn’t the time to air your dirty laundry.
Here are some attributes that make for good relationships at work:
- Communication. Having open and honest dialogues with your colleagues
- Trust. Being able to confide in colleagues on both work and personal matters, and have them reciprocate.
- Inclusion. Including everyone in workplace decisions and activities in order to build a sense of community.
- Awareness. Being aware of how your thoughts, words, and actions can affect others around you.
- Respect. Being able to show respect to others even if you don’t always agree with them. This also goes a long way in finding solutions as a team.
2. Describe Relationships Based On Those Attributes
Now that you’ve laid out some desirable attributes and what they mean, you’ll need to demonstrate these attributes by describing some of your past working relationships.
This means going beyond a generic description and talking about real, organic situations where these attributes came into play.
For example, you could talk about your efforts to organize out-of-work events, and how you used this opportunity to communicate with colleagues you had less interaction with on a typical workday.
It’s also important to emphasize that these kinds of efforts were not only appreciated by your colleagues but also reciprocated in some way (even if not based on the same attributes).
3. Offer Them Up As A Reference (Optional)
When mentioning your relationship with particular people, don’t be afraid to offer them up as additional references.
Doing so will add more credibility to your answer.
For example, you could say: “I got along exceptionally well with my previous line manager, and I’m sure he’d be a willing additional reference if you require it.”
You can also do this more subtly with something like: “Even though we haven’t worked together in quite some time, we’re still really good friends”, or “I talk to him/her on a regular basis so we can catch up on each other’s lives.”
Putting It All Together (Example Answers)
It’s one thing telling you how to answer this answer question correctly, but putting it into practice through sample answers is the best way to show how effective this approach really is:
Example #1: Construction Worker
“At my previous construction job, I got along really well with my co-workers.
Working long hours in an active and loud environment, dangerous situations can arise if everyone isn’t on the same page.
There has to be a high level of communication and trust put in each other in order to get things done without making any costly mistakes.
Being such a tight-knit group allowed us to not only have fun but be highly productive at the same time.”
Example #2: Kitchen Staff
“I last worked as a line cook in a restaurant, and that job requires a real team effort every shift.
Every worker in the restaurant is included, from the hostesses down to the dishwashers, to ensure customers have a great dining experience.
This inclusion chain bonded the workers so we always had each other’s backs. If an order was unsatisfactory, the kitchen staff worked hard to get it right so the wait staff wouldn’t have to deal with an unimpressed customer, and a less than fair tip.
Even though I’ve moved on, I’ve forged lifelong friendships with many of them that were built on mutual respect, and communication.”
Example #3: Dental Hygienist
“Working as a dental hygienist is a great job where you’re essentially the dentist’s assistant.
While I did basic cleanings on my own, I still had to be diligent in my work so that I could effectively communicate each patient’s situation to the dentist once they did the final look-over.
I learned a lot by working closely with a high-level team of dentists, hygienists, and receptionists, and have nothing but praise for my ex-colleagues.
By respecting everyone’s daily tasks and trusting each other to execute those tasks properly, we always delivered exceptional service to our clientele.”
How NOT To Answer
We’ve talked about what you should do with your answer, now let’s cover some of the things you shouldn’t do.
Don’t Badmouth Your Coworkers
It should go without saying, but don’t describe your working relationships as anything but positive.
If you do end up badmouthing your ex-coworkers, two things will happen:
- The interviewer might think YOU are the problem – after all, they barely know you.
- It makes you look petty and easily bothered by minor inconveniences.
Employers are looking for people who solve problems and don’t sweat the small stuff, not someone who will add stress to the work environment.
Don’t Talk Yourself Up
The question is about getting along with others, so don’t answer it by shining the spotlight on yourself.
You may do this inadvertently so be careful with your words.
Instead of saying something like: “I came up with the idea and everyone was in agreement it was the right solution”
Modify to: “the team and I worked diligently to come up with a resolution that was satisfactory to every team member, and beneficial in the long run.”
See the difference?
- Learn the different variations of this question
- Familiarize yourself with the most likely lead-up questions
- Put forward some desirable attributes (suitable for the workplace)
- Describe your past relationships on the back of those attributes
- Offer up additional resources where appropriate
- Avoid badmouthing any past or present coworkers
- Give credit where due (don’t make it all about you)