Describe How You Managed a Problem Employee

How to Answer Interview Questions About Challenging Employees

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Getty Images/Natalie Faye

When asked to describe how they have managed a problem employee, candidates applying for supervisor positions need to demonstrate that they are able to manage all types of people. Anyone can manage a self-motivated, successful employee, but managers who bring out the best in marginal performers will be highly valued in any company.

Best Answers

Prepare for this type of question by reflecting on some of your most challenging subordinates.

Identify two or three cases in which you dealt with a problem employee. Think about how your intervention brought about positive change. For example, maybe your criticism or advice resulted in an improved attitude or increased productivity.

When answering the question, discuss the original issues you had with your employee's behavior, describe the strategies you used to bring about change, and explain the overall effects you had on your employee’s performance.

It's also important to keep in mind that employers will be looking for managers who have the tact to deal with chronically underperforming staff members who resist change. Although many employees are eager for constructive criticism and motivated to improve their performance, others do not welcome advice and take personal offense to an intervention.

Discuss Improvement Plans

If you have any past experience with difficult employees who did not respond positively to your suggestions, describe how you outlined a reasonable plan for improvement, and then share how you dealt with their continued non-compliance.

Typically, this involves collaboration with human resources and establishing a performance plan with a series of warnings if the employee does not improve.

In some cases, you might relate stories where you coached employees towards a shift to a job more suitable for their background, skill set, or personality.

Managers who employ this strategy can often save their company from the financially and administratively taxing process involved with a firing.  

More About Job Interviews for Managerial Positions

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