A key component of behavioral interviews is assessing your collaborative skills.
Collaboration is defined as “the action of working with someone to produce or create something.” “With someone” and “produce or create” are what collaborating is all about.
Collaboration interview questions are not just designed to see how you get along with people, and it’s not only about being able to produce things by yourself. They are designed to see your ability to get along and co-create. This includes peers, managers, key stakeholders, x-functional partners, and maybe even folks external to the company.
Regardless of who it is you end up having to collaborate with, there are overarching themes prospective employers are looking for. These vary from company to company, from role to role, and experience level. At its core though, it comes down to three main areas that we’ll go over and can be used as reference to prepare: conflict resolution, relationship building, and trustworthy partner.
One important call out! Because employers can’t easily verify that you manage conflict adequately, that you have good working relationships, or that you are a trusted advisor, the trick is to:
In other words, show that you’re able to convey your message in a structured, easy-to-follow way and that the particular situation is not a result of chance but because you approached it in a thoughtful manner through a system/ framework that can be applied in the future.
Moving on to the three areas of collaboration. Let’s start with conflict resolution, because that is the most common and sensitive one.
Conflicts are part of being human. Inevitably, conflicts arise within organizations (it would be bad if they didn’t). What employers are trying to assess in these interview questions is how you react to these situations. Do you become aggressive or do you shut down and don’t engage? Both these are extreme reactions that won’t benefit the company’s end goal, so prospective employers are keen to find folks that are able to smoothly manage conflicts.
Having systems for conflict resolution is extremely helpful for managing them successfully, and framing them that way helps the employer understand your approach. Here’s an example of a system that can be used to manage conflict when disagreeing with a colleague:
Remember however that conflicts are emotionally-charged situations, and having a good system in place is no insurance for following it. Interviewers are aware of this. Even though having a system and explaining it is positive and a first good step, what is more likely to resonate with the interviewer is one or two real-case examples. These examples don’t have to be fully detailed, but they should be colorful enough so that you’re able to explain the situation and the emotions involved.
The examples don’t have to be perfect either. It’s okay to share situations where your behavior wasn’t the most adequate as long as there’s a clear resolution and learnings that go with it. It also helps to show different situations with different folks - from small decisions to important ones, with managers, peers, and cross-functional partners. The breadth and depth of experiences provide a good opportunity for the interviewer to assess your personality in a conflict scenario and allows them to go deep - which is very positive!
An organization with no relationships or unhealthy ones doesn’t last long. That is why prospective employers are interested in understanding how you go about building and maintaining healthy relationships with your coworkers. Showing that you have good working relationships and ways to create them even if not asked is a no regret bet - no interviewer is looking for someone that can’t establish good working relationships with the team!
But you’re probably going to be asked about it. Be prepared to answer questions such as:
Once again, showing that you have a repeatable system is a great way to start. Imagine you’re a new hire, a system you can use can be something like the following:
Whatever the system is or the way you go about it, the goal is to show that you’re deliberate and thoughtful on the approach to relationship building. Once you’ve done that, you can enhance your responses with real examples.
Some roles are direct advisory roles where the trust component is self-evident; others not so much. Nonetheless, the role of a trusted advisor should be played by everyone. Even in a role with limited exposure to cross functional partners, you must be a trusted advisor to customers, managers, and peers.
What does it mean to be a trusted advisor? In short, it means the other parties trust you. They trust your ability to deliver within deadlines, with quality, and consistency. They also trust your opinion - and take it into account.
These questions can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be as straightforward as:
As mentioned before, sharing examples is great but showing how you become a trusted advisor is extremely important as well. Explaining the system makes it tangible, that is why it is so important. Here’s an example:
Once again, through a simple approach you’re able to show that you have a way to go about becoming a trusted advisor grounded on a set of factors you consider important.
To recap, if you keep in mind the principles - stating your answers clearly, sharing the systems you use for each situation and coupling them with real examples - you’re creating the opportunity for the interviewer to 1. gain confidence in you and/ or 2. go deeper and ask more questions. Although #1 is preferred, both are positive as long as you’re able to convey what you want to share (which should happen if your answers are properly structured). That is why we recommend this approach, it’s not guaranteed, but puts you a step ahead.
Get sample interview questions & example answers from PMs and consultants at Bain, Microsoft, BCG & more. Plus, guidance on how to structure your answers!