CEO, manager, programmer, manual worker–they all have to comply with policies, rules, and laws that govern different sectors of economy, as well as with the internal policies and procedures of an organization they work for.
Not every rule makes sense, and not each procedure is the most effective one. Yet there are higher goals we have to keep in mind–public safety, environment, justice. Once you start your own business, you can set at least some rules. But as long as you enjoy the comfort of regular monthly paycheck, you have to adhere to the rules of your employer.
This question makes sense in most job interviews, and we will now have a look at 7 sample answers. They hiring managers may also structure the question differently, asking you to “Describe your experience interpreting policies, procedures, rules and regulations“, or to “Describe a situation in which you disagreed with a rule or policy and how you handled it.” But they are always asking about the same thing really, and my sample answers should work for each of the questions.
* Do not forget to check also my notes and suggestions at the end of this article, because they will help you to understand what exactly the hiring managers expect to hear from an ideal job candidate.
7 Sample answers to “Tell us about a time you had to comply with a policy or procedure that you did not agree with” interview question
- In my last job in a warehouse I did not agree with the way we organized the stock in the place. I’ve been working with stock for ten years, and could clearly see that it wasn’t the most effective way of organizing it. As a result we often we did not have enough space for incoming supplies. I shared my concerns with the logistics manager. They heard me out and said they’d look into it. But nothing changed. I pointed out the issue again, but it was quickly dismissed. So I continued to do my job, as well as I could, though I knew it wasn’t the most effective way of work. But someone else was responsible for making decisions, and I accepted it as a fact.
- Because this is my first job application, it is impossible to narrate any similar situation from work. But I didn’t agree with certain procedures at school, such as segregation of students with special needs in separate classes. In my opinion we should try to integrate the students into regular classes, regardless of the degree of their disability. Once they leave the school there won’t be any segregation in the job market, any special conditions for them… But I also acknowledge that I am still young, and may not understand all the pluses and minuses of inclusion or segregation at school. School administrators should know better, and hence they decided for segregation. I didn’t agree, but I complied.
- There was so much bureaucracy in my last job. We had to report exactly what we did during each 30 minutes in work. In my opinion, it was a stupid policy. Because sometimes you spent 5 minutes from each working hour reporting, remembering what you did, and at the end of the working day you spent 1 hour reporting about things you did, instead of doing more things. It was actually one of the reasons why I left the company, but while I worked there I complied to the policy.
- I’ve been in an army for ten years, and I can assure you that I do not have a problem with obeying rules and procedures. To be honest, it is not my business to think about the internal policies of the organization or company, because it’s not my organization. Someone else set the rules and if I decided to work for them, I have to obey them. I think that it is important to study the rules and to learn about everything important before you start the job. Once working, however, we should respect the rules.
* Do not forget to check the complete list of behavioral (tell us about a time…) interview questions.
- I found it hard to respect the “silence after 10pm” policy in the last hostel where I worked, and disagreed with this rule. Mostly young people stayed at the place. At 10pm the fun just starts in such hostels, at least in my opinion and experience. But maybe the owners or managers had to respect some regulations set by the municipality, or they had their own reasons for this policy, which I could not understand from my position of an ordinary employee. Nevertheless, they were not prospering, and I had to leave the place anyway.
- I have never found it hard. Prison is a place of order–or at least it should be. Working as a correctional officer, I considered it extremely important to adhere to the rules, to follow all protocols. Yes, it can be difficult sometimes. For example when you have to take a coercive action against an inmate, and you know it isn’t necessary. But if they break the rules they have to be punished.
- We had a strict no mobile phones and no social media policy in my last job, or at least that’s how I interpreted it. This was something really hard for me to follow. I must admit I was addicted to looking at my phone and checking my Instagram and Facebook. But I did not realize this until I started to work for the company. It was hard to comply with the rules, but at the end of the day they helped me to beat my social media addiction. I am grateful that the company had such strict rules in place.
You can share your opinion, but you should obey the rules–or leave
It is fine to share your opinion with your superiors, if you consider a rule ineffective, or outright stupid. Feedback should flow freely in all directions in a successful company. An excellent manager should welcome your critical feedback, they should even thank you for telling them that something can be done in a more effective manner.
But this is basically where your role ends. You share the feedback, you suggest the improvements, but it’s someone else’s responsibility to decide, and to perhaps change the policy for better. At the end you should accept the decision, comply with the policy, or leave the company if you find it unacceptable from ethical or other point of view.
* Special Tip: This isn’t the only difficult question you will face while interviewing for any decent job. You will face questions about prioritization, dealing with pressure, dealing with ambiguity, and other tricky scenarios that happen in the workplace. If you want to make sure that you stand out with your answers and outclass your competitors, have a look at our Interview Success Package. Up to 10 premium answers to 31 tricky scenario based questions (+ more) will make your life much easier in the interviews. Thank you for checking it out!
Refer to school or public life if you have no working experience
Speaking honestly, our entire life is ruled by laws and policies. And this is true regardless of your country of origin or residence. Unless you are a renegade and gave up on human society, you have to comply with policies and laws.
If you apply for your very first job, you can refer to a situation from school, public life, court of justice, anything. But the attitude should remain the same–you found it difficult to comply with the policy, but you eventually did comply, because you respect the decision makers. Or you did break the rules and ended up in police custody for one night, but that’s not the story to share with your interviewers :).
* May also interest you: Tell us about a time when you faced an ethical dilemma.
Show humility, praise the policy which you originally didn’t like
In some cases you may even go the full circle, and start to love the policy you initially hated. Just look at the last sample answer in this post. The applicant hated the “no mobile phones” policy in work, and found it extremely hard to comply with it. But eventually they did comply, and beat their social media addiction. Most hiring managers will love to hear such stories in the interviews.
Another nice example or respecting the hierarchy and showing humility is the first sample answer from this article. The warehouse worker likely had more experience than their young manager. They’ve been working with stock for ten years, and likely were right about their observations.
Instead of getting frustrated by the response of the management they decided to obey their decision, and to continue trying their best in work, regardless of the ineffective procedure of stocking the incoming inventory…
Conclusion, answers to other tricky interview questions
We live in a global economy where everything relates to everything. Some rules and policies may seem stupid to us, or even totally ineffective, but the people who set them likely have their reasons. And we never see the entire picture from our position.
Ensure your interviewers that you are ready to share a constructive feedback with your superiors (if you didn’t like a rule or procedure in work), but at the end of the day you will respect the hierarchy and obey to the rules in the workplace.
Ready to answer this one? I hope so! But there’s much more to do to succeed in an interview… Check our new Interview Success Package 2.0 and learn how to answer every tough question a hiring manager may throw at you, including 30+ dreaded scenario based questions. Check the samples on the product page.
Alternatively you can have a look at some answers to the following two questions:
- What is the most difficult situation you’ve ever faced at work?
- Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a poor performer on a team.
- Tell me about a time when you went above and beyond for someone in work.