They say that we should cooperate, and not compete, if we are to achieve the best possible result as a team. Yet theory is just theory, and you cannot be friends with everyone in the workplace. What’s more, in some jobs it is actually better to be competitive (sales is a prime example), because beating your peers means that you bring in more money in the company, and perhaps you even motivate your colleagues to try harder.

What’s more, you do not have to limit your answer to the events that happened within your team. You can talk about competing with a manager from another company. For example when you tried to secure a deal with a supplier, or win a prime position on a market, or release some product before they had a chance to do so.

To sum it up, there are many possible answers to this interesting interview question. And the one you pick tells a lot about your attitude. Do you like to compete with your team mates? Or do you prefer to battle it out with the big boys from the competitor’s office? Or perhaps you do not care about what the others do, and simply try to beat your own results?

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers. My list includes answers that fit each of the three categories I just mentioned, plus a few unconventional and philosophical answers. I hope you will find there a winner for your interview, something that resonates with your values and attitude.


7 sample answers to “What is the most competitive work situation you have experienced?” interview question

  1. The one I remember vividly is when we were competing with other big game design studio. We were both working on a similar game for Android, and it mattered a lot who would release the game first. It was a tricky situation indeed, because while it matters to be first, you do not want to release a buggy app which receives bad ratings and drops quickly from the leader board. Quality matters a lot in this segment. I was leading the team, and I tried to use this competition as a form of healthy motivation for my colleagues. Talking in front of the guys about excellent designers the competitor had in the team, I told them that for sure they did not want to end up defeated by them. And it worked great, because most designers and programmers have big egos. They did not want to look incompetent. Everyone worked overtime, people cooperated together like never before, and we eventually released the game one month before our competitor. Sometimes it helps to have an enemy… it certainly worked that way in this case.
  2. I’ve been working in sales for several years, and I love the healthy competition with my peers. Of course each of us wants to close more deals than the others. In my last job we had an internal leaderboard, and the winner got a small prize at the end of each month, and of course lot of recognition from their peers. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that I would do something to prevent my colleagues from selling more, or that I would not support them. On the contrary. We motivated each other to push harder. I enjoyed this type of working environment, and hope to find it in your company as well.
  3. To be honest, I had only one big critic and competitor in all my former jobs: myself. In my opinion, each of us is different. Someone may be more gifted, or experienced than the rest. If you measure up against the best you may feel miserable all the time in work. But that’s not my style. I simply always tried to improve my own results. Do better than I did the last quarter, in terms of tangible goals I set for myself. This is my attitude to both work and life. If some colleagues want to compete with me, and beat me with their results, I am fine with that. But I am not going to get involved into it emotionally. I just take care of my job, trying my best…
  4. This is my first job application, so I have never experienced a competitive situation at work. But I can tell you that I like to compete with the others. Be it school, athletics, or even some hobbies I share with friends. If we play a game of billiard, I want to win. If we are involved in a football match, I try my best to help the team score more goals than the opponent does. This probably helped me to score great results in my tests, and have better GPA than most of my peers. Let’s see how it translates into the workplace, but I definitely feel that my competitive nature will be more helpful than harmful.
  5. The most competitive work situation I’ve ever experienced was when I and my colleague competed for a position of a team leader. The manager made it clear that they would choose one of us at the end of the year, depending on our results in work. To be honest with you, it wasn’t the most pleasant time. Because the colleague competing with me tried all kind of dirty tricks, such as jeopardizing my work by asking someone to send me a report one day late, or similar stuff. And since she was popular in the company and played her games with more employees, she quite succeeded in making the time miserable for me. I did not enjoy this type of competition, and it is one of the reason why I am sitting here with you today. I decided to quit my job, and look for a place where colleagues don’t deliberately destroy work of one another…
  6. In my opinion, the entire concept of competition in corporate sphere is outdated. I prefer to cooperate with people, and not compete–be it within the company or outside of it. I mean, the market is vast. We have many opportunities. If we connect with the right players in this segment, and for example create an alliance, like they did in an aviation industry, everyone will eventually earn more and thrive. And since I’ve been always following this philosophy, I haven’t really experienced any superbly competitive situations at work. Instead of competing with my colleagues, I tried to help them. To be attentive to their needs, to understand them. And since law of action and reaction always works, when it was my turn and I needed a helping hand, someone always gave it to me.
  7. I’ve worked in education for my entire life, and jobs of teachers aren’t really competitive. That being said, I tried to channel my inner competitor to my work with the students, especially when they took part in national testing, and were compared with students from other schools. But at the end of the day, it wasn’t really about competing with someone else. It was simply about me trying my best for each student in each class, throughout the entire school year. And that’s not easy to do, but I will try to do it as long as I teach.


Trying to better yourself is always a good answer

Maybe you aren’t sure whether to mention a tussle you had with this or that colleague, some internal competition, one that maybe didn’t have the best impact on your relationship. Or you just weren’t working in a field where it made sense to compete with anyone (which is true for half of the jobs).

In such a case, you can always talk about your effort to beat your own results. You were your fiercest competitor. Maybe you tried to improve the number of sales you made, or the number of tasks you competed each day, number of clients you served or phone calls you answered, etc. Such an answer will be fine for most interviewers, and it will always make sense.

* 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, using logic, 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!

Competing too much can be the reason why you seek a new job

It’s a nasty world out there, in many corporations. The pressure is always on, and everyone competes with everyone. While some people thrive in such an environment (the winners do), it doesn’t have to be your cup of coffee.

It’s all right saying that you quit because you prefer cooperation to competition. Describe the negative effects the extreme competition had on you (or on the entire company), and cite it as a reason why you eventually decided to quit. You can add that a healthy level of competition is fine. But when people start to jeopardize each other work, or stop talking together, things probably went too far…


Do not be afraid of unconventional answers

Remember that all truly great companies look for people who think outside of the box. People who do not follow the crowds, who aren’t afraid come up with innovative ideas, and do not say something in an interview just because everyone else says it, or because it is considered “the right thing to say”.

Why not saying that you do not believe into competition, that the entire concept is outdated? See sample answer no. 6 as a great example. Saying something that will make your interviewers think, especially if your answer makes sense, can win you a lot of points in any job interview. Think about it before deciding what you’d eventually say…

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Check also 7 sample answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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