Who wouldn’t want to turn back the clock? Get another chance to do something better, to pick the right words, to find courage to profess love to someone, or to take back a decision that had a negative impact on our professional career? That’s not how things work in life, however. What’s said and done cannot be changed, and we have no option to getting over the mistakes of our past, focusing on what’s ahead of us.

It doesn’t mean, however, that we should forget the mistakes. Hiring managers will ask you about different situations from your past, trying to understand your attitude, and whether you actually learned something from your mistakes. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this tricky interview question. Hiring managers may sometimes phrase it differently: “Tell me what you would have done differently at work,” but basically they are always looking for the same thing, and the answers below should work also for alternative questions.  Do not forget to read also my notes below the answers, in order to avoid some common mistakes people do when narrating such a situation in their interviews.


7 sample answers to “Tell me about a time you wish you’d handled a situation differently with a colleague” interview question

  1. In my last corporate job I was very strict with a colleague when it came to meeting monthly sales goals. She did not perform, and I was rather harsh with her in the team meetings. What I didn’t know, however, was that she was experiencing a difficult period in her personal life. She was going through a divorce and she also suffered a loss in her family. I wish I knew about her problems, because then I would have addressed the situation differently. Instead of scolding her for not meeting the targets, I would try to support her emotionally in the difficult period. Which would eventually also help her get back on track. But we cannot turn back the clock… She left the company, and I learned my lesson. Since then I try to learn more about my colleagues, about the challenges they face outside of work. Because, whether they admit it or not, such things have an impact on their performance.
  2. If I should tell you what I’d have done differently at work, it is this thing: I wish I had more understanding for one colleague with different religious and cultural background. You know, I’ve been brought up in a strongly catholic family, and we weren’t taught to accept any other views when it comes to life after death, and religion in general. And I just could not get over such prejudice, and struggled to avoid reacting to certain words of my colleague, who professed a different faith. My behavior had a terrible impact on our relationship, and the productivity of the entire team suffered. I eventually had to leave the company. I wish I were more tolerant, and focused on things we had in common, not on things that separated us. But I could not get over my ego… Nevertheless, I believe I learned my lesson, and would not repeat the same mistake again.
  3. To be honest, I regret the most never finding courage to invite our receptionist out for a dinner. I just thought it was not professional, and spent too much time thinking what my colleagues would think or say. But I know it was a mistake, and I wish I’d done it differently. At the end of the day, love is the most important thing, and I also had a feeling that she felt something towards me–at least some affection. But I hesitated, I didn’t find courage to move forward, an she eventually found a boyfriend from outside of the company. Having said that, we cannot turn back the clock and I do not want to dwell on the past. I prefer to focus on the present, and the future.
  4. I wish I’d reacted differently in a conflict situation with one of the members of our working group. They criticized me for my work–and they had a point in their criticism. Sure, they could have used better words, been more diplomatic, or perhaps chosen a more appropriate time to criticize me. But I still reacted inappropriately. My defense was an attack. My ego was hurt, and I started criticizing their work, and calling them names. After a few minutes we were shouting on each other, and though we eventually calmed down, the bridges were burnt and since then we barely spoke to each other. I wish I could turn back the clock, and react differently to their criticism. But it isn’t possible, so at least I try to remember the lesson I learned, and react more appropriately to the conflict situations in the workplace sine then.
  5. I remember many such situations from my managerial experience. The strangest one is perhaps when I decided to back-up a colleague who came to work drunk–once. Not heavily drunk, just some residual alcohol, but you know, it was still against the rules. Let me explain it more. We were short on staff and high on production. If I fired them on the spot, we would not manage to cover the demand of our customers. And they apologized, and said it would not happen again. However, this resulted in a dangerous prejudice in the workplace. Because when other employees broke some rules later–such as stealing a small item, or having some residual alcohol in their blood, they always referred to this one case, and demanded a pardon. I wish I’d fired the drunk guy on the spot. And you can be sure I won’t repeat the same mistake in my new job.
  6. Since this is my first job application, I cannot really talk about such a situation from the workplace. But I definitely said many things I would take back if I could, and did things I regret doing, in relation to other people. Be it in school, or in my relationships. I definitely have to learn to control my emotions better, and to see the perspective of the other person, to understand their emotions and feelings before responding. I honestly believe that I’ve made some progress at this front, and my first job will be a great opportunity to test how I fare with my interpersonal skills…
  7. There’s no such situation. Look, I believe that in every moment of our life, we do what we have to do. We are who we are, we know what we know, and each decision takes place in the circumstances of the moment, many of which we cannot control. In my opinion, it is foolish to look back, and spend hours thinking what we could or should do better. We did what we had to do, and we should always focus our attention on the present moment. That’s my philosophy of life, and I want to stick to it my new job as well.


Do not blame others, admit making a mistake

One of the common mistakes job candidates do in an interview is looking for a fault with the other guy. “I wish I’d done this differently, but if my colleague wasn’t such an idiot, the entire situation would not have happened”.

You should avoid such formulations at all costs. Sure, in nine out of ten cases, both conflict parties bear some guilt. But you should focus on your part of the equation, what you could have done better, and will do better next time over, when facing a similar situation in the workplace.

Your attitude matters more than the situation you narrate

Perhaps you are tying to get your very first job, or you just cannot find a fitting situation thinking about your former jobs. If it is the case, you can talk about a situation from your personal life. It can be an argument you had with your partner, some family issue you faced, or even a conflict with one of your classmates.

The hiring managers really do not care, as long as you show the right attitude–admitting making a mistake, explaining what you did wrong, ensuring them that you learned your lesson. The situation you narrate and the setting of it is secondary really…

* 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!


Unconventional answers may do wonders for you sometimes

At the end of the day, job interview is a competition. When you try to get any decent job, especially in a big corporation, you can be 100% sure that there are at least ten other candidates, all trying to impress the hiring managers with their answers. But what does it mean for you?

It means that at least with a few questions they ask you, you should come up with some unconventional answers. Saying something others don’t dare to say. Maybe you can refer to a situation when you were in love with a colleague but didn’t find a courage to ask them out (check answer no. 3 on my list), or even opt for a philosophical answer, claiming that you wouldn’t do anything differently, simply because you couldn’t (answer no. 7 on my list).

You do not necessarily have to opt for an unconventional answer each and every time, but in some instances it is your best bet. At the end of the day, you want the hiring managers to remember you once they are done with all the interviews. And that’s hard to achieve if you say the same things as everyone else does…

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

Matthew Chulaw
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