How To Answer an Underperforming Coworker Interview Question

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated June 28, 2022 | Published December 14, 2021

Updated June 28, 2022

Published December 14, 2021

Working as part of a team involves interacting with people who have a variety of skills, interests and performance levels. Being able to discuss your strategies for maintaining a high standard work, even when others on your team are underperforming, can help you showcase your initiative and talent during an interview. Reviewing different ways to answer interview questions about having underperforming colleagues can ensure that you're prepared with relevant examples and solutions.

In this article, we discuss how to address working with an underperforming coworker in an interview question and share a few potential responses.

Why do employers ask about working with an underperforming coworker?

Hiring managers typically ask questions about working with underperforming coworkers when interviewing candidates for team-oriented positions. If you're applying for a position where someone else's behavior can influence your performance, being able to handle underperforming colleagues is a useful skill. Interviewers may ask about your experience working with underperforming team members to determine if you know how to tactfully approach coworkers on the same project and encourage them to achieve shared goals.

Some interviewers also ask this question to identify your ability to identify and solve problems. Hiring managers often look for candidates who understand the appropriate protocol for supporting team members. They may ask about how you handle low performance among coworkers to determine if you have the initiative to resolve issues internally and be proactive about your own productivity.

Related: How To Help an Underperforming Employee

How to answer "How do you handle working with underperforming coworkers?"

These steps provide an outline for ways to answer questions about being successful in your position when you have coworkers who have challenges with their performance in the workplace:

1. Focus on yourself

Use your answer to emphasize your problem-solving skills and interpersonal abilities. Although the question mentions a colleague, focus on your actions and behaviors when interacting in a team environment. When discussing details of how you approach challenging situations with underperforming colleagues, limit how much you discuss the actual coworker. Keeping the focus on yourself shows the interviewer that you're proactive about your performance, regardless of how others on your team behave.

2. Share actionable strategies

Include specific methods that you use to be successful in the workplace when you have an underperformer on your team. Consider selecting strategies that you can apply to any situation to show the interviewer that your problem-solving skills can easily transfer to their team environment. You may mention how you focus on your own deliverables or how you encourage accountability during team meetings. Identify a few strategies that work in several situations with different types of performance issues and think about different ways they help you maintain success in your own position.

Related: 10 Ways To Improve Your Performance at Work

3. Highlight results

Discuss solutions and positive outcomes to situations with underperforming colleagues. After you identify your strategies for working with a coworker who has performance issues, explain the potential results of using that method. Describe how using that strategy can benefit you, your colleague or the team. Identifying solutions and results can help hiring managers envision the different ways your problem-solving skills may benefit productivity on their team.

Related: 10 Tips for Being More Goal-Oriented at Work

4. Use examples

If you have experience working with a colleague who has performance issues, use examples of that situation in your response. Discussing a specific experience can show that you have the real interpersonal skills to address and resolve performance-based conflicts within a team. Examples are a useful tool for helping the interviewer envision your reactions to a real situation. Outline how you approached the situation and explain the outcome of your actions.

5. Be respectful

Being respectful and kind is important when answering questions about underperformance, especially when you use real examples. If you mention a real person in your response, avoid using their name to respect their privacy. Showing tact and respect demonstrates that you value relationships on your team and understand that people can still be valuable assets to the workplace, even if they once had performance issues.

Related: Interview Question: "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?"

Example responses to "How do you handle working with underperforming coworkers?"

Here are a few example answers you can use as a guide when discussing how you work with coworkers who don't meet performance expectations:

Example 1

"When I'm working with someone on a project and their performance doesn't meet the appropriate standards for the project, I start by talking to them about the cause of any challenges. Because we're working as a team, I'm happy to provide assistance to achieve the best outcome for the project. By relating to them and sharing my own experience with trying to improve my performance, I can create a feeling of community and motivation. I try to share any strategies that have helped me manage my time or improve the quality of my work.

During a previous project, I worked with a fellow designer who consistently received negative feedback from a client. I knew that client had particular tastes, so I shared some of the client's notes on my work with my colleague and provided tips on how I adjusted my design process to meet their specifications. After a few sessions of collaborating, they started earning much better feedback and started work independently on their parts of the project again."

Related: Interview Question: "Describe Your Former Working Relationships"

Example 2

"Being successful with an underperforming coworker involves setting clear boundaries. I try to determine if my colleague has a pattern of underperformance of if they're only having issues with a certain project. When their work affects my performance, I check in regularly to ensure that they have deliverables ready to submit ahead of time, allowing me to make any adjustments or ask them to make changes if necessary. This lets me maintain the integrity and quality of the aspects of the project that I contribute."

Example 3

"I always consider the protocol of the company when interacting with a coworker who has performance issues. At my previous employer, the policy was to ask supervisors to handle all performance feedback, so I copied our manager on all communications. This allowed them to have access to all of my coworker's submissions to the project and see their timeline for submitting work while also seeing all of my contributions and efforts to keep my colleague on track. I shared advice and provided support on a peer level, but also respected the manager's policy on having an official performance management plan."

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