Conflict with colleague


One of the questions you could be asked along the lines of, “When have you had a problem with a work colleague and how did you resolve it?”

I have an example of this but I want to run it past you guys to see if it actually reflects badly on myself. This is the situation:

I worked as a software engineer as an intern for an industrial placement. One of my roles was to maintain our mapping server making sure the maps were produced daily. There was a frequent problem with the software breaking, and being a trainee and no experience in this advanced piece of software I was unable to repair the actual bug. The only solution I had was to restart the server, which fixed it for 2-4 weeks. A senior colleague, who had training in the relevant software, was aware of this but hadn’t ever sat down with me to find a solution.

One Monday morning I came in to find an email informing me the maps had not been produced. I restart the server and set the UK maps to produce (we also produced maps for US and Canada). I set the case assigned to me as “resolved” with the message “Fixed - simple fix of restarting server”. A few hours later I got a strongly worded email from the guy who is in charge of the mapping project informing me it was not “fixed” and hinting I was incompetent and/or useless as I was only a student. I, rather foolishly, responded telling him the problem was solved to the best of my abilities and the UK maps had been produced, the Canada and US maps would run when the scheduled task would run. It would have been inpracticle for me to sit and wait for the UK maps to run (roughly 45 minutes) and then set the US to run, and then Canada. It was impossible for all three to run at once due to software license constraints. I also said I felt it was unfair he had called me incompetent.

I then got another email back saying I was incompetent because I was a student and lazy because I was a student. He also told me I would not make it in the IT field. I believe this was a jibe at me because I had mentioned in a meeting I had no intentions of pursuing an IT career and had chosen finance over it. This wasn’t a reflection on the company, just a personal preference when my boss (different guy) had asked what I would be doing when I graduated. I was obviously offended by the email he sent as it was rude and extremely unprofessional. Knowing better, I didn’t respond to the email. Instead I arranged a meeting with my boss to discuss it as I felt uncomfortable working with the man in question.

I met with my boss, who obviously sided with the senior colleague. I went into the meeting admitting I had messed up by saying the case was resolved when in reality it wasn’t solved until all the maps had run. I took this attitude on advise from my placement supervisor who told me you can never win, even if you are right. My boss went through the email giving his opinion on it; he didn’t condone the email, but didn’t say anything was bad. His advice to me was to speak to the other guy to clear the air and apologise for the original “case closed” comment.

I went back to the office and asked the guy if he wanted a coffee on the balcony and apologised for the original email. He then apologised for his email explaining why he was angry. He said when I was in middle management I would understand how it is frustrating if someone below you doesn’t perform a task they have said they will be doing, when it is you who will be in trouble if it isn’t done. He also said he was short tempered due to his wife having given birth the week before and he had had very little sleep. Things were fine with him afterwards.

Do you think this story just reflects badly on myself? Do you think it’s worth mentioning as an answer to that question, and which parts should I leave out?


Hmmm. It’s quite a serious problem to use as an example, but the resolution is notably good - especially as it was your idea to have coffee. I see nothing wrong with using this as an example, as long as you tone down the issue and condense this in to one or two short paragraphs and then focus your answer on how you resolved the problem. Really focus on the resolution and why this was successful - after all, this is what the question is really trying to find out… the actual problem itself is immaterial.


I think this is really good, however, I would shorten all the stuff about your failings and take most of the fine detail out- you don’t want to appear to be whining about a former employer in your interview, and you should never say anything that could be derogatory about a former employer.

I love the resolution at the end. Like I said, if I were you, I’d simplify the story and strip out a lot of the specific details (e.g. about mapping software licences etc)- you can then give those if they ask you to talk about it.