How to Answer Interview Questions About Anger at Work

Woman sitting at work in front of her computer grabbing her hair in anger

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During an interview, the interviewer may ask, “When was the last time you were angry and what happened?" As well as asking about the last time you were angry, you may hear the similar interview question, “What makes you angry?” 

When you hear questions like these the interviewer wants to know how you might handle stressful situations at work. The real meaning of the word "angry" to an interviewer is a loss of control, and it's important to know that you can handle difficult situations while remaining professional.

In your response, you should share a moment when you felt angry at work, but make sure the experience, and your reaction to it, does not reflect poorly upon you.  

Answering Interview Anger Questions

Your answer to any question about anger should contain two components. First, describe the particular situation that frustrated you, and then explain how you handled that situation. The situation should be work-related, and not something that happened in your personal life. Keep your explanation brief and to the point. 

When describing the situation, avoid heated words like “hate” or even “angry.” Instead, use less intense words to describe your anger, like “frustrated” or “disappointed.” This will emphasize that you are not one to lose control in a difficult scenario. As you answer, keep your tone even or light—that is, you don't want to seem fired up just recounting the situation. 

Selecting a Situation

Try to select a situation that does not involve a previous boss or manager, as this will make you appear to be an easily disgruntled employee. Similarly, while it is fine to mention being frustrated by someone’s unprofessional behavior or a difficult situation, do not spend too much time blaming or attacking someone else in your answer. It's also not to your advantage to mention something that could portray you in a bad light or something that to others may seem minor and petty. Your interviewer might wonder why it riled you up.  

Briefly mention the behavior or event that bothered you, and then move on to the solution. Make sure to explain how you handled the situation, with an emphasis on your calm, professional manner in dealing with it. For example, if you were frustrated by an employee’s behavior, explain how you met with them and provided constructive feedback that led to a positive change in their actions.

Another option for answering this question is to say that you typically do not get angry at work. This demonstrates both that you do not lose control at work and that you realize that kind of behavior is inappropriate. However, after explaining this, you should still describe a time when you were frustrated or disappointed by something at work, and how you handled it. To deny that you ever become frustrated would make you appear insincere. 

Using the STAR Approach

The STAR approach can be a real asset in formulating your response to these types of questions. 

STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action, and Results. Briefly describe the situation, the event or task, your action, and the results your actions received.

Examples of the Best Answers

You can answer the anger interview question by telling how your honest actions caused a resolution to the frustrating event.

I try to look at every situation from an analytical perspective, and not let my emotions dictate my actions. I have had employees in the past whose professionalism has been questionable, and who have not met the requirements of the job. In those situations, I have found that the best policy is to be honest about the issues and offer clear strategies for improvement.

Another method is to talk about how you worked together or talked with a coworker, a vendor, or a customer to resolve the situation and come to better terms.

I don’t think anger is an appropriate workplace emotion. I have dealt with situations that I found frustrating; for example, I had a coworker who was very confrontational in her written and oral communication. I felt like I was constantly being criticized for things beyond my control. I sat down with her and talked about ways that we could improve our communication. After having that calm, productive conversation, our relationship as co-workers improved greatly, and we actually became collaborators on a number of successful projects.

Explain how you counted to ten and kept your composure during the stressful event. This approach helps to show how you handle workplace stress.

Anger to me means loss of control. I don't lose control. When I get stressed, I step back, take a deep breath, thoughtfully think through the situation and then begin to formulate a plan of action. For instance, when I am given multiple projects to complete in a short amount of time, I come up with a strategy for how to complete the work in a steady, methodical manner that will not overwhelm me.

Finally, you could relate an experience where you worked with a group of coworkers on a project that was experiencing difficulty and how you handled that event. This will also show your group leadership abilities.

When I was working on a major project with a team, I got frustrated when one team member failed to deliver an asset on schedule, after promising it would be ready. I took a moment to walk around the block, then invited the team member out for coffee to talk about what happened and how I could help. My approach focused on "how can we fix this in the future" rather than on the many ways the co-worker messed up. I was glad I took the time to chill out since it turned out my co-worker was dealing with serious personal health issues and unforgiving deadlines from several other projects. 

These suggestions, along with being forthright and transparent in your responses, will be recognized by the employer as a positive and welcome asset.

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