It’s the question that brings to mind groan-worthy email habits, the sound of thousands of knuckles cracking and the unmistakable scent of coworkers microwaving fish for lunch: 

“What are your biggest work pet peeves?”

While job seekers might be eager to list their top ten most annoying workplace habits one-by-one, it’s important to understand why hiring managers ask this question in the first place. For the most part, employers ask this type of question to get a sense of the applicant’s working style and personality preferences. For example, if the answer is, “I hate to be micromanaged,” this could help determine whether the manager’s leadership style would be a good fit with the potential hire. Culture is another factor being considered. If the job seeker mentions working closely with others as a major work pet peeve, it may signal that they would not be a good fit in a highly collaborative environment.

If you’re unsure how to talk about your work pet peeves in a job interview, consider these tips before responding: 

Be Honest

Interviewers can detect a lie from a mile away. Responding to the question with something like, “I actually can’t think of anything!” might seem like a crowd-pleaser, but it actually sends the wrong message. Rather than coming across as easy-going, it may just be interpreted as phony. Even if it’s a tough question, the golden rule of job interviews still applies here; when in doubt, tell the truth! However, just like with other tricky job interview questions, the key is in the way job seekers express their truth. Touch on the negative, then turn things around! 

Don’t Get Personal

While it’s important to be honest when responding to a question about work pet peeves, it’s equally important not to make things personal. There’s a big difference between saying, “I don’t like working with negative people who don’t offer constructive criticism” and, “I just hate negative people, like my old boss, Todd. What a jerk!” Job seekers need to go beyond the habits of individuals to paint a picture of a working environment they want to be a part of moving forward. 

Find the Positive

Employers are not just looking for applicants to list off the things that tick them off. A question about workplace annoyances are as much about getting to the solution as they are about identifying the problem. The first step in demonstrating thoughtful self-reflection is to identify the irritant; the next and most important step is to turn that negative into a positive. If a certain action is a stumbling block for a potential hire in the workplace, how will that person overcome it to be successful in the role? 

Connect Back to the Job Description

If the work pet peeve that gets mentioned is directly connected to the work opportunity at hand, it’s a major red flag for an employer. For example, citing “having to deal with whiny customers” as a number one annoyance probably isn’t a great move for someone applying for a customer service role. When crafting a response, job seekers must keep the job description and role in mind. “How does my response connect to the story I’m telling about my career and future goals?” should always be considered when responding to interview questions, even tricky ones about infuriating workplace habits. 

What are your top work pet peeves? How would you talk about them in a job interview? Now’s your turn to sound off in the comment section below!