Job Interview Tips

How to respectfully disagree in an interview

Written by Eric Titner

We all know how challenging it can be when you’re on the hunt for a new job. On top of applicants needing to stand out from the crowd in a super-competitive employment landscape across all industries and sectors, companies are also raising their expectations regarding what they want in qualified candidates and are figuring out new and innovative ways to be more productive with less staff. This all means getting a new job is harder than ever before, and you have no choice but to be at your absolute best throughout the entire hiring process if you want to land your next great work opportunity.

This includes nailing the job interview, which is by no means an easy feat. Depending on a company’s hiring process, you may get just one chance to make a lasting and positive impression in an effort to be seriously considered for a position—so, the heat and pressure are certainly on!

If you’ve been in the work world for a while, you likely have a few tips and tricks up your sleeve when it comes to handling job interviews. But there’s one angle that candidates often fail to prepare for and get caught off guard by when they’re in a room and facing a hiring manager or potential employer—when a moment of potential disagreement arises. How you handle this moment can go a long way toward determining your success in an interview—and what happens next—so let’s look at some effective strategies and advice to successfully navigate your way through this situation.

Read the room

Whenever you enter an interview your instincts regarding who you’re sitting across from should be turned on, and your senses should be fully engaged. Always look for context clues to help you read the room. Your goal here is to get a good sense of the tone and mood of both the interview and the interviewer. Successful interviewees often modulate their tone and style accordingly—taking a more serious and buttoned-up approach when the mood calls for it and a more lighthearted, casual approach if that feels like the right plan of attack.

This information about the atmosphere can also help you determine how to go about disagreeing with an interviewer, if at all. If your instincts tell you that your dissent (handled respectfully and professionally, of course) could potentially be appreciated and respected, feel free to consider doing so; if, on the other hand, you get the feeling that it might not be well-received, then consider minimizing disagreement or refraining from it completely.

Choose your battle

Is your point of disagreement based on something significant and noteworthy, or is it a minor detail that really doesn’t matter much in the context of the interview? This quick assessment should help guide you when making the decision to disagree during an interview. If you really need to disagree—perhaps to make your ideas and views on an issue known—then it may be worth the effort. However, if it’s something small like correcting an interviewer’s pronunciation of a word, it’s likely in your best interest to let it go.

Proceed with caution

When making the decision to disagree in an interview, always be sure to handle it with the appropriate level of respect and professionalism. Stay humble and positive no matter what—a mocking, disdainful, or discouraging tone will never work in your favor here. Your goal here is always to highlight your industry knowledge and expertise, or your vision for potentially serving the company’s needs and contributing to its success—not to score points against your interviewer or prove that you’re more intelligent. Whenever possible, highlight the merits of the interviewer’s point of view before disagreeing with it, which can go a long way to softening the blow.

Another key point (one many unfortunate candidates fail to consider at their peril) is to concede if and when your disagreement starts to get tense. If you’ve disagreed with an interviewer and you feel as if your point hasn’t been well received, it may be in your best interest to give in and let it go, all in an effort to salvage the interview and move forward.

If you’re on the job hunt and looking to have all your bases covered when interviewing, know that there may come a point where you want to bring up a point of contention during a conversation with a potential employer. Prep yourself by using the strategies and advice presented here to ensure that if a disagreement arises, you’ll handle it effectively and set yourself up for success.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.