Hiring managers ask “How do you build relationships?” for a few key reasons.
And if they’re asking you this interview question, you can be certain that relationship-building is an important skill for the role you’re discussing.
So coming up, I’ll share how to discuss building relationships so you can ace your interview and win the job… including sample interview answers.
Employers ask interview questions about how you build relationships for one primary reason:
They feel that it’s an important skill for the role they’re discussing with you.
And beyond that, they want to verify that the way you go about developing relationships fits with their company culture and current way of operating.
Depending on the job you’re discussing, the hiring manager could be concerned with:
You’re most likely to hear this interview question when discussing roles that require building client/customer connections for the business.
But you may also hear it for a role where it’s vital to build strong relationships with people inside your organization, like coworkers, leaders, project managers, etc.
Before answering interview questions about your relationship-building skills, think about the type of relationships you’ll be building most in this exact job, and aim to demonstrate your ability to create connections in that context.
I’ll share word-for-word sample interview answers coming up soon.
Use the steps below to answer “How do you build relationships?” and other interview questions about how you build good working connections, whether it be with coworkers, customers, or both. Be prepared to go into detail on all of the following key points:
The best way to answer interview questions about how you build relationships is to discuss a pre-planned strategy you follow.
It’s best to sound like you have a trusted process that you’re confident in, rather than figuring it out as you go.
So, discuss a pre-planned approach to how you develop a key working relationship when needed. Consider pointing to past successes, too
Before your interview, carefully review the job description so that you can discuss how you build the type(s) of relationship you’ll need to form in this new job.
Does the position involve talking to clients/customers?
If so, the hiring manager likely wants to ensure you can develop relationships with those people.
If not, then perhaps the interviewer is wondering if you can build connections and trust with your coworkers.
Or, if you’re interviewing for a management position, they may want to ensure you can build trust with the employees working for you.
Always review the job requirements before your interview so you can share an approach (and examples/stories) that fit with the job.
The most important thing is to answer confidently, and sound like you’ve built successful relationships frequently and will have no trouble doing this in a new job.
An interviewer isn’t just listening to the words in your answer, they’re judging whether you sound like you enjoy this work, whether you sound energized as you talk about it, etc.
So you want to sound like building relationships is a part of your career that you enjoy.
Remember, it’s unlikely they’d be asking this interview question if this task weren’t majorly necessary for the job.
So you need to show your interviewer that this is a topic that you like, and the need to build and maintain relationships in a role doesn’t worry you.
After describing your general approach to forming a strong working relationship, give an example of how this has worked well for you in a past role.
You could say, “For example, in my most recent role…”
And then talk about a time you had to build trust and rapport with coworkers on your team, with a customer, etc.
Pointing to past successes is one of the best ways to demonstrate that you’ll be successful for this next employer, too.
I’ll share full word-for-word examples soon, so don’t worry if you’re not sure what to say for this step.
The approach outlined in the steps above works for behavioral questions, too, such as, “Describe a time you had to build a relationship and earn the trust of someone at work.”
If answering a behavioral question (questions that begin with phrases like, “Describe a situation when…”) you’d simply want to shorten the “how” in your answer (Step 1 above) and jump more quickly into the example of a specific time you built a relationship with customers, colleagues, etc.
Whether you decide to share an example of building a relationship with a customer, a team member, or anyone else in the company, make sure you’re sharing positive stories with successful outcomes.
Think about the relationships that helped you achieve the most success in past roles, and discuss those.
Companies always like to hear you talk about how you helped a past employer with a similar need, since it shows how you’ll be able to help them, too.
In fact, one of the best ways to land an important role with a company is to show you’ve done closely-related work and succeeded at it.
Of course, if the interviewer specifically asks for a time you struggled, then share that.
For example, they might say, “Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important.”
Still, you’d want to give an answer that ends on a positive note and not a failure.
Next, let’s look at some sample answers to interview questions about how you develop relationships.
Remember to focus your response on discussing how you build the type of working relationships that are most important in this role and company.
This may be client relationships, internal team relationships, or simply the relationship with your boss/manager if you’ll mostly be working closely with them.
I spend time getting to know a client’s needs and concerns and only make a recommendation about one of our products when it makes sense.
I’ve found that this has helped me earn trust and find common ground with my clients, which keeps them with the business for longer and results in more revenue.
In my current role, I’m among the top 5 sales representatives out of 100 employees in terms of average monthly revenue, and I think my upfront, honest approach is a big part of how I’m able to close the deal and keep customers on board for the long term to achieve these metrics.
I build trust and relationships with customers by being upfront and accountable. I also pride myself on being patient and having great listening skills.
For example, in my last customer support role, an angry customer came in demanding a refund because the product we sold them had stopped functioning after a couple of weeks.
I apologized, stayed calm, and asked if they could describe what had happened.
After a quick conversation, it did sound like they had simply received a faulty unit.
I was able to quickly deal with the issue and give them a new unit to take home that day, and I sent a technician to set up the unit so that they wouldn’t have to spend any more time dealing with this issue.
A couple of months later, the same customer returned to buy more from us, and they mentioned that my response to their initial issue was a big reason they were willing to come back to us.
Employers may also ask you a behavioral question, such as, “Describe a situation where you had to build a relationship with someone at work.”
Or, “Describe a time you had to build a relationship with one of your clients.”
So here’s how you would answer behavioral interview questions about times you’ve built relationships in the past.
In my last role as project manager, I was handed a project at the last minute when another project leader resigned.
This tested both my time management skills as well as my ability to quickly build relationships and earn the trust of this new project team.
To start, instead of telling each team member how I wanted the work done, I began by calling a meeting and asking a few questions:
What was already completed in the project, and what was pending? How were they accustomed to working in terms of roles and delegation? How often did their project team currently meet and how did they handle milestones, communication with the customer, etc.?
By having my new coworkers describe their current process, I was able to step in and be an effective leader without disrupting their existing work.
Of course, part of my job as a manager is to dictate how work should be done and step in to make adjustments when needed, which I also did.
However, I think the key starting point to connecting with each person on the team and understanding how they approach each task was to ask and listen, not tell.
When answering behavioral interview questions, consider using the STAR method to organize your response:
First paint a clear picture of the Situation you were in.
Next, what was the Task that needed to be performed?
Then, talk about the Action you chose, and why.
Finally, what was the Result (and possibly lesson learned)?
This will help you create a concise, clear answer and get your message across without losing focus.
You can use the following ideas/examples to prepare your response for when an employer asks, “How do you build effective working relationships?” or any behavioral interview question like, “Tell me a time you had to build a relationship at work.”
As a final step, create and practice your interview answer.
Either conduct a mock interview with a friend or colleague, or record yourself giving practice answers with your smartphone voice recorder app. Then, play the recording back to see how you sound.
Doing so will help you maintain composure and sound more confident in the interview.
In an interview, you may be asked to describe a time you had to build a relationship, or how you go about meeting this objective in general.
Managers ask about this topic in the interview because the skill is vital to so many roles within a company.
If you’ve read the tips and sample answers above, you’re ready to describe your approach to creating connections and trust in the workplace, which will help you land your next job.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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