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4 Tips for How to Answer
Negative Interview Questions

Eric Ciechanowski
By Eric Ciechanowski
Last Updated: August 31, 2020
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Everyone goes into a job interview hoping to show off his or her best skills and qualities. This is easiest when the hiring manager asks positive questions, such as Tell me why you’re a good fit for this position and What has been your greatest professional success? But knowing how to answer negative interview questions is a lot trickier. Negative interview questions can be hard to answer without feeling like you are bad-mouthing yourself, your former co-workers or your former employer. Here is some insight into what employers actually want to hear, and some tips for giving the best answer.

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Why Hiring Managers use Negative Questions

Hiring managers already know you think you’re a good fit for the job. What they don’t know is how you handle yourself in tough situations, which is why they ask tough, negative interview questions.

“The interviewer is not interested in the negative aspects of the circumstances you encountered,” shares Gregory Serrien, author of Engineer Your Success After College; How To Land A High-Paying Dream Job In Corporate America. “They are trying to learn how you handle difficult situations in a positive manner.”

No matter the job, difficult situations are sure to arise, so you need show you have the maturity and capacity to handle them.

“It’s important to understand if you can turn lemons into lemonade,” Serrien says.

Tips for Answering Negative Interview Questions

Don’t give a pithy or witty answer:

If you’re asked what your biggest weakness is, steer clear of cheesy, “strength-disguised-as-weakness” answers like “I’m a perfectionist,” or “I’m a workaholic.” A better strategy, according to Dr. Bruce Hurwitz, an Executive Recruiter, Career Counselor & Business Advisor, is to show self-awareness of personal weaknesses. Your answer should “explain how you overcame/overcome the negative aspect and, most importantly, what you learned from the situation,” advises Hurwitz. “The key is to always end on a positive.” A good answer will be structured like, “My weakness is X. I overcome it by doing Y.”

Be Honest:

Whatever you do, don’t lie to make yourself look better. Hiring Managers are not looking to employ super humans; they are looking for trustworthy, mature adults. “Being really honest about how a conflict at work made you feel, or showing a negative quality that you exhibited, will show the interviewer that you are genuine,” says Karla Jobling of BeecherMadden Ltd. Don’t shy away from the bad stuff, just show how you created a positive outcome or have learned and improved as an employee or a person. You will come across as more sincere and trustworthy.

Keep it Professional:

When discussing conflicts in the workplace, steer clear of personality conflicts, as these can reflect poorly on you. “Instead, bring up a difference of opinion on a technical approach or a choice on how to solve a technical question,” suggests Len Lasek, Partner at Kane Partners. “You will have to explain your choice and why you thought it was a good one, and then discuss the opposing opinion and why you accepted it or agreed that it was the better choice.” This shows how you work through professional issues in a balanced and respectful way.

Focus on the Outcomes:

The best answer to a negative question will show what you learned and how you grew from the experience. “Your answers should leave an impression that you came out of it more equipped to handle such situations in the future, says Sumit Bansal, founder of Trump Excel. For example, if asked about a conflict, explain why the conflict happened at all and how you might pre-empt such a situation in the future. “Show the interviewer that you were able to use your skills and strengths to manage the situation and things you have learned that will make it easier to tackle such situations in future,” shares Bansal.

It can be hard to show yourself in a positive light when you are in negative question territory, but if you know why the interviewer is asking that question and follow these professional tips, you can give a positive, proactive answer to a negative question.

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