How To Answer Those Negative Interview Questions   

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The chances of negative questions coming up in your interview are more likely than not, so take some time to think about the examples before the day comes. Negative questions can come in the form of;  How do you handle criticism? What sort of person do you find difficult to work with or, what’s the worst mistake you’ve made at work?  When you’re trying your hardest to be the perfect candidate, and you’re forced to be less than that, it’s tricky. Coming up with a canned answer, or a fabricated response is not recommended for these questions. The questions are designed to reveal soft skills and self-awareness. They’re looking for the candidate that can acknowledge mistakes, accept consequences and responsibility, basically, to admit they’re human.

When preparing for the answer, or responding to the question, the advice is: be truthful. The interviewer is not looking for someone perfect, or who has never made mistakes. They’re looking to see your comfort level at revealing vulnerability and whether you take responsibility, get defensive or try to pass the blame. When you distort an example by inserting false information, your interviewers pick up on this. They may not absolutely know, however, they may sense something about you, something that makes them feel unsure.

Interviewers respect and expect the truth. Think seriously when choosing your response to a question that puts you in a less than favorable light. Here are some suggestions on setting up your answer, turning a negative question into a positive response.

Emphasize Improvements

Highlight what you learned and how you have grown or improved. Your response should emphasize that although your situation may have started negatively, you were able to successfully turn it around. “The last role I was hired into was very ambiguous and undefined. It was difficult to grasp expectations. I spent time with key members of the organization to get a full understanding of time-sensitive issues and secondary priorities. Because of that work up front, I felt good about leaving the position to my successor with the advantage of clear expectations of duties and responsibilities”.

 Emphasize Things and Situations – not People

It’s easy to do – you’re asked the question, “Tell me about a time you experienced a conflict with a co-worker”. You have the perfect answer, you know this one! And before you know it, you’re in the thick of it. You find yourself re-telling the story, getting emotional, looking to the interviewer for affirmation on a situation where you know it was not your fault. The worst way to answer a negative interview question is to get personal. Focus on the context of the situation rather than a distinct person(s). And again, as you are finishing your example – shift the focus on something you did to help or improve the situation. Do not be tempted to get into interpersonal dynamics.

Be Mindful of Your Emotions and Language

When interviewers ask you to describe a negative situation – they are measuring your response against how you might react in a similar scenario, if hired. Avoid emotionally-laden phrases as you respond. Choose “dislike”, “frustrating” or “disappointing,” over describing your reaction as making you “crazy”, “getting mad” or that you “hated” something. These phrases raise red flags for the listener.

Practice incorporating these tips into your responses before your interview. Even better, schedule a session with an interview coach to get expert advice and input. Mock interviews are a great way to practice live and try out your responses. Having an objective professional to listen and respond is priceless. Imagine walking into your interview confident, calm and excited rather than doubtful and anxious! Negative interview questions are tough but if you are prepared with the right responses, they can be just another opportunity to highlight why you are the best candidate for the job!

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