Answering Negative Interview Questions

Most candidates are comfortable talking about their strengths and times that they have succeeded in their career. The real differentiator between candidates in many interviews is the interviewee’s ability to handle the negative questions.

Interviewing consultants/trainers tell companies to include at least 3 “negative” questions in the course of a standard one-hour interview. The purpose of these questions is to assess how well you can handle pressure, discuss areas that aren’t your strengths (we all have these), and respond to situations when they don’t go the way that you expect (these situations happens to everyone). Some of the most popular “negative” questions include:

What is your biggest weakness?

Tell me about a mistake you made (or a decision you regretted) and how you responded to it…

The key to success in answering these questions is to be comfortable talking about “negative” situations. Everyone single candidate that they will interview has weaknesses; they are most concerned about those that give vague/sketchy information or can’t acknowledge what they are. When answering the “weakness” question, the worst two things that you can do are to say “I can’t think of any weaknesses” or to try to make a strength appear to be a weakness. The answer is structured in the following way….

Step 1 is to identify the weakness then explain a specific time when this weakness caused you to be embarrassed, struggle or fail on the job (missing a shipment, being called out in a meeting, etc.) Tell them what you have done or are doing to address the weakness.

Step 2 is a good litmus test for whether you are really discussing a weakness (trying to disguise a strength), because if it has never caused you to struggle, then it isn’t (by definition) a weakness.

The best answer to the “mistake” question follows a similar pattern: identify the mistake, take responsibility for it and explain what you did immediately to “stop the bleeding” caused by your mistake. Tell what steps you should take to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

Your humility and ability to discuss the “bads” as well as the “goods” in your background can make the difference in achieving interviewing success.