Never Mind the Good, What About the Bad and the Ugly?

Negative interview questions present some sort of a difficult situation to which the interviewer wants you to respond: the worst boss you’ve ever had, a time you failed, a deadline you missed, a colleague you didn’t get along with, a weakness of yours.  Interviewers are looking for two specific things when they pose questions in a pessimistic nature.  Follow these easy steps and you’ll be sure to nail these tough questions!

First Thing

Interviewers will be screening your facial reaction, which is slightly easier to control as long as you can recognize the question coming.  Be sure you are always attentive to questions posed during interviews and really process what the interviewer is asking you.  If you need clarification on a question, ask because the worst thing you can do is answer something inaccurately or in a way in which the person posing the question is not expecting.


What is your knee-jerk response to a bad situation? Do you stay calm when presented with tough questions or situations, or are you someone who immediately starts scrambling and stressing out?  It’s important to remain calm and keep a smile on your face, or at least not look baffled, confused, or scared.


Interviewers are listening to your problem solving skills, so the language you use to respond to tough questions is key.  Effectively answer these questions by fully presenting a situation so it is easy for the interviewer to understand all of the key components to the story.  Keep in mind you should never bad-mouth a previous employer, as this can make you seem unprofessional.  Instead of “my boss was a jerk” try “my boss had a difficult/demanding/atypical personality or management style”.  Give an example of a specific time that the situation occurred with real details and time lines.  Doing this will help the interviewer to picture you in the situation, instead of having to take your word for it.  The most important component with this response is to talk about positive take-aways, improvements, you made, or how you developed professionally to reduce situations like the one being discussed is crucial.  The reason you do this is to demonstrate that you always learn from and respond positively and proactively to a tough situation.

When questions relate to a professional weakness, steer clear of cliché responses like “I work too hard” or “I am too dedicated”.  Instead spend time before your interview thinking about the job and if there could be any reason a hiring manager might have hesitations about considering you for a position. Do you have less (or more) experience than is required, are you making an industry switch, have you been out of the job market for a bit of time? Consider these things and address one (and only one) when asked about weaknesses.  Identify this weakness and directly address how your skills, background, or expertise overcome that concern or “perceived weakness” so that you are heading off the problem rather than discussing yourself in a negative light.  Remember: if you aren’t asked about a weakness, don’t volunteer one!  No need to bring up negatives if they don’t.

Always have an answer! Even if you haven’t been in the exact situation about which the interviewer is asking you, it’s always important to answer every question.  Think on your feet, but if you need a moment to come up with a good response, simply acknowledge that and take a few seconds to think about the question. An interviewer will appreciate the thought you put into a question, rather than opting out of it or giving an unprepared response. Let’s say you have never had a bad performance review.  Handle this by explaining that but of course you understand there is always room for improvement.  Then discuss a time when someone has asked you to do something differently and how you responded, or about a time that you received constructive criticism, or straight criticism, and how you handled that situation.

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