What to do when interviews go negative

Staying positive in the midst of difficult interview questions

By asking a negative question, your interviewer hopes to peel back your polished interview veneer and see the real you.

Your job is to ensure what they uncover is a positive professional who has already prepared for their negative inquiries.

Negative questions help the employer better understand how you handle the inevitable mistakes any real employee makes from time to time. These questions also expose your self-awareness (or lack thereof) and whether you are capable of learning and growing from mistakes.

A general rule for interview success is to keep the tone positive. This becomes tricky when your interviewer intentionally steers the conversation into negative territory.

Your goal is to infuse positivity, reflection and a growth mindset into your answers for even the most negative questions.

Before the interview, take the time to draft responses to the following common negative interview questions and you will set yourself up to be a successful interviewee.


Tell me about a time you failed?

Revealing your failures to someone you desperately want to hire you requires finesse and preparation.

You need to share a legitimate failure without telling a story that makes you look like a complete idiot. This balancing act is best approached with delicacy.

The best answers will demonstrate your ability to learn from your mistakes and change your future behaviour accordingly.

What do you do differently now that prevents this mistake from likely happening again?

By ending your explanation with evidence of your continued growth, you effectively make this answer more positive.

Share a mistake that is significant enough to demonstrate personal development without crossing the line into a fireable offence.

In other words, a story about a group project in which you learned to implement more rigorous timelines would be a good answer. A story about the time you had a screaming match with a customer is a bad answer.


Why are you leaving your current job?

This can be a tricky question to handle, particularly if you are trying to escape a toxic workplace.

No matter how villainous your current employer, never complain about them in an interview. Even if you are entirely in the right, it is nearly impossible to discuss these issues gracefully in an interview setting.

Any complaint you make will likely reflect poorly on you. Save the real story for your new work friends over drinks in a month or two.

Instead, focus on the positive. You might explain that your current position has really ignited your passion for [insert central feature of your possible new job here], which made you realize you wanted to seek out new opportunities where you could grow in that regard.

This highlights your excitement about this new opportunity without resorting to negativity.

Concentrate on the ways in which you plan to grow in this new position rather than wallowing in the problems of your current role.


What’s your greatest weakness?

This question is a classic that gets asked again and again. Prepare a weakness answer for every interview you attend.

The weakness you share should be genuine, but not something that could cause the interviewer to question your ability to do the job that you are applying for.

Your answer should also cover the ways in which you are working on improving your weakness. This will demonstrate your ability to deal with your personal challenges.

To end this answer on a positive note, turn your weakness around, demonstrating the ways in which it can be viewed as a strength.

As you begin planning this answer, you might be tempted to claim perfectionism as your weakness.

No matter how true, never say you are a perfectionist in an interview. This answer has become cliché from overuse. You might also make your interviewer throw up in their mouth a little bit.

If you are convinced your kryptonite is truly your perfectionism, focus instead on particular aspects of your perfectionism that are actually problematic.

For example, my go-to (and very genuine) weakness is that I can be too hard on myself.

In an interview, I explain that I am working on being kinder to myself and giving myself permission to celebrate my professional successes.

At the same time, I know that being my own harshest critic means that I am always striving to improve myself and do the best work I possibly can, which in turn makes me better at my job.


Reflect on your shortcomings

If there are any issues in your employment history that might raise red flags in an interview, it is best to figure out your answer before sitting down for an interview.

Reflection and preparation are the keys to interview success.

By carefully crafting responses in advance, you can paint any negatives as positives.