Behavioral interviewing tip #5: Answer “negative” questions positively and with an appropriate level of candor

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For the most part, job interview questions are positive: the interviewer will ask you about your successes, accomplishments, achievements, awards, good grades, and other good stuff. These questions are not necessarily easy to answer, but they are easier than the other type of question.

Negative questions! In which the interviewer asks you about your failures, flubs, foolish moves, and F’s on your report card. The ultimate classic hated-by-all-interviewees everywhere negative question is undoubtedly,

What is your greatest weakness?

And the classic way to answer this question has been to turn it around and make it into something positive, like this:

I’m so dedicated to my job that sometimes I stay at work all night, eventually succumbing to fatigue and rendering myself less than 110% productive the next day. I just can’t help myself!

In our opinion, the “greatest weakness” question is a bit outdated, and we have something better to offer. Behavioral interviewing is a modern and effective form of interacting with job candidates that we at Key Corporate Services have developed into a powerful way to help our clients find the best talent possible. Now “negative” questions exist in behavioral interviewing too, although good behavioral interviewers won’t write them just to trip up candidates or make them uncomfortable. Rather, we want to learn what behaviors candidates exhibit when faced with challenges.

So let’s call them “challenge questions” instead. Some examples:

  • Tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a boss or coworker and how you worked through the issue.
  • Talk about a time when you were disappointed with your sales results and what corrective actions you took.
  • What was your worst performance review, and how did you react?
  • What has been your biggest failure in your career, and what did you learn from it?

No career is composed of 100% stellar moments. When the interviewer asks questions like the above, he or she is not looking for an abject confession of failure–and you shouldn’t give one! Instead, give a STAR response that focuses on the positive outcome you achieved.

In sum, “challenge questions” are a great opportunity to talk about your resourcefulness, grace under pressure, ability to leverage skills and experience, and positive behaviors in general. As with other types of questions, It’s helpful to anticipate possible questions and practice your answers with a friend.

The Key Corporate Services Blog Team