How to Respond to Negative Interview Questions

We all know it’s important to prepare for any interview, but some of us can still fall down at the final hurdle; especially in the face of negative interview questions.

Perhaps you’ve already done your research about the company’s background, prepared your answers about why you’d like to work there and why you’re the best person for the job. But what if a negative interview question catches you off-guard?

Negative questions can throw off even the most otherwise ideal candidates, so it’s important to think about how you’re going to respond if you do get one of the more awkward ones, such as ‘Why haven’t you achieved more in your career?’ or ‘What’s the work mistake you have made at work?’ – ouch.

So, why are you being asked these negative questions?

Negative Interview Questions and Answers

Stay calm; you’re being tested

The worst thing you can do in this situation is panic. Often, an interviewer will deliberately be testing you by exposing you to this type of question to see how you deal with the pressure. Asking such a question can usually identify the stronger candidates, and help weed out the weaker ones.

Of course, it helps if you’ve taken the time to prepare for potentially tough questions ahead of the interview. However, if you do find yourself put on the spot, you must try your best to keep your cool so that you can answer whatever question is thrown at you with confidence and conviction.

Worried you might have a serious case of foot-in-mouth? Don’t be, there’s actually a trick to it.

Turn a negative into a positive

Instead of faltering and stumbling through a negative question – as you plummet your way into the depths of insecurity – you need to turn the tables by making a potentially negative question a positive one. But how?

Well, let’s take one of the most awkward questions you can possibly be asked: ‘Why haven’t you achieved more in your career?’

Now, this question might feel like an indirect criticism, and you may feel like you’re under fire. However, you should instead focus on the things you have achieved, and speak proudly about the experience you’ve gained from the career path you’ve chosen in life. This sounds so much better than sounding defensive and coming up with a bunch of weak excuses to cover your back.

Of course, if there were any particularly difficult obstacles that have held you back from achieving more – for example, a long period of ill health – then you can of course make this very clear to the interviewer. You can then show that you’re back on top of your game, having gotten through a rough patch like the fighter you are.

What’s next?

If you’re currently preparing for an interview, it’s important to think about some of the negative questions that you might get asked. Often, an interviewer will throw one or two spanners in the works to test you and see how you respond. These are the questions that can easily throw you off-guard, and lead to panicking and stumbling your way through, rather than keeping your cool and answering with confidence and conviction. Remember, always try to turn a negative into a positive.

For example, if you’ve had a bad experience, what did you learn from it? How did you turn a mistake at work around so that the outcome was positive – in essence, how did you save the day?

By turning negative questions into positive answers, you can show the interviewer what you’re really made of, that you can handle pressure, and that you’re the best person for the job.


For more information on negative questions within interviews, check the range of free information found over on Interview Skills Consulting.

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