5. Dealing With Negative Questions

In any interview, it is quite possible that you will be faced with having to answer questions that require you to give what seems to be a negative response. The trick in any situation like this is to turn the potentially negative situation into a positive one, without being defensive but making sure you stay calm and collected.

Often, an interviewer will be deliberately trying to expose you to this kind of question to see just how well you respond to such pressure (similarly to stress questions but not as intense!) Such questions can quickly separate out the stronger candidates from the weaker ones so it is essential that you remain calm when the question is posed to you so that you can answer with confidence and conviction. Some example questions and answers are given below:


1. What is your main weakness?

This is a popular interview question as it reveals a number of things - how well-prepared you are for the interview, your self-awareness and honesty. These are actually the qualities the interviewer is assessing, not really the actual weakness itself but many interviewees unnecessarily panic about this question. Everyone has a weakness so to say you do not have any would be untruthful and demonstrate lack of personal insight. This is not one of those interview questions that you can tactfully avoid giving a direct answer but you should be discriminatory about the weakness you to choose to reveal.

The weakness you mention should be a strength that is taken to an extreme level eg. always wanting to help others and not being able to say ‘no’  rather than stating you are a poor communicator which is not a strength at all (in whichever profession you are applying). Of course, it would not be wise to talk about a weakness which is essential for the job i.e. being very disorganized for a secretarial role or saying you lack assertiveness for a managerial role. Although it is important to be honest, you should also try and think of ‘safe’ examples which will not be contradictory to the requirements of the role.

The key aspect of your answer should lie in the fact that you have acknowledged the weakness and have made adjustments to manage it better through appropriate behaviours. In reality, our weaknesses are part of our personality so they cannot be totally eliminated but they can be controlled.

And just when you think that you have got this question out of the way, they may respond with “Tell us about another weakness!” Don’t panic, just be prepared and have a second example ready.
There are a number of different responses to this question – the most overused is “I am a perfectionist and spend too long on detail” or “I am a perfectionist and expect the same of others and am disappointed when they do not deliver”.  Although this would be true for some people, because of its common use, it will not make your answer different and can be deemed cliché so ideally, best avoided.
You may want to use the STAR format to talk through this answer so that you can talk about something very specific but it is not essential so practise this answer in a way which feels most comfortable for you.

Some examples:


In the past I have procrastinated for too long particularly when confronted with large projects which has caused last-minute panic to complete a major piece of work and can become quite a stressful and impractical way to work. However, I have recognised this and have read books on time-management which have been invaluable in learning to plan better. I now tackle a large project by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable activities and set target times and deadlines for completing each activity. I now feel much more in control of my work and have gained a greater sense of satisfaction by working in a more structured way besides producing work of higher quality.


Being a very proactive person, I am someone who is highly focused when approaching a task and I work to the best of my capability to complete it. However, although being this focused ensures that I am someone who will get the job done, it has made me impatient with others in the past but I have started to recognize that people have different work standards and different levels of productivity. I’m learning to take a step back and see things from others’ point of view and accept that we are all different and I’ve realised that it doesn’t help in building good relationships to become frustrated with colleagues. Instead I have learnt to provide constructive feedback that is more positive and offer help to move projects forward. I find I am now more relaxed at work and have really built on my teamwork skills and this was confirmed by a recent appraisal I had where my manager had noticed a significant change in my approach to working with colleagues.


I have always found it hard to delegate to others as I like to be sure the level of work I produce is done to the highest quality and have feared that others may not be able to do the same and as a manager, it reflects on the department. There is also the time-element in training others to do the tasks I normally do which I previously thought would take too long in getting them up-to-scratch. However, since our company went through a process of re-organisation, I have been struggling to manage my workload and had to hand over some duties to my team. Initially, this was really difficult as I had to double-check and over-see everything and spend time in training them. However, it has now paid off and I have really reaped the benefits of learning to delegate. I have found it has a two-fold effect; my team members’ responsibility has been increased and this has definitely had an impact on a de-motivated team as they are now dealing with new challenges in their jobs and without doubt, it has eased my workload which means I can spend time on more managerial tasks rather than trying to do a lot of the administration as well.   


Being the youngest in team of sales people, I was surrounded by confident, pushy individuals who, I felt, took advantage of my age and asked me to do things that I felt weren’t fair. I had a really busy role, yet they would tell me to ‘go and make tea’ for everyone throughout the day and I was often asked to get their lunches. I knew to some degree it was part of the work culture so I accepted it but it was only when a new recruit started who was a university graduate and a couple of years older than me that I felt inspired to make some changes as this new girl was never asked to do menial tasks.  I booked myself on an Assertiveness course and started to read books on the subject and very slowly started to apply some of the techniques. I was astounded at the impact of learning to stand up for myself and really enjoyed learning the psychology behind it. My team were at first taken aback at my different approach but soon adjusted which amazed me and I began to feel really confident in myself.  The best part of it was that we had a new starter recently who became the youngest member of our team, and I actually taught him some techniques so that he didn’t need to go through the difficult time I had experienced and that really paid off for him. The great aspect of learning assertiveness skills is that it has benefited every area of my life – I now feel a lot more confident and happy in myself generally.

Public speaking

I have always been very shy and dreaded giving presentations which has been an essential part of my Business degree. After getting quite poor feedback at the end of my first year at university, I decided that to be successful in the business world, I had to become confident at talking to large audiences and had to overcome this weakness. I joined the Debating Society and found this is a great way to talk to small groups at first which helped to build my confidence. I also actively volunteered to present to my class during group work to further my skills in public speaking.  I can’t say that even now I really enjoy speaking in front of large groups and always feel nervous at the prospect, but the feedback I get is very good and people are amazed when I tell them how I used to feel about it so I would definitely say that I have ‘conquered’ this weakness.


2. Why haven’t you achieved more in your career?

This question is a subtle form of criticism and although you can feel under attack, the interviewer is more interest in how you handle the question rather than the actual reason behind why you have not achieved more.

Do not make yourself vulnerable by admitting that you feel you should have achieved more; instead focus on what you have achieved and talk proudly about your successes, therefore drawing attention away from what you cannot offer them. You should also talk about how you see your career plans developing over the next few years.

If though, there were legitimate reasons why have not achieved more in your career i.e. a long period of ill health, then you should explain this but also make it clear that you are now on-form, have been given the all-clear and ready to embrace new challenges.


I actually like the way my career has developed as I’ve been able to gain a wider perspective of the industry rather than having stayed doing the same role for a number of years. As I’ve progressed through my career, I have gained a great deal of sales and marketing experience through the opportunities I’ve had in each role. I have been responsible for a number of significant achievements; in my current role I successfully established and managed a new business arm specialising in the provision of telemarketing services bringing in an additional revenue of £1.5M per year. My excellent communication and negotiation skills have been the backbone of my success in winning high profile clients for the organisation, of which, I feel very proud.  I feel ready for the next challenge and am confident I would be successful in this post.


3. How do you handle criticism?

This interview question is a fairly straightforward one to handle – you need to demonstrate that you take on board constructive criticism and are always striving to improve, yet are able to decide whether it is valid or not. Criticism can arise from a number of reasons; it could be jealousy of your success, someone’s doubt about your abilities, or a personal disliking to you – try to keep objective about the criticism and deal with the facts only.

You will also want to consider who is making the criticism, since it is likely to be more professional than personal if coming from a client rather than a colleague.

The key is to show that that you can deal with the situation calmly and rationally, take ownership of the problem and have used it to improve your work. If you are in a leadership position, you will need to show that you are responsive to criticism by discussing it openly and are able to work towards finding a solution.


I try to welcome constructive criticism as I am always striving to push myself to achieve high standards in my own work and feel it’s important to take on board feedback from others, especially those who may have a different perspective or possibly more experience than I do. I was recently asked to work on an Induction presentation for new starters, but since I have not had any experience of presenting before, I invited criticism from both my line manager and from a more experienced colleague. Whilst they were largely impressed with my work they certainly gave me constructive criticism on a number of different areas and this helped me to perfect my presentation. Since I always give out feedback forms at the end of my presentation, I take on board these comments and am able to decipher which of them are helpful in updating my presentation to make it as valuable as possible for new starters. Overall, I view criticism as a learning tool to continually improve.


4. What makes you angry?

Again, the interviewer is assessing how you handle pressure – bear in mind you don't want to come across either as someone too fiery or someone who doesn’t assert themselves. Aim to give an answer that is suited to both your personality and the management style of the firm and the job role itself. Here, the background work you have done about the company and its style can help in your choice of words.


Example A: If you are a quiet person and/or the corporate culture is reserved and professional: 

I'm a calm and positive person by nature, and I believe this helps me a great deal in keeping my department running smoothly. I believe in communicating clearly what's expected, getting peoples’ commitment to those goals, and then following up regularly to check progress. If, for any reason, things are going off-track, I want to know about it early and understand the problem. If there's no good reason, then I'll get impatient and take appropriate steps from there. But if you hire good people, motivate them to achieve high standards and then follow-up on a regular basis, it almost never gets to that state.

Example B: If you are feisty by nature and/or the position calls for a tough boss

I have legitimate reasons to get annoyed with people which can include those who are lazy, shy away from responsibility, don't pull their own weight, are negative and try to spread their negativity throughout the team, people who lie, etc. Of course, there may be underlying reasons for some of these issues which I would want to investigate and support them with but if there is no valid reason, I would seek to pull them up on their performance in relation to the role they are carrying out and their attitude towards work

5. What reservations do you have about working for us?

Be careful with this question, as honesty may not be the best policy here! If you do have any reservations, keep them for some later questions if the interview should progress further or ask the recruitment agency to check out certain information if the role is through them. You are perfectly justified in having reservations but it is best to steer clear of mentioning them in a first interview.

Showing lack of enthusiasm for a job is often cited as a key reason as to why someone failed to get an offer so keep your interview positive and upbeat and if your concerns are so overriding, then you should question why you are applying in the first place.

After having done my research and knowing more about the company and the job on offer, I don’t have any reservations. I think the role is a perfect match to my skills and experience and offers scope to develop in my chosen field. Furthermore, I think the growth and expansion of your company over the last few years confirms my desire to want to work for a dynamic and progressive organisation such as yours.

6. What sort of person do you find difficult to work with?

This question is seeking to find out about your interpersonal skills and how you deal with conflict which will allow the interviewer to assess how you interrelate with others and how you might fit in to the team.

Of course, this question is quite subjective as each person might find different qualities in someone irritating or difficult to work with so it is your ‘perception’ of a difficult colleague that the interviewer is interested in hearing about.

Your answer should demonstrate that you are empathic and try to see others’ opinions, yet are assertive enough to stand up for what you believe is right. You will need to show how you able to work successfully with someone despite the difficulties and seek a way of finding a resolution or compromise that works for both of you.



There isn’t a specific type of person whom I find it difficult to work with but I am a firm believer of fairness and open communication when faced with this situation. If someone is being difficult because they are shying away from responsibility, is quick to blame others or just hasn’t done their fair share of the work, then I do not have issues in addressing this. However, I think it is too easy to make assumptions about others and I have learnt that what is important is to give the other person a chance to voice their opinions or explain themselves before jumping in with why I think they are being difficult – there may be a valid reason that I am unaware of or sometimes it is simply a high-pressure situation that can raise stress levels temporarily. I feel that certain issues can be overlooked if they aren’t really that important but if I feel the situation has gone too far, I will try to resolve it through communicating with that individual to reach a mutual understanding.


7. What is the worst mistake you have made at work/or failed to reach a target?

As with many of these negative questions, you may feel under pressure to defend yourself, but it would be wrong to say that you have never failed or made a mistake at work as few of us are that perfect! This question warrants an answer that demonstrates humility, self awareness, openness to learning and growth.

Be honest, but respond with a failure or mistake that allowed for a learning curve, not one that was out of your hands as the interviewer is mainly interested in hearing about how you reflected and learnt from the experience. It is also best to avoid extreme situations which can raise serious questions for the recruiter i.e. how you failed to meet the needs of your company’s most important client who was forced to give their business to one of your competitors resulting in major financial losses for the company!
Before your interview, ask yourself these questions:
- What is an important lesson I have learnt and how did I learn it?
- How has a recent mistake helped me to improve?
- How have I taken a failure and turned it into an opportunity?
- What have I specifically changed about myself since gaining awareness of this mistake?



My nature is such that I have always been very trusting of others. When I was an Account Executive at my last job, I let my overly-trusting personality take over and found out a day before the deadline that one of my subordinates actually did not do a portion of a project that they had alleged was finished weeks before. What I learned from this experience as a manager is the importance of following up on important tasks when they are delegated to team members. Whether it is an individual or team task, as a manager, it is my job to ensure that everyone completes their work in a timely manner. Because I have to travel a lot in my role, it is difficult to keep on top of the day-to-day issues so I delegated this role to a trusted colleague for those periods and also now make much more use of video conferencing with my team. Since then, I’ve not had a similar issue arise.

8. What would you do if you don’t get offered this job?

The interviewer is seeking your response to handling rejection, and no one wants to appear desperate so keep your cool and definitely avoid begging! They are also interested in finding out what your alternative job plans might be and ideally, its best to be in a position where you can talk about other interviews you have lined up or are waiting to hear back from prospective employers. Use the question to reiterate your interest in the post.


I would, of course, be disappointed. I feel the job is an excellent fit to my skills and meets all my requirements and I can also see myself fitting in well here. At the same time, I have also applied for other positions and am awaiting feedback on one or two so I would stay positive and continue to pursue my job search. However, this role is, by far, my first choice and I hope that I have done everything I can to demonstrate that I would be your preferred candidate.