The number and types of interview questions are almost endless. But one type of question is the most difficult: The negative or “failure” question. Most candidates stumble and mumble answers because they’re not prepared or they’re afraid they’ll answer incorrectly. Consider this approach:
The negative question is meant to either put you on the defensive to see how you react to stress, or to rattle you during an interview to see how you respond. Questions like “What disagreements have you had with your boss and how did you handle it?”, or “When has your performance fallen short and why?”, or “What was your biggest career disappointment and what did you do to correct it?” Negative questions serve a distinct objective for the interviewer: To see how the candidate responds. Some candidates will make up a phony story, others try to create a positive spin. The prepared candidate will have answers before the question is asked. Prepared candidates do well with negative questions.
Negative questions reveal whether you take responsibility for your action, understand and correct an issue, or blame others for the failure. Some will fault co-workers, the boss, the organizational culture, unclear directions, policies, inadequate resources, lack of training, politics, time constraints, the weather, and the old standby, “The dog ate my report”.
The interviewer is looking for certain responses: Did you identify the problem, consider alternatives toward a solution, and engage others to mutually correct the issue? Or did you shuffle the issue off to someone else, push it up to your boss or did you pull the team together to address the issue? For the interviewer, the failure question helps to surface those qualities of openness, insight, plus your management style for problem-solving with an emotional maturity to stressful situations.
How should you respond to a negative question? Don’t concentrate on the cause or assign blame, but rather, lay out the strategy to achieve a positive outcome. The interviewer is looking for self-awareness. Are you open to feedback from coworkers, the boss, clients or third parties? Candidates that engage in feedback with those involved are more likely to catch problems well ahead of those candidates who usually drive the project alone. Hiring managers are looking for candidates who ask the team: “How can we improve our results?”.
Interviewers will often ask you to describe your greatest weakness. If you respond by saying that you don’t have any, you’ll come across as arrogant or dishonest. Be open, like: “I’ve been uncomfortable with public speaking, but recently completed a TED Masterclass program. I gave a strong presentation to an executive group last week”.
Interviewing is an art and a science. So is responding to an interviewer’s questions. If you understanding why the question is being asked, your success in answering increases. An effective candidate is prepared for the question and gives the “best” answer.
Preparation is the best answer to negative questions.
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