How to Answer Interview Questions About Negative Information

If you're interviewing for a job, you're bound to hear questions like these sooner or later:

  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • Tell me about something you're not proud of.
  • Describe a difficult person you have worked with.

Of course, if you're interviewing for a job, you don't want to come out looking bad. Don't panic. There is a way to answer these questions honestly and still come out with your confidence and job prospects intact.


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    Search for lists of interview questions online and look for questions like these, especially any that seem to invite you to advertise negative aspects of yourself.
    • Be prepared, too, for questions like "Why did you leave?", especially if there is negative information as part of the answer.
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    Prepare several ideas ahead of time. You can have the ideas in mind without coming across as having rehearsed a speech. Know what you will discuss and how.
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    Choose subjects, skills, or events to discuss that are not central to the job. That is, if the job uses your computer skills heavily, don't choose your computer skills as the weakness you talk about. Choose subjects that are relevant but less important.
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    Use a sandwich technique to present the negative information. Start with something positive (and related), state the negative information succinctly without dwelling on it, and then end with another positive.
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    State a positive. This could be a skill that you're good at or something you liked about a company, person, or job.
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    State the negative simply and factually. Don't dwell on it, blame anybody, or overstate the problem.
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    State another positive. The best positive you could possibly state is how you dealt with the problem or difficulty, what you learned from the experience, or how you worked to improve matters.
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    State yet another positive, if you can. Describe how your efforts resulted in money saved, better communication, or some other solution to the problem, end on that note. This is similar to the "SAR" (situation, action, result) or "PSR" (problem, solution, result) technique used in behavioral interviewing.


  • Remember, the idea of these questions is to gauge how you deal with difficulties and weaknesses. Use these questions to show how you cope, overcome, solve problems, and prevail in the face of adversity.
  • If you're going to start a new job, chances are that you'll have something to learn, simply because it's a new company. If you're asked about shortcomings in your skills, emphasize the relevant skills you do have and show that you're willing to learn the rest, using examples of things that are specific to that company. Show that you're enthusiastic about learning these skills.
  • Here's an example, with the positive and negative statements explained. This one might go with a question about working with a difficult person.
    • I do my best to be a good communicator and a pleasant person to work with. (Positive.)
    • Once, in a previous job, I worked with someone in purchasing who always seemed to be upset and grouchy. (Negative, stated neutrally.)
    • As I got to know him, I realized it was because he was under a lot of stress because he had so much to do, so I made a point not to add my mistakes to his workload or waste his time. (Positive.) I asked him about what made his work harder. Then, I used what he told me to make sure my department's requisitions were completed correctly and clearly, and reminded everyone to answer his questions promptly. (Positive, specific action.)
    • He really appreciated not having to chase down missing information. He even asked me to teach my department's procedures to the other departments. (Positive outcome.)


  • Don't use these questions to complain or gripe about a previous employer, job, colleague, or boss. If you're talking about a former job, state the difficulty or problem in general, factual terms.
  • Don't dodge the question, try to change the subject, or give a pat answer such as "I'm a perfectionist" or "I don't have any weaknesses."
  • Don't name names if you're talking about a difficult person, company, or job. Simply say "one of the people I worked with" or "I once had a job doing". Especially if you're interviewing in the same area (geographical or professional) as you have previously worked, there is a chance that whoever is performing the interview knows the person that you are referring to.

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