3 Steps Towards Answering Negative Behavioral Questions

JUNE 29, 2011 | BY MICAH

Perhaps the most difficult type of behavioral question to answer are those that ask you to say something negative about yourself, such as a weakness or a mistake or a period of poor judgment. You cannot pretend that you are perfect. If you do, the interviewer is going to find themself annoyed with you, and possibly distrust your other answers.

You need to give the interviewer an actual answer, and though you should never pick a negative that will drastically affect your employment (“I once stole ten million dollars”), even a small negative may harm your chances a little bit if supplied incorrectly. So when you are asked to say something negative about yourself, use the following three step process to answer the question and minimize the damage it does to your chances.

Step 1: Background

First you should set up the story for the interviewer without focusing on the negative aspects of your decision. For example “The company had recently gone through some layoffs, so I was placed in charge of the responsibilities of many of the open positions. While working on one of their projects, I was asked to…”

Step 2: Brief Mistake

Next, mention the mistake briefly, without focusing on your error or trying to defend yourself. If you picked a non-egregious error like you should have, it shouldn’t be too hard to simply mention it briefly, like “I did not realize the person the phone was a client, so I quickly hung up when they appeared to rude.”

Step 3: Minimize

The third step in any negative behavioral interview question is to make it appear as though the negative thing may not happen again if they give you employment. You do this by talking about what you have done since to ensure it does not happen again, such as “Since then, I have treated every unknown phone call like they may be a client, because you never know who is on the other end of the phone.”

Following these three steps will ensure that the mistakes you made will not seem as terrible to the interviewer, and since you explained what you have done since to minimize the damage, it is less likely the interviewer will hold these negative items against you.

Take Away Interview Tips

  • Give non-negative background information.
  • Briefly state the negative item.
  • Follow it up with information that minimizes the damage.

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