How to deal with negative interview questions designed to take you down

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Some of the toughest questions that you face in interviews focus on negative traits or behaviors. But it’s important that you formulate your answers to them in a constructive way, so you end up making a good impression. Here are my suggested responses to four common questions.

1) What are your weaknesses?

The interviewer’s objective is usually to find out how well you know yourself. Saying you don’t have a weakness or trying to dodge the question is not a good idea. Also avoid making up a weakness. It is best to answer the question directly and then describe how you are trying to overcome the problem. Instead of saying, "My weakness is..." start with "Something I'm focused on improving is..." Make sure to talk about something that is not critical to the role that you are applying for. Know the job requirements well and be prepared to give a straightforward response.

2) What do you dislike most about your current position (or organization)?

This question is asked to determine your compatibility with the role and/or the company. For example, if you disliked working long hours and the potential employer expects it of you, there is clearly a compatibility issue. It’s important, therefore, to research the role and the work environment of the new company. Try to give your answers in a diplomatic way and not be too critical about your current or previous firms. It is OK to say you dislike bureaucracy, for example, but elaborate your answer and explain how you have worked through bureaucratic challenges in the past.

3) What mistakes have you made so far in your professional life?

We all make mistakes at least once, so there is probably something you can talk about. Don’t lie and say you are faultless because the interviewer is unlikely to believe you. The interviewer is trying to discover how you handle such situations. Discuss small misjudgements and what steps you took to correct them. Talk about what you learned from the experience and how you can apply what you've learned to prevent similar mistakes in the future. Avoid talking about big errors, such as something that cost the company a lot of money (obviously).

4) Walk me through the low points (and high points) in your career.

We would all prefer to avoid discussing our failures, but this is a question that will probably come up in any interview. When talking about your low points, always elaborate to tell the interviewer how you handled them and what you took away from the experience. Failures are things which we all learn from. Try to talk about the experience in a positive way, letting the interviewer know that you can take responsibility and learn from your mistakes. At the end of the discussion, the interviewer should believe you have the ability to handle the lows as well as the highs.

The author is a financial services professional in Singapore.

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