Stress-based interviews: The Negative Interview

Most interviewers don’t do a stress-based interview. In fact, most interviewers know you are going to be nervous in the interview and are trying to put you at ease. But occasionally, you will encounter a stress-based interview. There are three versions of this:

  1. The negative interview,
  2. The in-basket exercise or case interview, and
  3. The brainteaser interview.

Sometimes these are mixed together, but I’ll discuss each separately in future posts. For now, I’ll focus on the negative interview.

Negative interview questions include some of the following:

  • You don’t have much experience in the field of X. Why should we consider you?
  • Your school is not one of the top ones we recruit at. How do I know your curriculum was good enough?
  • We don’t usually recruit people with your major. What in your degree relates to this job?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Give an example of a time you made a mistake. What did you do wrong, and what did you learn?
  • Give an example of a time you disagreed with your boss. What did you do?
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker. How did you handle it?
  • What is the worst mistake you made?
  • Have you ever been fired?

The key to answering negative interview questions is to stay focused and try to remain confident, regardless of what is asked. Show how you have overcome a challenge and stick to the positive as much as you can. Every negative story should try to have a positive ending, and/or be a strength in disguise. For instance, a classic weakness answer for accounting students is “I am so focused on details that I sometimes lose sight of the big picture, because I want to always be 100% accurate. But I’ve learned to keep the big picture in mind. For example, sometimes I used to keep perfecting work until the very end, and now I have a calendaring system that helps me finish each part of my auditing work one step at a time so I am always done days before the deadline. Even with our year-end auditing, I have had no problem submitting all the work on time and have been commended for my accuracy and attention to detail.”

Remember, an interview is a two-way street. If an interview is entirely negative, I would start to wonder whether I’d want to work for that employer!

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