How to Spin Negatives Into Positives During Your Interview: The Do's and Don'ts

Nancy Anderson
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Chances are you may run into a few tricky interview questions when someone asks you about potentially negative things regarding your past experiences or personality traits. For example, one of the most common interview questions is "What is your greatest weakness?" How you approach unfavorable traits and situation, such as a personality flaw, shows a lot about your character and attitude. That is why interviewers ask these tricky questions in the first place. Learn how to turn negatives into positives to win the day and earn that coveted position.

Do: Be Honest

Above all, be honest with the people in front of you. Give your interviewers an honest and real assessment of your feelings on every negative matter they discuss. If anything, a frank way of explaining your personality earns points. An HR manager worth his salt can usually pick up on your nonverbal cues and tell if you are lying. Therefore, it's best just to be honest.

Don't: Lie

Absolutely don't lie about any answer in an interview. If you say your greatest weakness is procrastination and a former supervisor gives you a glowing review of how you always got tasks done early, then your interviewers are going to wonder why you said you had trouble staying on task and on target. Don't lie about anything on your application or resume, either. When your future employer digs deeper into your skills, qualifications, education and previous employment, everything should correlate to your information. Otherwise, your prospective employer may believe you are willing to lie to your supervisor and co-workers.

Do: Say How You Learned From a Weakness

Everyone has a greatest weakness, so interviewers expect you to answer that question in some fashion. Turn that negative into a positive by saying how you overcome the weakness. For instance, you might say you wait until the last minute to turn in assignments, but you learn to do things more efficiently for next time. Take your negative trait and turn it into something positive.

Don't: Say You Have No Weaknesses

Everyone has weaknesses. Instead of claiming you don't have one, choose your best weakness and explain it. For example, you could say that your greatest weakness is that you self-criticize too much. However, you can turn this into a strength by saying you carefully review things before finishing your work.

Do: Explain Employment Gaps

You had some employment gaps which you listed on your resume. Be honest about your time away from work, but make sure you filled in the gaps with something active. Volunteer at a local organization for a few hours per week, and ask your volunteer supervisor to vouch for you. Freelance during your downtime, but make sure you have a portfolio ready to show off the freelance work that you performed. If you became a stay-at-home parent, turn your unemployment into a leadership position with your child's PTA at school. There are many opportunities to turn the negative of a layoff into an opportunity for a good reference.

Don't: Say or Do Nothing

When someone asks you to explain any gaps in employment, don't say you have no explanation. Find something you can say that relates to what you did during that time, such as you evaluated your career choices or you took some time off to assess your life. If you have negative and bitter feelings about that time in your professional career, try to fend off those feelings by the time you walk into the interview room.

Do: Maintain a Positive Attitude Throughout the Interview

If someone asks, "Why were you fired from Acme Brick?" you can still answer this question with a positive attitude. Smile and succinctly state how you were let go from Acme Brick. Turn this into a positive by saying what you learned from the experience, such as "I realized that my firing led me to examine my next career move in great detail." This represents a decent way to show how you became a better person after your firing.

Don't: Say Negative Things About Others

Never say anything negative about a former boss, company or co-workers. Even if you had the worst experience and your former supervisor was the meanest person on the planet, find something positive to say about the person or don't say anything at all. When you make positive statements about everyone else, it shows you are a team player with a positive attitude.

The best ways to overcome any negative aspects of your personality or past experiences includes practicing and preparing. Learn how to express a negative feeling with a smile on your face. Maintain an even keel throughout the interview to capture the attention of your interviewers and to demonstrate to them what an optimistic and favorable outlook you would bring to their company.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Michaelle thanks for your comment. So sorry about the interview and the job. Next time, try a different negative situation. Every interviewer seems to ask that question - tell me about a time when.... so you know that it's going to come up. I am all about honesty but I have found, too, that managers seem to stick together - even if they don't know each other. I have to tell you though, the fact that the interviewer defended the mean boss would certainly give me pause. Why would I want to work for someone who thinks that being a mean boss is not a bad thing? All that tells me is that he agrees with that behavior. RUN!!

  • Michaelle S.
    Michaelle S.

    I ruined my chance at a second interview at Nabisco in East Hanover, NJ, in Word Processing, by being honest about a former mean boss when the interview asked about how I handled a negative situation. Not only did the interviewer defend the mean boss, but I lost out on the job altogether because of it.

  • Santanna D.
    Santanna D.

    Very helpful. I learned a lot of new tips from this article.

  • Hope B.
    Hope B.

    Really appreciate the tutorial very helpful.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Daniel it certainly does take a conscious effort not to say something negative about your former employer. However, the world is much smaller since the advent of the Internet and social media and it behooves all of us to think before we speak. Who knows. The interviewer may be best friends with the employer who just fired you. You know the saying, if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all.


    Good advice. Not badmouthing the employer that just fired you often takes a conscious effort.

  • Kgomotso Mosito M.
    Kgomotso Mosito M.

    very helpful

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    I think one of the hardest things in an interview can be dancing around a poor previous employer or supervisor, especially if you are still employed with them during the job search. The negative emotions are still likely to be at the surface and finding ways to tactfully explain your reasons for wanting a change without dumping on the person or situation that has driven you to it can be a real challenge.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @William that is a tough scenario. There is a new program, brought about by the White House, that is called ban the box. I think it would depend upon the criminal act and the conviction. Yes they are going to find out when they do a background check anyhow but every company is going to be different as to their reaction to the criminal conviction.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    How do you spin a criminal record into a positive? Companies can use criminal convictions, not prior arrests, as a way to find the best candidates for a job. If you already know a conviction may appear on your record, how do you reassure an employer that you're not going down that road any more?

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    Answering the “weakness” question can be challenging. I once saw an old movie where the interviewee didn't respond to this question, and that got him the job. Interviewers are individuals so this might or might not work. And, as this article advises, it's not a good idea to refuse to answer questions. I often answer the weakness question by talking about a software program. I talk about steps I took to learn it, or if I'm still working on learning the software, I tell the interviewer about it.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Duncan wouldn't have said it better. @Laura truly I understand your plight. You want to be honest while at the same time not being negative. There are probably many ways you could phrase why you left the company without saying anything negative about your horrible boss. Maybe you could say that you have gone as high as you could in the company and were looking for a challenge. Or that the company is undergoing some changes and you feel that now would be the best time to exit. You might be amazes at some of the things that job seekers will say in an interview - including that my boss is a hothead and an abusive bully! Some candidates just let it all out when asked the "why are you leaving" question. Tact and diplomacy are always the name of the game.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    I totally agree with the idea of not saying negative things about others. This is because it shows my prospective employer that regardless of a multitude of bad traits in the people I work with, I can still harness the few positives and use them for the good of the organization.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    I find conflict here between “Don’t say anything negative” and “Be honest. Don’t lie.” This trips me up all the time in life and in interviews. If I’ve just left a job because the manager was a hotheaded, abusive bully, is it not best to phrase that somewhat diplomatically while still expressing the truth so I don’t look like a flake for leaving so soon? “The work environment was not one in which I thrive,” or the like? Perhaps that is the definition of this piece's title?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Catharine thanks for your comment. You could probably indicate that you had a health issue that has, since, been resolved but don't go into details. You don't want to give them anything that would put you in a negative light or otherwise have you removed from the running for the position. Many of us have gaps in our work history because we had to care for a family member or raise our kids, etc. Just a very brief response is all that is needed.


    How should you explain gaps in employment history that were caused by sensitive health issues that you don't really want to elaborate on? Is it acceptable to simply say that you had personal health issues that prevented you from working for a time but they have since been resolved? Or will HR managers expect you to go into a lot more detail than that?

  • Kamaal W.
    Kamaal W.

    Question: How can you not become overly productive, when you job as warehouse distributor is to move any given merchandise out and ready for shipping? My question is why would myself be penalized for moving faster when the merchandise is coming at a rapidly pace? My productivity is effective and efficient to get the merchandise ready for shipping or packing. Why would I be effected from working less days cause my fast pace in a fast work environment?

  • wiliam c.
    wiliam c.

    Positively great advice!

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    Sometimes it's very hard to explain gaps in employment. Reasons like maternity leave or an illness are commonly accepted, but sometimes large gaps could be the result of a lack of opportunity or education. I believe that it's best to be honest, whatever the reason. I think that interviewers appreciate honesty.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Kellen your question was answered in that yes, they still do ask what are your greatest weaknesses. I think that if a person answered honestly that they have a terrible work ethic that I would be prone to try them out to teach them a good ethic! And to answer your question, no there is not a standard answer to the questions about weaknesses/strengths. So very true @Mike. Sticking to the facts and being honest is the way to go for all of us.

  • Nthabiseng M.
    Nthabiseng M.

    Yes people are still asked that. I had to respond to that question last month in 3 interviews.

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    Has anyone been asked about their "biggest weakness" in a job interview lately? I have honestly never been asked that. It's a bit of a cliche -- I think employers aren't asking it anymore. It is a decent test, though. Candidates that say "I'm a perfectionist!" are probably too cheesy to hire! What's the best answer to that question you've ever heard? I don't know what I would do if a candidate said "My biggest weakness is that I have a terrible work ethic." At least they're being honest?

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    Very nice article with some great points! One thing that I would add is "Don't pretend your greatest weakness is a positive." I don't know how many times during an interview I have asked this question and gotten back responses such as "I work so efficiently I make my co-workers look bad," or "Others have a hard time keeping up with me." While it's one thing to spin your ACTUAL weakness into a positive, as mentioned in this article, it's easy for a hiring manager to see right through your blatant dodge of the question by actually giving a "negative positive." Stick to the facts and you'll be fine!

  • DAVID L.
    DAVID L.

    This is fantastic. I read this with much enthusiasm, as every point was salient and to the point! I just left an awful job at an tyrannical company and my greatest challenge will be to NOT be negative or trash (rightfully so) my most recent employer after I get my head straight and climb out on that interview limb again. Thanks for the simply "dos and don'ts"!

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I completely agree with the thought that you should never say anything negative about others in an interview. It may be very tempting to talk about how horrible your former boss and co-workers were, and to trash your former company, but it isn't going to do you any good. In fact, it may just make you look like a bitter, negative person. That kind of person isn't welcome in many companies, as they tend to be hard to get along with. Stay positive, or at the very least, neutral.

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