Turning Interview Negatives Into Positives

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Honesty is important in job interviews; you don’t want to position yourself as something you’re not, especially as the truth has a way of eventually coming out if you actually manage to land the job. On the other hand, there’s always the fear that answering interview questions with total honesty could turn off a potential employer.

The trick is to keep your answers honest, but reframe them in a positive way that draws attention to your broader experience and skill set.

If You Just Want More Money

You definitely don’t want a potential employer to think you only want to work for them for the money—but that doesn’t mean you can’t mention cash at all.

Career strategist and leadership development coach Mary Cosgrove believes you can word money queries in a way that won’t knock you out of contention for the job. Mention the value of your skills and experience in the context of salary; you could say something like, “I track the market data and know I’m currently underpaid for my skill set.” Follow it up by emphasizing that, no matter how much you’re paid, company culture and benefits are equally important to you as money—if not more.

If You Don’t Care About the Product

“The company wants to know why you want to work there,” Cosgrove said, “so there has to be some interest. If it isn’t in the product, what is it?”

Instead of saying you don’t care about the product (or don’t know much about it), emphasize other things about the company you do care about. For example, you might be interested in the firm’s development program, or its commitment to social justice, or how it offers opportunities to work with a new and interesting set of tools.

If You’re Not Exactly Qualified Yet

Cosgrove recommends being honest about a lack of skills and experience. It would be too bad to land a job where extensive knowledge of JavaScript was a requirement, only to have to tell your new employer that you only have a passing familiarity with the language.

If you find yourself in this sort of conundrum, quickly follow up any confession about lack of knowledge with an explanation of why you’d still succeed in the position. Perhaps you’re particularly strong in other skills the employer requires, for instance. If you’re a fast learner, suggest that you can rapidly learn the required skill set.

If You Have to List Your Weaknesses

Although many people will advise that you pick a positive quality and pretend it’s your biggest weakness (“I work too hard”), Cosgrove doesn’t believe that’s the right path forward. Instead, she suggests, describe the steps you take to manage your weaknesses so they don’t negatively impact your work.

If You Don’t Have Specific Questions

If you’re taking multiple job interviews while still employed in your current position, you might not always have time to do as much research as you’d like on your prospective employer. You can use your interview to pick up more data while making it seem like you’re not walking into your prospective employer’s office completely cold; the trick is to ask questions that are a bit more granular, such as:

  • “Can you describe what a typical day is like here?”
  • “How often do people work on Saturdays and Sundays?”
  • “What do you do to celebrate success?”
  • “How would you know if I’m doing a good job?”

Asking those sorts of questions will give you a solid sense of the company’s culture, even if you didn’t have much time to look into the company itself. If you get an actual offer, of course, you’ll need to do some additional sleuthing before you accept.

2 Responses to “Turning Interview Negatives Into Positives”

  1. Unca Alby

    ““The company wants to know why you want to work there,” Cosgrove said”

    I know this is true, and I’m not complaining about the veracity of the statement. But I do want to comment that it’s the STUPIDEST EXPECTATION ANY COMPANY COULD HAVE.

    Why do I want to work there? BECAUSE I NEED A JOB, MORON! I’ll work for Beelzebub if his paychecks don’t bounce!

    Come on, we’re all adults here, can we be REAL for a moment? Most of us have never even heard of the company we’re interviewing before some recruiter sent us over there, or we saw the position open on some job board. You do your due diligence and check their web-site ahead of time, and you STILL don’t know what the heck their business is!

    But, unfortunately, the article is correct. If you don’t stroke their fragile little egos and tell them how much you’d been just DYING to work there, you probably aren’t getting the job.