How to turn negative qualities into positives during an interview

Perhaps you’ve been applying for jobs for weeks or months (or even years!) – or maybe you’d just been passively browsing and came across that one job that looked like destiny staring you in the eye and went ahead and threw your name into the hat.

When stars align, you get what you were hoping for: you land an in-person interview.

Now the ball is in your court. What are some key things you should be doing to prepare?

Here’s our perspective: talking about the things you’re great at and all the things you’ve accomplished is easy. Talking about your development opportunities and mistakes you’ve made in the past is hard. So, while preparing for the interview in its entirety is important, preparing to turn negatives into positives should be at the top of your pre-interview to-do list.

The good news is that it is possible. You can do it. Here’s a step by step guide to turning negatives into positives during a job interview setting:

Step 1: Anticipate the negatives

First, consider the negatives that might likely come up during your interview. Everybody should anticipate being asked something along the lines of “What are your weaknesses?” or “What are the areas you need most improvement?” And then beyond that, if any of these less-than-ideal things apply to you and are easy to uncover, you should anticipate questions from your interviewer around why you:

  • left a job on unfavorable terms
  • were involuntary terminated
  • have a short average duration of employment in many or several consecutive positions
  • have problems with your credit report or background screen
  • have unfinished degree programs
  • You can use online employer review platforms like kununu to research the employer in advance; this might give you a heads up on
  • their favorite interview questions.

Consider which of these may apply in your situation and then move on to step 2.

Step 2: Reframe

Now, start considering how your negatives can be reframed in a positive light. Remember, the only failures are those that don’t result in learning and growth. Focus on how your past mistakes have shaped and molded you as an employee. Here are some examples:

“What is your greatest weakness?”

I tend to be easily distracted, so I have had to develop systems and habits that promote focus and follow-through. I’ve found that this attribute contributes to my success in rapidly changing environments because I enjoy the shifts.

“Can you explain why were you terminated from the position you held at Company 4?”

I was irresponsible in that role. I wish I could say that I regret my actions, but I think those circumstances were such a necessary part of my growth and learning. That negative experience served as a turning point for me and you’ll see that I’ve been promoted twice in my current company because of what I learned.

“You’ve only been at each job for 1-2 years. Why the short duration?”

Every transition has been made in an effort to best contribute my talents and experiences in meaningful roles. I first transitioned into non-profit to follow my heart and stay true to my core values. Then I was recruited by an animal rescue, which brought me even closer to my career goals. And then I saw this position and it was everything I’ve wanted to do in my career so I dove in head first.

The most important rules to remember and make no excuses and place no blame. Blaming prior employers or your childhood and making excuses for your choices can give the interview team the impression that you won’t take accountability for your actions in this role, either.

Step 3: Rehearse

Once you’ve considered the negatives that might arise and planned out a response to each which reframes it in a positive way, rehearse your answers over and over again. This will improve your confidence and make it easy to answer each question in a natural, empowered way – impressing the interview team and hopefully landing the right role at the right time.

Happy interviewing!

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