General Question

appleyard's avatar

When someone asks during a job interview, "what is one negative quality that you have?"... what is the answer that they're looking for?

Asked by appleyard (45 points ) November 23rd, 2008

Surely I would never be completely honest and say, “Well, I am actually very unorganized” or “I have been known to procrastinate from time to time.”

But at the same time, I also wouldn’t try to BS them – “One of my negative qualities is that I just care too much,” or “Sometimes I get too involved in my work and I forget about the little things!” Yeah right.

So really, how is this question best answered?

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38 Answers

jholler's avatar

Tell them you are overly obsessed with the legal ramifications of hiring discrimination.

shrubbery's avatar

Hm. This is a toughy. I guess just be honest and then follow up with how you make up for this or how you make sure it won’t happen while you’re working or something.

Say for example you could mention that sometimes you can be a little forgetful, but you are aware of this and write yourself notes and lists so it’s never a big issue…

laureth's avatar

It depends on your interviewer, but I always try to use something that could be seen in a positive light. For example, “It’s very hard for me to relax. I just want to work all the time. I can’t rest until my assignments are all finished, or at least under control.”

That’s not the exact one I use ;), but you get the idea.

MissAnthrope's avatar

It’s like a trick question. You have to pick something that could be viewed positively and negatively.

I always say that I’m too perfectionistic, which is true. It indicates that I care about details and making sure my work is good. I say something like, “Sometimes I get bogged down trying to make something perfect, so that it holds up to my standards.”

queo's avatar

That you do actually f*ck things up. You should actually tell them that you perhaps procrastinate a lot of things, but you focus on what’s important. Everybody has negative qualitites, some more than others, but it shouldn’t keep you from getting a job, unless you mention that you like to eat children or something like that.

Phew.

Bsilver's avatar

as a supervisor who routinely interviews potential candidates for employment, I look for honesty, no matter what it is, habits like organization or procrastination can be changed, if the employee is willing to put forth the effort.

Just be honest and let them know you’d be willing to put forth the effort needed to change those qualities. The interviewer knows you’re applying for a reason, and more often than not, your experience/history speaks more than perceieved faults. (it’s all about being able to see that you do have faults…)

basp's avatar

I always try to be honest. My best and worse attribute is my optimism. At times itblinds me from seeing the pitfalls and at other times, it helps me to move forward despite the odds.

chyna's avatar

That you are an overachiever and organized to a fault.

wildflower's avatar

Your first two options are better, but make sure you follow it with what you do to overcome it, like making to-do lists, rewarding yourself for completing in time, remind yourself of the reason you have to get it done, etc.
Those questions are used to check 1) if you’re honest about your qualities and 2) if you can recognize your weaknesses and work to improve on them.

skfinkel's avatar

At an interview, I told them when asked this question that I didn’t like lots of meetings—they took up time and usually didn’t accomplish anything. Happily, I both got the job and was excused from lots of pointless meetings, since they knew how I felt!

hearkat's avatar

The one time I was asked this, I was unprepared. I truthfully responded that I have time-management problems, because I take my time with my patients to ensure that I’ve addressed their concerns, which leaves my with little to no time for paperwork. I was offered the job.

Judi's avatar

“I might as well tell you up front, I keep a messy desk.”
The last job interview I went on I was totally honest. I didn’t need the job and I didn’t want it if it were not a good fit. I told them that I was very good and knowledgeable in all aspects of the job but that I would need a good assistant. I told them that although I understood all the detail work, I hated doing it and needed an assistant that really enjoyed it. They loved my honesty. Before they offered me the job I called and asked them to take me out of the running. There was a lot of accounting involved and I really didn’t want to do it at all.
They told me that that is what they loved about me, that they knew that I would tell them the truth and they knew exactly what they were getting. It was the first interview I ever had with someone younger than me. I think I probably would have been the mama of the office. That part might have been fun.

bianlink's avatar

When I had the interview, I said:

I’m an honest person. Sometimes it makes me too straight forward.

wundayatta's avatar

I think this is a bullshit question. It tells me that the interviewer doesn’t know what he or she is doing. They can’t be bothered to think up relevant questions. They aren’t asking stuff that has to do with actual qualifications for the job.

You can play bullshit questions two ways. If you really want the job, do what Judi did. Tell the absolute truth.

If you don’t care, then the standard way to answer this question is to turn a strength into a fault, label it as a fault and then turn it back into a strength (I work too hard. Sometimes I even sleep at my desk. But then, when we have deadlines, it really helps get the job done). Now that’s a bullshit answer! It’s like rubbing their noses in their incompetence. The really funny thing is, they may not even know they’ve been punked!

I have never been asked this question in an interview, and I think if I were, I would laugh incredulously, give them the rap I just gave you, and walk out.

chyna's avatar

good answer daloon. I was actually asked if I had ever “led my office in any innovative manner, and if so, what”. What was ridiculous about this question was, I was just interviewing in the same office for another job, so I couldn’t lie and make up some story where I was some sort of “hero”. I hate interviews.

Zuma's avatar

I agree with daloon, this is a bullshit question. In my view it falls into the category of “stress” questions, which are intended to see how well you act under pressure.

No matter what they ask you what they are always looking for are clues to your maturity. So your answer should show that you know yourself and are comfortable with yourself and the interview situation. You should be honest—but not too honest—especially if it has to do with things like being tardy or using all your sick leave.

Personally would stay away from saying that you are inclined to be a workaholic or a perfectionist. This kind of makes you sound like a manipulative tool. It also says that you have poor judgment about how much work you think you can take on, and calls into question your time management skills.

A better way to go would be telling them that you don’t do well in situations where you have to report to two bosses (no one does). The best thing is if you can turn this question to your advantage and get some concession that will serve you later—like warning them you have a messy desk—or, that you don’t like being involved in too many office potlucks, or that you work best on a flexible work schedule. If you can tell them a little story from your past experience that illustrates the point, that will help you run out the clock on that question.

steven's avatar

You’ve got it MontyZuma .They’re actually looking for that-maturity.
That answer is excellent ”..makes me too straight forward.” in case we have no previous case in point.

girlofscience's avatar

I agree with daloon. What a stupid question. I’ve never been asked that.

Jobs should care about what you have done, can do, and will do, rather than what you can’t.

wildflower's avatar

This is not a bullshit question. It’s an excellent way to see if a candidate is capable and interested in self-development. It is about what you can do, as in realizing your potential by recognizing your weaknesses and work to improve them. Personally I find it one of the most interesting and telling questions to use in an interview.

wundayatta's avatar

@wildflower: good luck. Everyone in my field has practiced this question ad nauseum. I mean, we have little circles of people and you go by, and you hear them practicing for interviews on this question. It’s the one they’re most afraid of. You don’t get sincere answers if they’re practiced answers.

If you’re interested in what people can do, why not ask that: “what can you do?” I have no idea what realizing your potential by recognizing your weaknesses means.

wildflower's avatar

@daloon; for one because in EU we’re required to apply a set list of questions which doesn’t allow for much creativity in questioning techniques, but does ensure you’re prepared to offer any candidate comparable feedback and avoid potential discrimination allegations.
Also, it’s pretty obvious when people dish out a practiced answer, ie list out an entire action plan complete with milestones, measurements and results without blinking or a single pause for thought…..

wundayatta's avatar

@wildflower: Wow! How do people really hire if they aren’t allowed to ask questions relevant to the individual? You must have to read between the lines. I’d expect this would lead to more discrimination, rather than less. What do you think? Does anyone complain about this?

wildflower's avatar

You can ask relevant questions to the individual – as long as you ask each of the candidates in that round of selection, and stay clear of anything that could be interpreted as discriminatory (i.e. no asking “are you sure you can manage this schedule since you have kids?” or “are you able to work on the sabbath?”).
That’s why open ended questions are good. Ask questions that will require a bit of a personalised presentation to answer. Then, take detailed notes and write a summary/feedback for each candidate – and you’re sorted for justification for your selection and rejections.
CIPD give some good tips.

girlofscience's avatar

I recently read this account of a journalist who went undercover as a car salesman for a few months to expose the underhanded tactics used.

During his first interview, he was asked that question. The interviewer then said to him, “Great. I don’t care what the hell your answer was; I only care that you had an answer. To be a salesman, you need to have an answer to everything.”

wildflower's avatar

@girl..: I’d say that’s a less than ideal wording, but he’s got a point. The weakness you point out is not the essential part of that answer – it’s what you do about it that matters and shows your qualities.

Mizuki's avatar

Tell them that you are a little too awesome some times.

fireside's avatar

I can’t decide which question I dislike more.
That one or “Where do you see yourself/your career in the next couple of years?”

Ummm, working here hopefully?

Judi's avatar

right answer fireside!

wildflower's avatar

@fireside: a few years back I was going for a job through internal application (so I knew the hiring manager) and my response to that question was: “Perhaps in your role”. Not saying that’s always the way to go – but I did get that job.

Judi's avatar

@ wildflower Many job coaches say that is the wrong answer. Being too ambitious (in this question) can look brown nosey. They say that the best way to answer that question is to focus on the job you’re being hired for and doing a good job there. Don’t talk about getting your masters and moving up, or promoting quickly in the company. Just focus on how much you think you will enjoy the job being presented at the time.

fireside's avatar

I see myself independently wealthy and retired, but that’s not very likely.

wundayatta's avatar

It’s not as bad as the other question, but it’s still bad. I guess you want to get a sense of where the person thinks they want to be—in reality, not in the gaming the system way.

The thing is, if you plan for the future, and you have goals, that probably means you can plan in this job, and get things accomplished. So, a real goal is probably better than a “gaming” goal. Better yet would be if the interviewer tried to assess your ability to get things done in another way.

Personally, I like the thought experiments. “Here’s what you are assigned. How would you go about it?”

wildflower's avatar

@judi: I can go along with that. In fact when I’m recruiting new-hires/externals, I’m always cautious if the ‘impatient’ types – since company policy is that you stay in your role for 12 months before seeking progression opportunities.
That said, when I used that answer I was progressing from agent to coach within same dept. Not really a job you’d be expected to stay in for more than 3–5 years (I stayed for 4).

Dorkgirl's avatar

Everyone has areas for improvement and this question delves into that. Don’t be flippant, but you can have a sense of humor. As an HR Manager & frequent interviewer it puts me off when someone says there’s nothing they need to work on/improve/learn.

Mr_M's avatar

Tell them you steal.

girlofscience's avatar

@Mr_M: Dawn Tinsley got pretend-fired for thieving post-it notes.

Mr_M's avatar

Interesting. Only, Who is Dawn Tinsley and what is “pretend fired”?

fireside's avatar

Michael pretend fired Stanley, so Stanley got pissed and quit.
But it’s all better now.

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