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3 Tips to Help Avoid Going Too Negative in a Job Interview

Most of us have had the displeasure of working with an overly negative colleague. An employee with a consistently poor attitude can be toxic, bringing down morale and hurting productivity.

While we all have bad days, it’s a major red flag if someone is only in the interview phase and already showing signs of negativity.

Certain questions, however, do lend themselves to negative answers. So how can candidates ensure that they’re giving interviewers the information they need, without turning the conversation into an airing of grievances?

Tip #1: Reframe the Question

At some point during the interview process, you’ll almost certainly be asked why you’re leaving your current role, or why you’ve parted ways with previous employers.

We all leave jobs for different—and often, perfectly legitimate—reasons. Perhaps you’re dealing with a dysfunctional management team, or don’t have access to the training and resources needed to do your job effectively. Nevertheless, answers to questions regarding current or past employment can quickly become negative and inappropriately personal.

Rather than focusing on why your current role is so unsatisfying, express what you’re looking for in a new opportunity…and what makes you a great fit for this particular job opening.

Interviewers don’t want someone who’s simply looking for an exit plan; they want the best, most qualified talent. If you’re too fixated on sharing frustrations and reflecting on past experiences, you’re probably not highlighting the skills and experiences that make you a great fit for the job that’s available now.

Tip #2: You’ve Gone Negative—Now What?

If a response came out more negative than you’d like, all is not lost.

Sometimes, by asking pointed follow-up questions, an interviewer will give you a chance to spin a negative response into a positive one—questions like: What did you do to fix the problem? What could you have done differently? Take this opportunity to highlight how you’ve overcome challenges at work, the lessons you’ve learned, and how those experiences actually made you a better employee.

If your interviewer doesn’t give you a clear “out,” create one yourself so you don’t end on a negative note. For example, you could say something like, “Although things didn’t work out with my last employer, I look forward to being in a role that allows me to do X, Y, and Z.”

Tip #3: Slow Down!

 It is perfectly okay—and encouraged—to slow down during an interview. If you feel you are about to go negative, pause for a second, think through the wording, and pivot to something positive.

There is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s a great question. Let me think about that for a moment.” This gives you some time to collect your thoughts and also shows the interviewer that you’re being mindful and taking the conversation seriously.