TIP: Answer negative questions positively

A friend of mine asked me the other day what I would say if I was asked in an interview to describe a time when I lost my temper.

I told her that I wouldn't lie about it, but I wouldn't be totally honest either. Let's face it - this is an interview, not a causual chat. As an applicant, it's only natural to try to turn every answer into a pitch. If you don't do it, other applicants certainly will - and that just may be enough to tip the scale decisively in their favor.

When faced with negative questions, the first rule of thumb is not to provide information that will hurt your prospects. Sometimes all it takes is rephrasing the question. When asked to describe a time when you lost you temper, you could say, "If you are asking if I ever get frustrated, yes. I like to get things done and done quickly, and if politics keeps getting in the way, I can see myself get frustrated."

It also helps to be on the lookout for a positive spin. When asked about the layoff, one can say "The company's going through some difficult time... I'm looking at this as a fresh opportunity to start a career with a great company."

Another tactic is to use a bait - employ another related fault to overshadow your honest answer. For example, "My weakness was getting frustrated when leadership fails to lead."

If all fail, stall. Ask calmly if you can come back to the question later. Or simply "Do you mind if I take a minute to collect my thoughts?" You may lose a few thinking-on-your-feet points, but you'll gain points for handling a difficult question with poise and for your thoughtfulness.

Category: C++ Quant > Land the Job You Want

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