How To Spin Your Negatives In
A Job Interview
Bad references, embarrassing photos, criminal records — lots of things that can cause you problems in a job interview. But they don’t have to.
By Matt Christensen
Whether you got fired, failed a drug test, were slammed by a reference, or forgot to take down that Facebook photo of you ripping a beer bong with the Tri-Lambs, there may be several things you’d rather not discuss in a job interview. While (most) hiring managers realize that nobody’s perfect, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs if they failed to address potential issues that could wind up making you a bad employee.
Since out-and-out lying during a job interview is a risky and generally bad idea, you instead need to know how to answer questions about your weaknesses such that you end up making them sound like positives — or at least like things that won’t prevent you from being the bestest darned employee ever. Interview expert Heather McNab, author of What Top Professionals Need to Know About Answering Job Interview Questions, gave us some advice for how to handle a few potentially damaging scenarios.
1. YOUR OLD BOSS GAVE YOU A SHITTY REFERENCE
If your only references are all but guaranteed to throw you under the bus, minimize the impact by priming the interviewer first. Talk about how you’ve grown as a person and employee, and mention the ways in which you’ve changed since you worked for the
jerk person who may trash you. “Suggest that they’ll probably get a different picture of you when speaking to your former boss,” McNab advises. “Mention that it was an interesting, educational, and worthwhile time for you, and that you’ve learned to do better homework before accepting a position.” In other words, you’re not saying what went wrong at your old job wasn’t your fault … but you’re artfully implying it.
2. THERE’S AN EMBARASSING PHOTO OR VIDEO OF YOU ONLINE
It really is true: One of the reasons employers often give for rejecting candidates is that they found something they didn’t like about the candidate on social media. Whether it’s incriminating pictures, boasting about drug or alcohol use, or an old video from your college days, if you get caught looking like an idiot, fess up. There’s no guarantee you’ll repair your image to the interviewer, but it’s your best option. “First, confirm that what the interviewer is saying is correct,” she says. “Give the situation context, but keep it brief and be apologetic.” And for crying out loud, make sure your Facebook privacy settings are strong enough to prevent an interviewer from seeing embarrassing photos.
3. YOU WERE FIRED FROM YOUR LAST JOB
Don’t sound bitter. McNab recommends saying something like, “I guess the proper answer would be that we had a mutual parting of ways — they just got me before I left. But it all worked out well, and my time there was interesting and educational.” Another tip: If the people doing the hiring are sure to find out that you were fired, bring it up before the hiring manager does. If he or she finds out about it after the interview, it might make them think you’re trying to hide things — and you probably won’t have the chance to explain your side of the story.
4. YOU FAILED A DRUG TEST AT A PREVIOUS JOB
This one’s tricky, and it depends a lot on the timing of the offense. ”Take responsibility and provide a short explanation, but spend more time talking about the actions you’ve taken in an effort to change,” McNab says. “Stress the timeframe if it was a long time ago.” If, however, it’s a recent dug offense, you’re probably out of luck. Still, don’t throw in the towel. Own up to what happened, explain what you lost because of your bad decisions, and then stress that you’re not about to make the same mistakes. Remember, drug tests matter a lot more in some professions (police officer) than they do in others (writer for a men’s website).