In the interview, things are going along well. Maybe you’ve aced the small talk with the interviewer, and have created a rapport as you skip through the standard interview questions about five-year plans and that time you problem-solved the heck out of something. Then your new buddy looks you in the eye and asks for your honesty. For example, “Tell me what you’d do if your boss came up with an idea you hated.” Or “Tell me something negative you’ve heard about this company.”
Just two new friends (and probable future coworkers) having a candid moment, right? Well, partly yes. But mostly no. The interview is still on, remember, and you need to answer it as an A+ candidate. How do you navigate this interview question?
DO make sure you’ve got straightforward body language.
Fidgeting, avoiding eye contact, all of those things make it look like you’re scrambling for an answer—or worse, making something up.
DON’T disparage the company or your hypothetical boss with the terrible idea.
Going negative can be tempting to show what a badass shark you are, but keep in mind that this might not be so hypothetical to the interviewer. She might be your boss with the terrible idea at some point. Try to keep the tone positive no matter what: “I think an idea is a starting point for conversation.” Or “I did see the news reports last week about the company accidentally poisoning baby seals, but I think there are two sides to every story, and I’d want to know more about the situation that goes beyond the headlines.”
If the company was all over the news last week for poisoning baby seals, then sure, it’s okay to go ahead and mention that particular elephant in the room if you’re asked about negative things you’ve heard. Otherwise, it’s likely the interviewer is fishing to see what the industry is saying about his company—or at the very least, trying to gauge whether you’re coming in with a particular agenda.
This is especially likely to come up if your current/last job was at a competitor. You’re not a double agent, so don’t let them play you like one. If you’re pressed, be positive. “I can’t recall anything particularly negative, but I was interested in learning more about [aspect of company], if you’d like to talk more about that.
DO see this as an opportunity to reflect back on your own skills.
For the question on how you’d disagree with a boss or colleague, use an example of a time you faced different perspectives in a previous job. For the “what have you heard?” question, emphasize that what you have heard about the company dovetails with your goals, and that’s why you’re so interested in working with them.
DON’T be brutally honest.
Be tactful and positive instead. Remember, there’s Regular You, and there’s Professional You. There are, necessarily, differences between the two. Always err on the side of Professional You, even if Regular You would talk smack about the company off the record, or if Regular You would roll your eyes at a boss’s ludicrous idea. The interviewer needs to know you’re a team player, and this is a good place to show off your diplomacy skills.
So in short: don’t go too negative, and if you need to, umm, massage what you really think, make sure it comes off as a straightforward response.