Doesn’t matter how hard we try, it is impossible to satisfy everyone. Be it at work, school, or in our personal life, receiving negative feedback from people we interact with simply belongs to life. And it isn’t a completely bad thing either, because from our limited perspective we often struggle to see our own actions and endeavors as they really are. Feedback–both positive and negative–helps us to get better in whatever we do. Of course, in an ideal world, your manager or husband would share a negative feedback in a constructive way, without emotions, without trying to hurt you or humiliate you. But we do not live in an ideal world, and we probably never will.

Anyway, when it comes your job interview, you shouldn’t focus on the way the other person delivered their feedback to you, and whether it was appropriate. That doesn’t really interest the hiring managers. They care about your attitude, and your reaction. They wonder whether you can accept constructive criticism, whether you can deal with the negative feedback. Another thing they have on their mind is the action you eventually took, the lesson you learned. Because for many people negative feedback (or any feedback) goes one ear in and out the other. They do not really care. And while in specific jobs this can be an advantage (imagine a job of a call center operative), in most cases the interviewers look for a different attitude.

They want to hear that you carefully listened to the feedback, tried to understand it, learn from it, and do things better the other time around. That’s the attitude they seek in the job applicants. Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this interesting and tricky interview question. I tried to include on my list examples from all sort of situations, including some examples for people who lack any previous working experience. Read all the answers, and choose one that reflects best your situation and the attitude you try to show in the interviews. Than adjust it slightly to your unique life situation and you should be ready to go for the interviews. Enjoy!


7 example answers to “Describe a time when you received negative feedback” interview question

  1. I recall a good example from my last job in a fast food restaurant. The manager scolded me for not cutting the vegetables fast enough, and overall for working slowly in the kitchen. He seemed quite angry, but I reacted calmly, and without emotions, explaining to them that I tried to do the work precisely. My calm attitude helped to calm him down a bit too, and he responded that we were in a fast food restaurant, and that speed mattered more than precision, because people hated to wait longer than necessary for their orders. I thanked them from making things clear to me, and from that moment on–even though I did not think it was right, I put emphasis on speed over precision. At the end of the day he was a manager, and it wasn’t my job to tell how things should be done. Having said that, I am quite a perfectionist and it is one of the reasons why I left the job and am now looking for something different…
  2. It happened just recently, in the corporate job I have at the moment. My superior scolded me heavily for the financial analysis I delivered. They thought it was incorrect and lacked detail. I calmly explained to them that I did the analysis exactly as I was instructed during the on-boarding process and employee training. But he dismissed that, and said that I should do it differently. I agreed, and calmly asked them to show me how it should be done, and what details they expect me to include on it. He did so, I understood, and since then they have been satisfied with my analyses and my work in general.
  3. This is my very first job application, and hence I cannot really recall any example from work. However, I recall a fitting situation from school, when I was consulting my seminary project with the teacher. They criticized my methods of research, and also the resources I used for theoretical data, calling them outdated. Of course, I put a lot of work into the project, and expected a different feedback. At the same time, however, I acknowledged that they had infinitely more experience than me with similar projects, and were likely right. Hence I thanked them, and started to rework the project almost from scratch. While it was a hard pill to swallow, it certainly helped me to get better in my writing and research, and I hope to eventually benefit from it in my professional career.
  4. Well, the one I would never forget is a feedback my last girlfriend gave to me, before eventually breaking up with me. Good God, I could have never imagined her talk. Basically she told me I did everything wrong, absolutely everything. She kind of dismissed the 9 months we spent together in three minutes of talking. According to her I was selfish, didn’t think enough about her needs and emotions. She also said that I was horrible, had no real plans for my life, and simply floated from day to day. And she added many bad things too, but I do not want to waste your time elaborating on it. To tell you the truth, her talk left me speechless. And I found it very hard to get over it. However, with passing time, I tried to look at it without emotions, and to learn something from her talk. At least it helped me understand that other people may perceive our words and actions in a different way than we do, and that it is perhaps something we have to accept. I also eventually had to admit that she had a point in a thing or two she said, and I decided to try to do certain things better in my next relationship.
  5. To be honest, I cannot describe such a time, because I do not consider any feedback negative. For me, every criticism is a positive thing, because it helps me move forward in my professional career and my life in general. Hence anything anyone says to me, be it a positive or negative reflection on my work, I embrace it with both hands, and try to learn from it. As an example, in my last job in a retail store a supervisor wasn’t satisfied with the way I stocked the items in the shelves. I listened to them carefully, asked for additional details (because their description wasn’t clear to me), and then simply did things better, more efficiently. I was grateful for their feedback, and can assure you that I am humble enough to accept negative feedback from anyone in the office. This includes my superiors, but also my colleagues, subordinates, or even a random person doing the shopping in the store. In my opinion, we can learn something from every person that crosses our path in life, and I definitely want to stick with this philosophy in life.
  6. Just got one a month ago, and it was the reason why I was fired from the job. Because I failed to meet the sales goals repeatedly. And the manager let me know it in a harsh way to tell you the truth. He told me I was never going to become a decent salesman, because I lacked the drive and time-management skills. Fair enough, I accepted their feedback, and the eventual outcome, meaning that I lost the job. It isn’t an easy situation for me, with a kid to feed and lot of bills to pay every month. But I also believe that we should be able to accept our limitations. Not everyone can make a career in sales, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good for anything else. Now I want to try to work in customer service, and instead of dwelling on the past, I want to focus on the future and on what’s ahead of me.
  7. I’ve always worked in retail, and over the years I’ve received negative feedback from many customers. At times it was very justified, at times it was not. Sometimes I was the one to blame, another time I wasn’t really the one they should give their feedback to, since I had nothing to do with the issue. They should have addressed the manager instead. However, I always keep on my mind that the customer is always right. That means that even if the feedback is not justified, or not directed to the right person, I try my best to help the customer, and to stay courteous. Of course, at times it was boiling within me and I felt like telling them something bad, but I can control myself well in such situations. I also always try to learn from each feedback, and when I feel the feedback can be beneficial for the manager, I share it with them.

Ready to answer this one? I hope so! Do not forget to check also 7 sample answers to other tricky questions you may face in your interview:

Matthew Chulaw
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