Even if you’d rather not discuss your last employer, it’s a difficult subject to avoid during a job interview. Prospective employers not only evaluate your potential, but they also consider your track record and your attitude toward your former workplace. Regardless of how happy you were there or under what circumstances you left, maintain a professional, respectful attitude when discussing prior employment.
Keep it Positive
Even if you were miserable at your last job, never speak negatively about the company, your boss or your colleagues. Employers may wonder if the workplace was truly to blame or if you just didn’t fit into the corporate culture. They may also worry that you’ll speak ill of them if things turn sour. When discussing your previous place of employment, only address your job duties or the overall company atmosphere. Don’t disparage specific employees and never name names. If you do, employers may think you don’t work well with others.
Some employers ask what you liked least about your previous job. Instead of approaching the question literally, do whatever you can to spin it into something positive. Cushion your negative assessment by noting what you did like about the job, then mention a specific aspect that detracted from your experience at the company. For example, say “Overall I benefited from my time there, especially the camaraderie I enjoyed with my colleagues. The only thing that concerned me was the lack of customer satisfaction. I wish the personal attention we offered customers had matched the superior quality of the products we offered.”
Addressing Your Departure
Many interviewers want to know why you left your last position. Don’t say that you left because you couldn’t stand your boss, didn’t get along with any of your colleagues or found the job boring. Instead, say you’re ready to move up to a job with more responsibility or that you want to explore other facets of the industry. If you lost your job, avoid using the words “terminated” or “fired.” No matter how qualified you are, the interviewer may focus on the fact that your previous employer let you go. Instead, point out that the company had to lay off employees, that corporate restructuring changed or eliminated your position, or that you and your supervisor mutually agreed to part ways.
Describe What You Learned
Deflect attention away from your previous workplace and onto your qualifications by discussing what you learned from the experience. If you worked in an environment with low employee morale, talk about your efforts to motivate your colleagues and how that strengthened your people skills. If the job didn’t utilize your knowledge and skills, discuss your efforts to find projects that took advantage of your qualifications and what that taught you about the importance of showing initiative.
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