How to Respond to Interview Questions About Demotions

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If you've made any obvious steps down the career ladder, you should be prepared for your potential employer to ask about the demotion during your interview. While this doesn't have to be a deal breaker for the position, you should try to frame that transition in the least damaging way possible.

Remember that your interview is your opportunity to highlight your strengths. While you will need to address the demotion when you are asked about it, there is no reason to dwell on it. Do your research on the company and the position, and be prepared to discuss your relevant skills and experiences.

You are there to present yourself as the best possible candidate for the job, and while you should have a plausible, truthful answer to this tough question prepared, there is no reason to elaborate any further than necessary.

The Best Way to Answer Interview Questions About a Demotion

If your demotion was in the past and you have now moved on to a higher level job, you can emphasize what you have learned and accomplished since the demotion, and how it qualifies you for a higher level job. Perhaps you identified a weakness and took steps like courses or workshops to strengthen that area.

Your task will be more challenging if you are currently in a job which represents a step-down. You should emphasize the skills you have applied and the positive results which you have generated in your current role. If there were circumstances beyond your control, like a restructuring which reduced the number of management positions, then you can explain those factors, but don’t make excuses for your shortcomings, or blame the company.

Don't Criticize the Company

Regardless of which angle you're coming from, be careful not to criticize management in any way. If you have identified any issues in your skill set or performance which led to your demotion and taken concrete, documented steps to address those issues, you might include some of that information.

For example, if a previous job required you to create reports in Excel and you were demoted because you weren't able to do so, but now have taken online courses and mastered Excel, then you might reference that development.

Put Your Best Foot Forward

A preemptive way to defuse any concern about a demotion is to acquire a reference from a boss or colleague at that organization which clearly affirms the value you have added as an employee. You can also start the spin in a positive direction by framing the issue in your cover letter or resume, so you have a foundation which you can elaborate on during the interview.

If you can find a way to frame the demotion as an opportunity to strengthen your skills, you should. For example, returning to sales after leaving a management position might have given you the needed opportunity to refresh your knowledge of your product and client base, making you a more effective manager than you were before.