How to Answer Interview Questions About Your Previous Job

Woman in Group Interview in a Meeting Room
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It's easy to talk about what you liked about your previous job at an interview, but you need to be careful when responding to questions about the downsides of your last position. It’s not the time to vent, so here’s what you need to know about answering interview questions about your previous job.

When you're asked at a job interview about what you didn't like about your previous job, try not to be too negative.

You don't want the interviewer to think you'll also speak negatively about this job or the company should you eventually decide to move on after they hired you.

Neither do you want to provide them with the first impression that you’re a complainer, hold grudges, or are difficult to work with. By asking this question, a hiring committee often isn’t that interested in the list of actual likes or dislikes you can provide. Rather, they’re trying to judge your character by listening to the tone and attitude with which you respond to a tricky question.

How to Turn Negativity Into Positivity

The best strategy to use in this case is to focus on the positives of your previous job and talk about how your experiences there have prepared you to assume a progressive and challenging new role with a different employer.

Here are a few sample answers you might use to keep your discussion positive and upbeat:

  • I enjoyed the people I worked with. It was a friendly and fun atmosphere, and I actually enjoyed going to work each morning.
  • I felt the leadership team was great as well. They knew all of their employees on a first name basis and tried to make those personal connections. I also enjoyed that fact that the office tried to do community outreach with local organizations.
  • One of the reasons I’m leaving is that I felt I was not challenged enough at the job. As a new employee in the working world, the company offered me a great opportunity for a good entry level position—one that I’ll always be grateful for. However, after being there for so many years, I felt I wasn’t able to reach my full potential because of a real lack of challenge. There was no room for advancement in the company. While I did enjoy working there and appreciate the skills I developed while with the company, I feel my skill set can be better utilized elsewhere, where my capabilities are more recognized, and there is the opportunity for growth.
  • The people I worked with at ABC Company were top notch at what they do.
  • Through my experience at ABC Company, I learned a lot about different management styles and strategies for maintaining cooperation in a large group project setting. I feel that as valuable as that experience has been, I am anxious to work on more specialized projects where I will have the opportunity to be more of a leader than was going to be possible there.
  • While the people at XYZ Company were terrific to work with, I felt that the opportunities for me there were limited by the structure and size of the company. I believe that a larger company with an international presence can offer challenges, as well as opportunities, unavailable at a smaller firm. The position with your company is a great match for my skill set, and I feel that I would be an asset in your marketing (or HR or IT) department.”

    More Common Interview Topics and Questions

    Being asked what you liked and disliked about your former employer isn’t the only question where you may have to tread carefully during a job interview. Below are other common interview questions and answers that an interviewer will ask to not only learn more about your skills and work background but also to measure your personality and positivity.

    Remember that most employers are looking as much at the enthusiasm, dedication, and energy that you can bring to their organization as they are at your skills.

    Make sure that this energy is positive by demonstrating respect for your current (or former) employer by emphasizing your good experiences. When an interviewing committee sees that you refuse to “bad-mouth” your previous employer, they’ll trust that you’ll offer the same respect and loyalty to them if you become their new employee.