Interview Question: "What Did You Like / Dislike at Your Previous Job?"

Man and woman in job interview
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It's easy to talk at interview about what you liked about your previous job, 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 this type of question.

Some of the common ways interviewers inquire about previous jobs include:

  • What did you most like and dislike about your previous job?
  • What did you enjoy most in your last role?
  • What did you dislike about your last role?
  • What were the best and worst aspects of your last employer?

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

By asking about your feelings toward a previous job, 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. Details of your likes and dislikes can also reveal whether you'll be a good fit culturally at the company at hand. 

How to Answer Questions About Your Previous Job

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

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 hire 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.

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

If the interviewer presses you to say something negative—or if you feel that your answer will not be complete without a nod toward the negative aspects—keep it focused on tasks, situations, or company structure, and not on people.

Bonus points if it's something that will be easier at the new company. For example:

"I often found myself frustrated by the limitations of our content management system—it was slow and also prone to crashing. That's why I was so relieved to hear you say that ABC Company's had recently been updated."

Examples of the Best Answers

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 that the leadership team was great too. They knew all of their employees on a first name basis and tried to make those personal connections. I also enjoyed the fact that the office tried to do community outreach with local organizations.

Why It Works: This answer is so revealing! Personal connections are clearly a priority for this candidate. This honest-seeming response says a lot about the candidate's values as an employee. Plus, the overall tone is really positive.

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 fulfill all of my 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, I feel my skill set can be better employed elsewhere. Somewhere my capabilities are more recognized, and where there is the opportunity for growth.

Why It Works: Seeking more challenging work makes a candidate seem like a hard worker. This person also seems quite loyal (After being there for so many years). That's a good thing, since employers can be wary of hiring people who won't stick around.

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 eager to work on more specialized projects on which I will have the opportunity to be more of a leader than was going to be possible there.

Why It Works: This answer keeps the focus on the positive aspects of the previous job. In a situation where the new role offers leadership opportunities, this answer will make a candidate appear a strong fit.

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 and 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 to your marketing (or HR or IT) department.

Why It Works: This answer focuses on a negative structural aspect, making it clear why this job would be a better fit.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Display positive energy. Your skills matter a lot, but employers are also looking for candidates who have enthusiasm, dedication, and energy. Avoid complaining in your response. Instead, focus on good experiences at your current (or former) employer.

Mention positives that demonstrate your culture-fit or skills. Your mention of a positive aspect of your former job should ideally advance your candidacy. If what you liked was Free bagels on Thursdays that may be honest, but it does not show you're a good fit for the job at hand.

End on a positive note: Start off by mentioning a positive. Then mention the negative and try to pivot back around to something positive. You can do that by talking about how you managed the aspect you disliked, or by making a connection to the job you're interviewing for.

Focus on tasks over people: This is not the time to complain about coworkers or your manager. Instead, talk about structural problems or characteristics of the company, unavailable opportunities, or tasks that were frustrating.

What Not to Say

Don't bad-mouth an employer or your peers. 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.

Don'tchoose a negative aspect that isn't common in the industry. Mention a dislike that's present at the company you're interviewing with, and you could disqualify yourself as a candidate.

Be honest. As you can see, you want to be strategic in your response. But make sure also to be genuine. If you truly loved your job let that shine through, and be specific about what made it so great. And if an aspect was frustrating, do mention it—without letting it overpower your response.

Possible Follow-Up 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. Here are other common interview questions and answers that an interviewer will ask not only to learn more about your skills and work background, but also to measure your personality and positivity:

Key Takeaways

  • STAY POSITIVE. Do not vent or complain in your response. Keep it positive to help show that you're easy to work with and not prone to holding grudges.
  • FOCUS ON WHAT OVER WHO. Reference negative aspects that will be solved in the new job and avoid bad-mouthing the company or its employees.
  • SHOW YOUR FIT WITH THE COMPANY/JOB. When you talk about both the positive and negative aspects of previous roles, you have an opportunity to further your case as a candidate. Take advantage!