Interview questions about what was most rewarding and least rewarding about your previous job can be tricky. While it's important to be honest, it's equally important to be diplomatic and smart in your response.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
Interviewers ask this question to get a sense of the tasks you enjoy and do not. Say you're interviewing for a role in operations that involves a lot of paperwork. If you respond to this question by mentioning that paperwork was the least rewarding part of your last job, interviewers will know you might not be a good fit for the position.
Along with getting a sense of your general likes and dislikes as an employee, this question can also reveal a lot about your attitude.
Interviewers will be looking to see how you deal with unrewarding aspects of work. After all, any job comes with some less-than-lovely bits. Interviewers want to know if you're low-key or accepting about unrewarding aspects, or inclined to complain.
How to Answer the Question
When interviewing, always be cognizant of the job you are interviewing for and tailor your response accordingly. For example, if the last job you had involved extensive customer service telephone work that you hated, and if being on the phone doing something similar is even a minor part of the new job, don't mention it.
No matter the question, do not give a wholly negative answer. You don't want to be construed as someone who is negative about work in general. If you can think of any small silver lining related to the least rewarding part of your job, be sure to mention it. If you can't, perhaps this isn't the right issue to bring up in an interview.
If there is something about the new role or company you're interviewing with that will make your least rewarding situation unlikely to arise, it's a good opportunity to point out that out as part of what interests you about this job or to tie it into your answer to the question on why you want to work here.
It's beneficial if you can connect your most rewarding experience with the responsibilities involved in the job at hand.
Examples of the Best Answers
Example Answer #1
One of the most rewarding experiences I had at XYZ Company was tracking down the cause of the buggy behavior in a customer's XYZ product. I could hear the frustration in the customer's voice on the phone, so I arranged for a callback. It took two tech people, but finally, we figured out the issue. It was so satisfying to call back the customer with a resolution to his issue.
Why It Works: This response shows how the candidate transforms frustrations into motivations to resolve issues.
Example Answer #2
We used to have a real issue with internal communications. My boss and I launched an internal newsletter to share information, and at a holiday party, one of the executive board members mentioned to me how helpful this monthly email was.
Why It Works: This is a solution-oriented way to discuss an unrewarding aspect of a job.
Example Answer #3
I view myself first and foremost as a problem solver. So the most rewarding aspect of my last job was helping clients resolve their issues. When the same issues come up again and again, it feels frustrating to me. And of course, it reflected poorly on Company ABC's product. With help from my manager, we developed a database of these ongoing problems. Some, but not all of them, have been resolved since we started that initiative.
Why It Works: This candidate shows real self-awareness and how an important skill (problem-solving) helps them both in day-to-day responsibilities and when responding to work frustrations.
Tips for Giving the Best Response
- Make a list of the qualifications the employer is seeking. Then, be sure the responsibilities you mention as most rewarding are a match. Make sure you explain why they are most rewarding and use the opportunity to highlight specific skills or talents and the impact you were able to have, whether it was on colleagues, clients, or the company itself.
- Highlight non-essential items for the least rewarding portion of your response. Mention something that won't be required in the new job and always end your answer on a positive note. You could frame it as something that was the least rewarding as compared to the most rewarding activities. For example, if you're switching from a customer support job to a receptionist role, you could mention that you found email communication to be less enjoyable than chatting with people, so you're thrilled this new position involves more time on the phone.
- Consider focusing on solutions. In a perfect world, the thing you found least rewarding about your previous job was something you and your manager were able to fix. Even if they weren't implemented, it's worth mentioning any possible solutions that you came up with to fix what was wrong. Doing so will show you to be solutions-driven and positive. And just because the solution wasn't implemented at your last job doesn't mean this company won't consider it, should the same situation arise.
What Not to Say
- Don't talk negatively about people. Even if your colleagues or manager were the worst part of your last job, don't say that. You can discuss the way working with those people was problematic. For example, let's say you had a situation where your former colleague was especially disorganized and you were stuck doing all the documentation. One way to mention this is to say that your old job required so much paperwork that you were unable to focus on the core tasks of the job itself. This conveys unhappiness over a situation that kept you from excelling at your job instead of annoyance with a colleague. Rather than complaining about people, neutrally discuss circumstances and tasks.
- Don't brag. When it comes to the most rewarding aspect of your role, you want to ideally mention an accomplishment—making an annual quota, closing a deal, managing a project successfully, etc.—without becoming boastful.
- Don't complain. You don't need to pretend that everything at your last job was amazing, but an interview isn't the time to air all your grievances. Mention only the issues you can put some sort of positive spin on, whether it's a silver lining you found or a solution that was implemented.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?—Best Answers
- Do you work well with other people?—Best Answers
- What can we expect from you in the first 60 days on the job?—Best Answers
- Be strategic in your response—you'll want to know which skills and qualifications are most crucial for success and shape your answer accordingly.
- Keep it positive, and don't vent about colleagues or supervisors. Make an effort to end your response on a positive note.
- When you talk about the least rewarding aspect, consider weaving in how you worked to improve the situation.