Beware: this can be a trick question that can paint you in a bad light depending on your answer. It’s critical that you not come across as a complainer, or someone who dislikes the normal parts of any job.
Here are some examples of things you don’t want to say:
- “I didn’t care for the more administrative parts of my position.” This can make you look like you think you are better than others or that certain parts of a job are beneath you. It’s fine to say that you are looking for more challenges, but be aware that most jobs will have some element of administrative tasks and you don’t want to give off the impression that you expect to be exempt from this aspect of the job.
- “I didn’t like staying late.” (or any other aspect of the hours). While it might be quite true that your job did have crazy hours that anyone would complain about, the person who’s interviewing doesn’t know how oppressive the hours actually were. Instead they might just assume you are an employee who might demand to go home at 5:30 no matter what.
- “I didn’t like my boss.” Again, your boss might be the worst person in the world, completely unreasonable and challenging, but remember that your interviewer doesn’t know the scope of his bad behavior. Instead, all they can see is that perhaps they will be the one you are complaining about next. Any negative mention of your boss will paint you in a bad light, even if it’s warranted.
So it’s easy to highlight what not to say. Nevertheless, if the question is asked, you have to answer it. So, what can you say? Here are some ideas:
- Think about the differences in your current job and your prospective job and see what parallels you can easily draw. For example, if you were working at a very small company and you are interviewing for a position with a larger company, it’s easy to mention that you are looking for the challenges and new opportunities that come with a larger company. You don’t have to go into detail about what you didn’t like about the other company — since you don’t want to look as though you’re too good to refill the copier or you don’t get along in a small work environment — but by mentioning sizes which are an obvious difference, you’re drawing an easy comparison without saying anything negative.
- Think about the differences between the two positions. Are you switching departments within your own company? Then talk about the challenges you’re looking for in the new department. You can say that you felt as though you had grown as much as possible in your current position. Or are you seeking a significant promotion? Again, you can talk about the fact that you had reached what appeared to be the ceiling at your current position, or you were interested in larger, national clients… or whatever is a natural benefit in the new position that doesn’t denigrate your current job.
- Think about something that shows your eagerness to learn. You could mention that your previous job didn’t offer much in the way of professional training. And then you could add that you sought out training on your own, to show that you have ingenuity and don’t automatically rely on your employer. Maybe you could add that you subscribed to online newsletters or blogs that covered your industry or areas where you want to learn more, but that you would appreciate the more extensive training that this company provides.
You might have some standard answers to this question for most interviews, but prior to practicing for a specific interview, make sure you visit the website to get a better idea of the company size and culture so that you don’t inadvertently say something that could cause the interviewer to see you as someone who might not perform well in the job for which you are interviewing.
If all else fails, it’s fine to say something generic, as in the fact that you’ve always been quite satisfied with your position but you had heard wonderful things about this company in particular. Perhaps you can mention the company’s environmental ethic or commitment to community service. If you know someone who works at the company, you could mention how much that person raves about their current employer and you have always been impressed with their devotion.
The bottom line with this question is that it is better to say too little than too much. You can’t really make many positive points with this question — except to show that you can think on your feet — but this question does have the possibility of causing a lot of damages. Just remember that it’s vital not to say anything that will plant a seed in the interviewer’s mind into thinking that something you didn’t like about the previous job is something that you might not like here as well.
by Cathie Ericson