Saturday, 26 October 2013

Answering Interview Questions: What Did You Dislike About Your Last Job?

"What did you dislike about your last job?"

Many Human Resources Managers use set questions during their hiring process to work out the most suitable candidate for their skilled or semi-skilled vacancies.  One question job seekers report back that they have been asked is the question "What did you dislike about your last job?"

This is a trick question that leads the candidate to start talking negatively, which in turn will cause  a negative impression about the candidate to be left in the mind(s) of the employer. And the trouble is most job seekers do not think about the answers they are giving and or the impact their answer is having upon the employer - and later wonder why they missed out on the job.

In an employers mind they are immediately asking themselves one question the moment the person starts rattling off their list of complaints: if the person is happy to trash their previous employer in such a mindlessly loose-lipped fashion, then that person certainly won't have the discretion or decency to not trash our business - after we have spent years carefully building up our business brand, do we want this person potentially doing untold damage to our good reputation that we have worked so hard to build? Ah, no. The employer might still continue with the interview, but there mind is already made up.

As a job seeker, you can't avoid being asked this question if the employer has this question on their list of questions to ask, so before you attend your next job interview you instead need to develop a strategy on how you can answer the question without making yourself look bad - in case you are asked this question!

Some tips to help you with that strategy:

Firstly, you are not being honest with yourself, and therefore cannot be honest with the potential employer, if you simply answer the question "There isn't anything I disliked about my last job" for the simple reason "well why aren't you still there then?" if the job was that perfect.  As a hiring manager, if a candidate stated this to me, I would immediately assume that the person just lied to me; and if the person is this dishonest in the interview, I could reasonably have doubts about your level of honesty if I were to employ you.  In my mind: you either are a blatant liar - who cannot be trusted; or, you don't know your own self very well - and if you don't know your own strengths and weaknesses, then you aren't instilling me with any confidence in your abilities to do the job.

See, told you it was a trick question!

Every person has something that they disliked about their last job; not all of those 'dislikes' are major complaints, some are just 'small things' like too far to travel, or I would have liked higher pay. So to say, "There isn't anything I disliked" is a lie.

One small technique that has good effect in an employers mind is when candidates pause after being asked that question so they can stop to think.  And the longer you need to search for an answer to that lingering, unanswered question, the more an employer can interpreted (albeit correctly or incorrectly) that you are struggling to come up with any negative aspects about your last job - and this is a good thing. Who cares if the employer makes a positive assumption about yourself?

I'm not encouraging you to lie or manipulate the employer, but pausing from immediate answering the question to give yourself time to come up with a way to turn the question around and to remove yourself from demonstrating your negative qualities is a good line of defense in working around the question so that you remain showcasing your positive attributes.

Another small technique is to be consciously mindful at all times throughout the interview about how you answer the questions asked.  So you've paused, but are now ready to provide them answer.  Your goal is to remain presenting yourself in a positive way:

* pick a neutral aspect (beyond yours and the former companies control) that the employer in front of you would fall into agreement with or relate to. For example, "I disliked that our suppliers were always late with their deliveries because it caused us lost productivity. As they were the only local suppliers, we were unable to get our supplies elsewhere, and unfortunately overseas suppliers were not a viable option for the company."

In the above example, you have shown that you value being productive - without you having to claim that you are productive.  You also have shown that you kept abreast of trying to resolve the issue of lost productivity even if you weren't instrumental in trying to find alternative suppliers so productivity could be boosted - demonstrating that you valued contributing to the best interests of the business, again without you having to make sure claims about yourself.

(Some employers might assume a level of the frustration you felt, but unless they ask you about it, they are more inclined to see that although frustrating you tried to do something positive about it - so no points lost here.)

Never answer the question by telling the employer that you didn't get on with the previous manager or other staff members (this just tells the employer that YOU don't know how to get along with people) or that you didn't like how the business did things (this just tells them that YOU don't know how to take direction or fit in with the culture of the business or work within a businesses policies and procedures). It doesn't matter if your previous manager was a complete jerk or the management stubbornly refused to streamline processes so that staff could work smarter not harder; as soon as you state those issues to the potential employer you make yourself look like you were the problem not the other party (and, who is to say that you simply don't realise that you were in fact the problem not the manager or process you complain about!)

If you do start answering the question, and then realise too late that you are showing yourself in a negative light, ensure you rescue the situation by stating you gained something valuable from the experience, for example, if you revealed you had a problem with a manager but you have worked to overcome this weakness, telling the potential employer that you learned that you needed to work on your people skills, so you undertook Conflict Resolution training so you are better equipped to handle a similar situation the next time you face it - if you undertook a conflict resolution training course - demonstrates that you value self-development and gaining new skills.

If you do answer the question, then whatever you do, don't let your tone sound whinging or you won't be able to rescue your answer no matter how hard you try.

Char Mesan