How to Talk About a Negative Experience at a Previous Job During an Interview
At some point in their career, almost every member of the workforce comes to the realization that “dream jobs” don’t exist. Even those that look perfect on paper, and appear to be the ideal culmination of your education and work experience up to this point often fall short of our expectations. In other cases, the role itself is great, but the office culture or a particularly difficult manager overshadow the good parts.
But even after leaving the position, it’s probably not behind you entirely: There’s a good chance that it will come up at your next interview. Here are a few strategies for talking about a negative experience at a previous job in an honest, professional way, should it come up in an interview.
Focus on your goals, not your complaints
Rather than launching into a list of grievances about your old job, discuss your career goals, and how this potential new position could help you achieve them. Or, as Caroline Ceniza-Levine put it in an article for Forbes: “Talk about what you’re looking for, not what you’re running from.”
Accentuate the positive
Given that you’re actively seeking a new position, the interviewers are aware that something didn’t work out with your last role. So again, instead of going on the defensive and feeling as though you need to point out all the reasons why your last job wasn’t a good fit, emphasize its positive aspects instead.
If the interviewer has specific questions about why you left that position, by all means, answer them (diplomatically). But if they simply ask you to tell them about your previous role, you can start off with something positive, like describing the new skills you learned, or that you had the opportunity to work with talented people.
If you have to address the negatives, be brief and discreet
Sometimes, there’s no way of getting around having to address the negative aspects of your previous job. If/when that happens, it’s not your invitation to vent. Instead, answer the interviewer’s question as concisely as possible while being as discreet as you can. Find general ways to discuss what went wrong, rather than revealing any of your former employer’s secrets or specific shortcomings.
While the company you’re interviewing with may find that information useful from a wider business perspective, your willingness to discuss it may give them pause when it comes to hiring you. If you had no problem sharing those things about a former employer, they may be concerned that you’ll do the same thing after parting ways with their company.