One thing you’ll hear at any job interview you go to is some variation of, “Tell me about your job experience.” After all, the best predictor of job performance is previous job performance. This question is more loaded than you might think— your interviewer may want to know what skills you learned at your old job, what you excelled at, what you liked and disliked, the reason you left, and why that job experience will make you a good candidate for whatever position you’re interviewing for. That’s a lot, huh? Don’t stress. With a little preparation, you’ll be able to answer this question brilliantly.
Describing Your Experience
Do your research about the position for which you’re interviewing. You need to know everything you can about what your responsibilities will be, what skills you’ll be expected to know or learn quickly, and the environment you will be working in. Most importantly, you need to know how it is similar and how it is different from your previous or current job. This is critical so that you don’t step on any toes while you are discussing your experience at your previous job.
You may not want to rave about how much you enjoy your small and intimate company if you’re applying at a huge corporation. The more you know about the opportunity, the easier you can tailor your response to show how well you’d fit in at the company interviewing you.
Remark on things you enjoyed about your last place of work. Give specific examples, and make sure they align with the position you’re interviewing for. The interviewer is trying to determine how well you will fit in at their company, and also trying to determine your character. It’s important to show that you’re a team player and loyal to your employer, while highlighting specific things you enjoy in your previous position that will be similar in the new position.
Phrase any dislikes tactfully. This is not a time to meaninglessly bash your current or previous employer. Rather, use it as another chance to show how perfect you’d be for the position you’re up for. If you’re interviewing for a position that is different than the one you currently hold, you can simply explain why you’re a much better fit for the former. You can also use this as an opportunity to explain what your old company lacked and what the new company offers.
For example, if you’re attempting to make the move from accounting to sales you could explain that you didn’t like the lack of face-to-face communication you had in your previous role.
If you’re moving from a large company to a small company, you could discuss your desire for a more intimate office setting.
Don’t speak derogatorily about co-workers or your company. This will not show you in a positive light, and the interviewer would much rather see loyalty, dedication, and optimism.
Explaining Your Exit
Focus on your desire to work for the interviewing company. Clearly there is a reason why you are interviewing for a new job, and your explanation should flatter the interviewer. Let them know that you want the opportunity they’re offering, and that’s why you are leaving your current position.
You may be totally and completely satisfied at your current job, but you view this opportunity as even better.
Speak kindly of your previous or current employer. This point should be stressed. There is nothing to gain from insulting your previous company. Even more importantly, this can tell the interviewer that you’re flighty or entitled. For example, if you tell the interviewer that you didn’t like your boss or one aspect of the work, it may indicate that you’ll take off whenever anything displeases you.
You don’t need to degrade your previous place of work to explain why you’re leaving or why you left. Just state that you are better suited somewhere else or you’re ready for a new challenge.
Make sure to offer only important reasons. Dress code, scheduling issues, and interpersonal drama aren’t typically good reasons.
Be humble and honest when addressing a lay-off or termination. Your interviewer may reach out to your past employers or references, so your honesty is crucial. Typically, an interviewer will be understanding about a lay-off, especially if you are transparent about what exactly occurred. If you were fired, make sure you are very careful about how you explain it. Maybe your role changed and you were unable to meet demands, maybe you weren’t fully aware of the job requirements when you accepted the job, maybe new management took over and you were no longer a great fit for the role. Whatever your reason, make sure you offer a lesson that you learned through the experience.
If you were fired or laid off, there may be a gap in your employment that the interviewer will be curious about. If you try to avoid the topic or gloss over it, you may be raising more red flags than if you simply explained it.
You can use this difficult and awkward situation to show integrity and sincerity.
Keep it simple! Offer the pertinent information, but don’t go into any nitty-gritty, dramatic details.
Discussing Skills and Strengths
Highlight previous job skills that are applicable to the new opportunity. Tell the interviewer about any and all areas of expertise that would be transferable to the new job. If there aren’t many specific skill set overlaps, you can speak more generally about how quickly you learn new things, adapt to new situations, and master new skills. Personal qualities such as a strong work ethic, being dependable, and being a great communicator are great to discuss as well.
Don’t worry about covering everything. Give a brief summary of your previous work experience, but focus mostly on your key accomplishments and how they’ll help you excel at the job you’re applying for.
Give an example of how you handled issues at previous jobs. While it would be nice to tell the interviewer that everything was perfect in your previous job and you were Employee of the Month every month, that is probably not believable. You can and should bring up challenges you faced in your old position, and how you rose up to them. Use a concrete example where you can show how you keep cool under pressure, make tough decisions, or exercise strong leadership skills.
The key is to show the interviewer that you’re a critical thinker focused on solutions and results.
Identify what you consider your biggest accomplishments thus far. It is imperative to brainstorm your answer beforehand, as this is your chance to discuss your most important success story to date. Think about a time where you overcame a huge challenge, made a big positive change at your place of employment, or received outstanding results or feedback after completing a task.
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