Why Did You Leave Your Last Job? (And Other Dreaded Interview Questions)

Before talking about how to answer difficult interview questions, it is important to think about what is happening in an interview. Keep these things in mind:

  • Present yourself in a positive light. The interviewer is trying to imagine what you are like to work with. The entire interview is really an answer to the question, “Why should we hire you?”
  • There is a difference between being honest and oversharing. If you are answering a question that relates to a negative situation, the less detail, the better.
  • When answering a difficult question, try to put yourself in the interviewer’s position. If you were hiring, what kind of answer would resolve the “red flag?”
  • Words matter. When you are describing a situation, avoid negative language. Words like “fired,” “hated,” “stupid,” “toxic,” not only make an immediate bad impression, but they also hang in the air. (And of course, no swear words, ever.)
  • Never badmouth a previous job, company, boss, or co-worker. If you trash your last employer, the interviewer will wonder what you might say about them.
  • Prepare, prepare, prepare! Know your resume. Look for things an employer might think are red flags. Figure out ahead of time what you will say.

So, with these tips in mind, how can you be your own “spin doctor?” Below are several examples:

Why did you leave your last job? (If you were terminated/fired)

  • Negative answer: “My boss was a jerk. She fired me just because I didn’t complete the Cisco certification I put on my resume!
  • Better answer: “I needed to enhance my skills, because I didn’t have CompTIA A+ certification, so I was let go. I am working on my CompTIA A+ certification now. I really want to do this kind of work. That is why I am so interested in this entry-level Cisco Network Engineer job.”

What have you been doing since 2022?

  • Negative answer: “I hated my last job, and I was so angry, I had to take time off to recover after I left.”
  • Better answer: “When I left my last job, I took time off to figure out what I wanted to do. Now, I am recharged and eager to get back to work. I am really interested in the position with ABC Company because…”

Why didn’t you finish your [degree, training program, certification, etc.]?

  • Negative answer: “I worked harder than anyone else in my program, but they didn’t like me because I spoke my mind. I don’t need the [degree, training program, certification, etc.] anyway. I know what I’m doing!”
  • Better answer: “I was working while I attended the program, and I thought I could do both. While I was keeping up with work and with my program, I didn’t want to ‘just get by,’ so I decided to postpone my education and focus on work. Now, with two more years of solid work experience, I am ready to move to the next level. That’s why I’m so excited about the opportunity to join ABC Company as a [job title].”

In all the examples above, in the “negative” answer, the candidate blamed everyone else and took no ownership of the situation.

In the “better” answers, the candidate was honest, but not negative, and did two other important things: 1. Stated how they surmounted or planned to surmount the challenge facing them, and 2. Tied their answer to their interest in and qualifications for the job.

People aren’t perfect. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t expect them to be. If you have a gap on your resume, or you were terminated from a job, or have another “red flag” in your work history, you are not alone. Plan your answers about challenging situations in your background. Keep it positive. And instead of focusing on things that you lack, focus on all that you have to offer.

Karen Hammer is a Career Coach for the Ignite Career Center of JCS.

Whether you are new to the job market or a seasoned professional, the Ignite Career Center, a program of Jewish Community Services, can help you go farther and get there faster. Our highly experienced Career Coaches provide individuals of all backgrounds and abilities with the customized services and tools they need to stand out from the competition. For information, call 410-466-9200 or contact us through our website.

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