As job-interview questions go, there’s one that’s particularly fraught with peril for the interviewee: “What did you hate about your last job?”
Many job candidates stumble right into the minefield, and begin bad-mouthing former colleagues, processes, and even strategy. This is the wrong angle to take, and the wrong venue: A litany of grudges implies that you might have issues collaborating with others, or staying flexible in the face of corporate changeups.
On the other hand, saying, “I loved everything about my last job!” can seem evasive. No workplace is perfect—if you don’t have at least some criticisms, the interviewer will wonder if you’re being equivocal.
As with so many other tricky interview questions, the solution is to stay upbeat. Here’s a template for a solid answer:
Start Off With a Positive
Start off by mentioning something you liked about your old job—whether the project challenges, or your colleagues, or the organization’s overarching mission. This will help mitigate any negativity in your overall answer.
Focus on Things, Not People
Was your former boss a jerk? Did you have problems with your colleagues? Don’t mention issues with individuals—instead, focus on how some aspect of your former company wasn’t quite aligned with your goals for your own career. For example, replace, “I hated my boss” with, “While I appreciated many things about the company, I’m interested in a more collaborative workplace.”
Everybody likes a proactive employee. When recounting what you didn’t like about your last job, make sure you describe any steps you took to try to change the strategy or culture. Did you propose an alternative solution? Did you rally stakeholders on a project to discuss friction points? Mentioning your attempt at a solution will go a long way toward showing your potential employer that you’re not one to let problems linger.