Questions about previous employment can be problematic if there were issues with any previous employers. You can get stuck for a good answer, or you can put your foot in your mouth with a bad answer.
Common problems with previous employment
The interviewers need background about some of the issues you faced previously in order to make a recommendation. The new employer must question the circumstances of your leaving your previous job. These are the usual situations that lead to difficult questions:
- Getting fired: When someone gets fired the former employee is in damage control mode from day one.
- Quitting a job: Job dissatisfaction or “people issues” are the usual causes.
- Dispute with management: Any dispute with management is a problem, particularly if it results in the loss of a job.
Information regarding previous employment
The interviewers may check the circumstances under which you left your previous employment. There are several critical issues in discussing your work record at an interview:
- Never provide misleading or false information in a job interview. Any information you give interviewers must be correct and verifiable.
- Do not, under any circumstances, say anything negative about a former employer: It will look terrible to a prospective new employer. You may have too much to say for your own good.
- Do not express any opinions about issues with former employers: Opinions aren’t facts. Don’t accuse the former employer of anything.
- You don’t have to provide a biography: Keep the circumstances of leaving your previous employer simple and easily understandable. Less is definitely better, and far easier for interviewers to note down on your interview record.
- Don’t “self-justify”: Like opinions, these aren’t facts; they’re your version of events, from your perspective.
Interview questions- Right and wrong answers
Always think clearly before you speak when answering these questions:
Question: Tell us about how you came to leave your previous job.
- Answer 1: I was fired for stealing office equipment. It was a stupid thing to do, and I was really ashamed of myself. It cost me a good job.
- Answer 2: I was accused of stealing office equipment and fired. I disputed this with the manager, but they’d made up their minds.
- Answer 3: They said I was stealing office equipment. That was quite untrue; the floor manager had it in for me. He wanted to fire me, and invented an excuse.
Answers 1 and 2 are reasonable descriptions of a situation. Answer 3 is self-justification, an accusation against the former employer. It’s also potentially an own goal, because it’s accusing the previous employer of doing something illegal.
Question: Why did you quit your last job?
- Answer 1: It was a matter of job quality. I wasn’t happy in the workplace environment. I also didn’t think the job was really helping my career.
- Answer 2: I really didn’t like working there. I didn’t get on with the people, didn’t like the supervisor.
Answer 1 is diplomatic, and raises the issue of career progression, a valid point.
Answer 2 is saying the interviewee had issues with the staff, and does not find anything positive about the situation.
Job interviews are daunting whether you are properly prepared or not. It’s nerve racking in most cases. Interviewers will always ask you something that you didn’t expect. You can never be fully ready however nobody is perfect.
Being questioned about your previous employment is important for the employers as they want to see your potential and what qualities you can bring to the workplace. Be honest when answering questions about your previous employment. Don’t forget that they can always email or ring your previous employer and find out whether you are telling the truth or not.