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Candidates: Prepare to Answer Questions About Past Employment

March 23rd, 2018

As you sit down with your prospective employer during your interview, you can expect to answer questions about the future; you’ll be asked what you want to do next, where you see yourself in a few years, and what you’ll contribute to the enterprise after you’re brought on board. But you’ll also be asked about the past, and your interviewers will want to know what you’ve been up to, and why, and for whom. Here’s how to handle questions about events you can’t change and decisions you’ve already made.

Don’t be relentlessly positive.

If your entire past comes across as one unbroken, blinding ray of sunshine and unmitigated success, your interviewers will naturally assume you aren’t providing the full story. In an interview, it’s better to let your honesty shine then your “success” (however you define that term). Managers are familiar with the type of smoke that gets blown in the interview setting, and they won’t be impressed by a candidate who seems never to have experienced a single mistake or setback. But they will be impressed by a candidate who tells an honest story, appears refreshingly self-aware, and feels comfortable with his or her unique set of likes, dislikes, strengths, and limitations.

Demonstrates these two core skills.

As a candidate, you’ll stand out if you can do two things, things that far too many candidates can’t do at all: connect and learn. If you can treat your interviewer as a friend and respected colleague who deserves to see you as you truly are, you’ll instantly set yourself apart. Small things like eye contact, honesty, engagement, and fearlessness can further this effort. You’ll also stand out if you show the ability to learn from mistakes and problems. If you cling to platitudes or myths instead of trusting your own experience and listening to what it tells you, you’ll have trouble gaining your interviewer’s confidence.

Stories carry more weight than explanation and exposition.

If your employer asks why you left a previous job, you can answer in either of two ways. You can explain, or you can tell a story. If you explain, you may say something like “I had no voice with upper management. I had useful ideas, but they were not implemented.” If you choose the other route, you’ll tell a story about a specific appearance of this specific workplace dynamic. Your story will leave a greater impact and last longer in your interviewer’s memory than your explanation. The same applies to questions about your accomplishments. Set the stage and tell the tale, don’t just share your accomplishment as if you’re reading it from a list.

For more on how to impress interviewers while describing your professional past, turn to the job search experts at Merritt.

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