Why did you leave your last position?

It’s safe to say that a good chunk of folks looking for work are doing so because their current work conditions are less than stellar.  If you’re lucky enough to interview, you will most likely be asked why you’re leaving your current position (or why you left your most recent position).  As comfortable as you may be in that interview chair and as nice as the employer might seem, maintain composure and provide a response that won’t have them thinking: will this candidate say this about my org when they leave?

Sometimes your interview is going really well.  You and the interviewer are talking about favorite pastimes and sports teams.  You may feel tempted to answer the question honestly especially if they insinuate a “difficult” or “colorful” work environment at your previous place of employment.  Don’t do it.  At some point down the line you will have an opportunity to divulge every dirty secret of the sweat shop that you called work but that point is not during your interview.  Below are some reasons decoded for use during the interview.

“I was sick of being someone’s personal bitch” – “I’m looking for a position that includes more supervisory/managerial duties ” or “There was very little upward mobility”  (It’s good to follow up with different examples of how you tried to advance).

“They had me working crazy hours all of the time” –  “I didn’t feel like there was an emphasis on work-life balance” (Be careful with this one.  You don’t want to come off as lazy but you do want to let them know that you value this balance because it enables you to do your worker smarter and better).

“I just didn’t want to work there anymore” –  “I exhausted my opportunities for personal and professional growth” (Cite examples).

“I didn’t like my supervisor.” –  “I’m interested in pursuing different positions that allow for more creativity and/or responsibility and/or whatever aspect of the new job that interests you.

You get the point.

Refrain from citing a laundry list of everything that you hated about your past or previous job.  When you think of what you’ll say when asked this questions think about whether or not your answer would be viewed negatively.  Are you talking about a specific person that made your job difficult or a specific aspect of your job that you just didn’t like?  If so, then STOP!  In answering this question you want to give them a glimpse of what interests you and what you’re looking for a in a position/work environment.

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What’s your weakness?

This question has become a staple at interviews and most people feel they’ve crafted the perfect response to this question.

Your interviewer asks you for your weakness.  You tell him/her, “I’m a perfectionist.  I just  have this INNATE need to make sure my job is done PERFECTLY well.  I can’t leave until that has been achieved.”  You imagine your interviewer is pleased with your dedication to getting the job done and proceed to ask about benefits and vacation time.

Employers ask this question because they want to know if you can evaluate yourself and if you’re able to generate a plan towards improvement.  We’d all like to believe that we are rockstars at what we do but the reality is that there must be an area where we struggle and we should be able to recognize that area and figure out how to improve it.  The days of advising the positive trait disguised as a weakness are done.

Employers want to know that you’re working towards becoming a better employee.  Do you have difficulty delegating tasks?  What are you doing to correct that?  Do you take on too many tasks or are unable to say “no”?  How are you fixing that?  As an interviewer i’m not going to fault you for having a weakness, you’re human, we aren’t perfect.

I can’t speak for all organizations but I know that all of the orgs that I have worked for check references and we ask former supervisors about the candidate’s weakness.  This also lets us know if you are truly aware of your skill and performance.  If I ask you about your weakness and you tell me that you’re a perfectionist but I ask your supervisor and she says that you take on too much and have difficulty meeting deadlines, I’ll be concerned.  If you were to tell me that you take on too much but have learned to re-prioritize and communicate with your supervisor regarding  updating deadlines (citing a recent example), I’d be less concerned because you’re able to identify an area where you need improvement and it’s in line with what other people see when they evaluate you.

It might not seem like an important skill to have but being able to honestly reflect on your performance, recognize your weaknesses, and construct a plan towards improvement is the marker of a knowledgeable worker that will always strive to do better.  This is the person that gets an offer, not the “perfectionist.”

On a sidenote, the weakness conversation is not the time to be super candid about things that make you seem unprofessional, i.e.

“I can’t get to work on time.”  Yes, I actually heard that. Set multiple alarm clocks and get yourself to work on time.  Some places are more lenient than others but you can’t start off the job waltzing in 15 minutes late (or implying that you would).  

“I don’t like taking direction. I prefer to work independently.”  Yup, heard that too.  No one likes to be micro-managed but unless you’re working for yourself, at some point someone will be giving you some type of direction and you need to be able to deal with that.  

Also not a good time to mention weaknesses that are essential parts of the job, “I can’t juggle multiple projects (but i’m applying to a project manager position).”  If you find that essential parts of the job are areas within which you have significant deficiencies, perhaps you should look at a different position.