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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Pre-Interview Prep

Congrats!  You’ve received a call back and are scheduled for an interview.  What should you do now?

1.Return their call/email right away to schedule your interview. Right away doesn’t mean immediately 2 seconds after they contacted you but it should be the same day if possible.  Confirm date, time, location, and person(s) you are meeting once you connect.

2. Start your research.  Research the organization/company, the person/people you’re meeting, and any current events that pertain to the organization/company.  My very first interview out of college my interviewer asked me if I had seen the organization in the news recently.  Before the interview I went over the website but blatantly missed the section on press releases.  When I said no, he made a face and told me about the story that featured the org that was all over the news.

3. Review the job posting and know what the job requires backwards and forwards. Sometimes they’ll ask you to tell them about the job to see if you have a good grasp of the position.  If you fully understand all aspects of the position you can better articulate why you’ll be a good fit.

4. Review your resume.  Make sure you know what you’ve written.  It seems silly but sometimes people don’t remember what they’ve listed on their resume.   In the midst of a job search, when was the last time you actually read not skimmed  your resume?  Going over your resume will also allow you to identify and develop answers for any red flags. Do you have gaps?  Why was the length of time at that last position so short? Did you take a pay cut/demotion?

5. Get directions to your interview location and figure out travel time.  If possible print up alternate directions because you never know what can happen the day of.  If the location is unfamiliar, don’t feel shy about asking the person who’s scheduling your interview for directions.   Decide what time you need to leave and leave about half an hour earlier than that.  Lateness can lead to no interview or an interview where the employer has already decided they won’t consider you.  If you get there early, walk around for a bit until you have about 15 mins before your interview time.   Too early isn’t good either because they’re not ready for you yet.  Use that extra time to calm yourself down.

6. Make sure your suit is ready to go.  Yes your suit. Every adult should own at least 1 full suit.  Business dress varies by sector but that’s after you have the job.  No one will fault you for wearing a suit to an interview but there’s a chance that someone will fault you for not wearing a suit.

7. Print out copies of your resume if possible on resume paper.  When you get to your interview someone might ask you if you have a copy of your resume.  Most of the time they have your resume already, they just want to know if you came prepared.  Other times you might meet with someone else that hasn’t had time to review your materials.

8. Think of some questions to ask.  These questions shouldn’t be general information that can be found on the website.  They should deal more with the culture of the org, the goals for that program, the goals for your prospective supervisor etc.    You want your interviewer to know that you are engaged and interested.  If you really can’t think of anything at least ask them what is their time-frame for hiring for the position  and what are the next steps.

9. Practice your pitch (tell me about yourself) and some basic interview questions.  What are your major strengths?  What are your weaknesses?  A weakness is something that you have trouble with but are working to improve. “I have difficulty waking up on time for work” is not a good weakness (Yes, someone actually said this to me).   I like to “interview” in front of the mirror so that I can see what I’m doing with my hands and  faces when i’m describing something.

10. Get some rest!  You’re nervous and excited but try to get some rest.  You’ll do much better fully rested than if you’re up all night trying to prepare.

To suit or not to suit

Some people have asked me if it’s necessary to wear a suit to an interview.  My personal opinion is that every adult should own at least 1 full suit and said suit should be worn for interviews.  It’s true that various sectors are more laid-back than others and might have a more relaxed office dress-code but you can take advantage of that once you’ve been offered the job.

You never know who you will encounter during your interview and what their personal preference will be.  People make snap judgments when they first meet you, especially when you’re going in for an interview.  What if you interview with the one guy in the office that although there is a business casual dress-code still believes in business professional attire everyday?  That person will probably think to himself, “I would have worn a suit to an interview,” and now you’ve started off on the wrong foot.

Aside from that, there are various degrees of business casual all subject to your employer’s personal opinion.  At one job I was told that business casual meant having a blazer everyday.  I kept a black blazer on the back of my chair.  At another job I was told that I just had to look “neat and professional,”  (slacks, skirts, collared shirts, etc.).  The point here is that what was considered business casual at one place wouldn’t have been at another.  Do you want to take that chance at your interview?