Interview questions: What did you like least about your last job?
If asked what you hated most at your previous job, think twice before ranting about an old boss who made your life difficult.
"What did you like least about your last job?" can be something of a trap when it comes to interview questions, because your interviewer is asking for a negative answer. If you haven't given the subject some thought, you may accidentally talk yourself out of a job.
If you're asked this question—or its close cousins “What was the worst part of your last job?” or "Why didn't you like your last job?"—in an interview, you'll want to keep your answer honest while trying to incorporate a positive angle. One of the purposes of this interview question is to find out if you're going to be satisfied in the job for which you're interviewing. If you were dissatisfied before, you may be dissatisfied again if the circumstances are similar. Here's how three different candidates might answer this question:
Answer No. 1: "I didn't have enough challenges. After a while, all the projects became repetitive. I thrive on challenge."
Interviewer's thoughts: A lot of the tasks here are repetitive. What makes this candidate think he will like it here any better? Will we be able to keep him challenged?
Answer No. 2: "Lack of stability. After three company acquisitions, I had five bosses in three years. I couldn't take it any longer. What I am looking for is stability in a job and company."
Interviewer's thoughts: While our company is stable now, there are no guarantees about the future. This woman sounds like she may have some burnout and flexibility issues.
Answer No. 3: "In my last job, my boss was overbearing and wouldn't let me do my job. If she didn't like the way I was doing something, she'd criticize me."
Interviewer's thoughts: Could he work with me as a supervisor? How would he react if I had to critique his work? He sounds like he could be a problem to supervise.
Don't make the same mistakes these candidates made. Instead, use this three-step strategy to leave the recruiter feeling positively after this negative question.
Start on the right foot
While this is a negative question in search of a negative answer, you want to begin your answer with something upbeat that shows you're generally not a negative person, that shows you generally look for the good in situations. You'll probably want to note your overall satisfaction with your job, and even give one specific thing you've found valuable about the job.
You say: "I've given this question some thought, and overall I've been very satisfied with my job. I've been able to work with some really interesting people."
Stay on tasks
When you get to the meat of this question, you'll benefit by doing some advance planning, as you'll likely get some iteration of this question (it might sound something more like "Why are you looking to leave your current job?"). Create a list of those things responsible for your dissatisfaction. Spend some time looking at your list for patterns. Are there some projects that recur on your list? Are there some situations you don't want to get into again? This exercise will help you identify things to watch for and to ask questions about during the interview.
As you look for the answer to the question you're being asked, try to focus on an element of the work itself rather than company politics (which may be messy if your interviewer knows people at your company) or people (the recruiter may translate this answer into your being difficult). Try to limit yourself to one issue, such as workload, lack of growth or lack of flexibility.
You say: I have to say that I did have a job where there was an inordinate amount of paperwork." Notice the word "inordinate." Not a normal load paperwork, but an unusually large amount.
End with a strength
Use your closing sentence to acknowledge how this particular negative situation hampered you from deploying one of your key skills, so that the interviewer sees you as someone who wants to be able to work to their best potential.
You say: "The paperwork has bogged me down, and prevented me from doing what I do best, which is working with people."
Practicing the answer to this question can be duly helpful for you: Not only does it get you ready for the interview, it gets you ready to decide whether you'll want the job. When you can identify the factors that give you job satisfaction, as well as the factors that were unpleasant or tedious for you, you can more easily determine if a job is the right job for you. Remember that this interview goes both ways!
Good luck on the interview. We've got our fingers crossed for you—but as a Plan B, you might also consider joining Monster and uploading your resume. That way recruiters can find you, and you can apply to jobs on our site in a jiffy. Hey, it wouldn't hurt to have two offers, would it?