Interview Question: What did you like least about your last job?

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Oh, the interview questions hiring managers will throw at us when we are must vulnerable during the interview. Things are moving along nicely, then comes this zinger: “Tell me what you least liked about your last job?”

The question begs you to bare your soul about all that was horrible about your last job, last manager, and last team. Because the question begs you to bare your soul about your last job (or your current one), too often people do just that. That would be an incorrect approach.

This interview question is about your motivation to do the work

Tough times happen in every job no matter how much you like doing it. This interview question probes to find out your pain points on the job and what you do about them. The fact that the question begs for negative answers simply masks the intent: how motivated are you to do the work?

How not to answer this interview question

“What did you like least about your last job?” opens it up to go negative. Don’t fall for that trap. You really can’t go negative because, as soon as you do, you are viewed as someone who whines and complains. And you’ll do that with this position too. No hiring manager wants to hire a whiner and complainer; there is too much to get done.

Don’t complain about your current or former manager. Don’t complain about your current or former team of coworkers. Don’t complain about the company.

I once explained that the reason I was leaving was because my current manager was 2000 miles from me and wanted me to call him before I talked to his manager who had his office 20-feet from mine. One sentence. My inside person later came back to me and said the hiring manager thought I was very negative about my manager and didn’t want anything to do with me. Seriously, one sentence and it wasn’t even negative; it was about the logistics not working right.

Didn’t matter. (Of course, would you want to work for a manager who thought that was negative? Not me, so it turned out to be a good thing…).

How to answer the “What did you like least about your last job?” interview question

The best way to answer this question is to focus on you and what you want in a position and how the last job isn’t providing it any more.

“The last job helped me build my business analyst skills, but now I want to focus on turning those skills to that of a project manager.”

“The last job helped me develop handling medium projects, but now I want to move to even larger sized projects with more responsibility.”

“The last job had a budget of $1 million and I am ready to handle larger responsibilities.”

Thus, the last job was a “good job,” but you have outgrown it or want to move your work into a slightly different direction that the old job can no longer provide.

Turn the negative into a positive

These questions, begging you to go negative, need to turn around into something positive about you and your work. The way to do that is understanding what the question is really about (motivated to do the work?) and then explaining how the old job built your skills but you are now ready for something different.

What other negative interview questions have you been asked?

  • You'd think that everyone would be totally prepared for this question, too. Not. Thanks for the insight and leaving the comment. (Held for moderation because there was a link in it)

  • One “negative interview question” I've been asked at nearly every interview I've had in LIFE is “What is your greatest weakness?” (or something similar to it). As a millennial (, it was tough for me to answer a question like this, because we generally don't like to see ourselves as “weak” in anything.

    Determined to overcome the question, I quickly thought of a solution — turn this bitter question into lemonade! How? Tell the truth, but be sure to highlight how that weakness actually supports the workplace and what you're doing to improve on it.

    Conversely, know that even your greatest strengths can be perceived as negative or as weaknesses. It's all about about finding that middle-high ground in answering questions like these.

  • I'm consistently surprised at how little it takes to have the whole interview go negative as well. Emotional intelligence is very much needed in this arena. Thanks for the comment, Karl.

  • I concur. The moment an interviewee goes negative it creates a dour mood. We need to make sure to show people that we are resilient and find ways to find the positive form a situation and use it to improve our current state.

    I like how you phrased the “positive spin” answers. It's a good guide to making sure we show the value that we gained from our previous employer.

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