Telling an Interviewer About Your Last Job – That One from Hell

Whenever you interview for a new job, you'll be asked about your last position. Your prospective employer will want to know what you did there, what you liked and didn't like about the work, and why you left. Fair enough. Those are all reasonable questions that anyone should be able to answer. But replying to those queries can be difficult, even paralyzing, for an applicant who's rebounding from the job from hell.

If you're a job hunter who's trying to move on from a bad experience, you need to come up with a way to talk about your last position that will enhance rather than undermine your chances of winning over an interviewer. Here are some tips on how to prepare for your interviews:

  • Vent on your own time. Go ahead and get the bad stuff out of your system. Rant to your friends, talk to yourself, write a letter and tear it up. Acknowledge your feelings of anger, betrayal, injustice, failure - whatever it is that makes your stomach churn. As the poet Emily Dickinson noted, 'Anger as soon as fed is dead - 'tis starving makes it fat.' When you go in to interview for your dream job, you want your anger to be dead, or at least on its deathbed -; not still fat and hearty and ready to break out of its cage.
  • Formulate stock answers and rehearse them. Don't count on being able to wing it when an interviewer asks you about your last position, especially if what happened there still makes you angry or upset. No matter how justified your feelings are, it will do you no good to lose your cool in an interview. Prepare responses ahead of time that are accurate, fair, and unemotional. You might even want to write out a script and memorize it. Better yet, carry a printed copy of your script with you to your appointment and review it before you go in.
  • Practice interviewing with a friend. Ask your friend to play the role of the interviewer as if they really were a stranger with no previous knowledge of your character or work history. Get their honest feedback on how they think your rehearsed answers would sound to that stranger.
  • Play Pollyanna. Think of three positive things you gained from that difficult job, no matter how small they are, and be ready to mention them during your interviews. This task may sound impossible, but if you give it your best effort you'll be surprised at what you come up with. Even the things that drove you nuts can be presented in a way that sounds positive. If it helps, construct these statements so that there's something you share with the interviewer and something you keep to yourself. Here are some examples: 'Working at X gave me a better understanding of the different kinds of people working in this industry' (and some of them are psychotic…); 'This experience really helped me clarify my career priorities' (and one of them is never being trapped in a job like that again…); 'My supervisor gave me the chance to stretch myself and try new things' (because I had to do his job as well as my own…)

Never lose sight of the fact that a job interview is not a confessional or a therapy session. It's a business meeting where you find out more about the company and the position you're interested in and try to persuade the interviewer that you're just the person they're looking for. It's a time to look forward, not back.

Remember, too, that living well is always the best revenge. Turning a nightmarish work experience into words that help you land a better and brighter job is the sweetest payback you'll ever be able to inflict on the employer who did you wrong.




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