An interviewer ask questions to not only better understand you and your abilities, but also to suss out whether you’d be a good fit for the company, work ethic-wise, and on a cultural level, too. For an interviewer to find that perfect fit, one question they might pose is this: “What did you like least about your last job?” How a candidate handles the answering of this rather tough question (as well as countless other interview questions) can reveal a lot about their character.
This is not an invitation to go negative.
While this question might seem like it’s begging for a negative, job-hating, company-hating, or boss-hating response, that is not the case! In fact, an interviewer is mostly looking to get a feel for your possible levels of satisfaction if you were employed at the company you’re interviewing for, and they definitely want to observe the manner in which you answer the question.
Since the question asks “what” and not “who” you liked least, avoid mentioning people, either by name or role. Instead, focus on aspects of the job you didn’t like—for example, the types of tasks that you didn’t like, ones that you’re looking to move away from in your next job (for example, talking with angry customers or spending all of your time working on your computer). Or, some aspect of the work environment that you didn’t like (for example, limited opportunity for advancement).
When it comes to this question, thoughtful preparation is key to successfully answering. As you prepare, think about what you really didn’t like. Make a list, and then try to figure out what made you dislike each element on the list. Use this list to develop your answers to the question. Also, use this list as the basis for questions you ask the interviewer about the job you’re interviewing for. You don’t want to go to the effort of landing a job you hate.
The Best Approach
At its core, the “what did you like least about your last job?” question is about you. Provide a brief answer to the question, and then wait for another question, or ask the interviewer a question yourself. You don’t need to share an excessive amount of information. When possible, choose an issue outside of the organization so that the “fault” is external to the employer and not a negative reflection on you.
Often, an answer that has three parts provides a path to the most effective presentation:
1. Start off by mentioning what you did like about your last job.
2. Then, touch on what you didn’t like—focus on task- or situation-based dislikes.
3. Then, talk about how you managed the situation until you decided you needed to move on in your career.
Points to Emphasize
When responding to the seemingly loaded “what did you like least about your last job?” question, it’s vital that your answer maintain an overall positive tone, and that you yourself reflect an ability to stay cool under pressure.
Remain tactful, respectful, and gracious when mentioning your prior superiors and the company you worked for, even if you feel like you have nothing nice to say. Find a way to say something nice! You likely grew professionally in some way, or picked up a new skill or two, so go ahead and mention what you gained at your previous company.
Stay task-oriented or big picture-oriented when mentioning dislikes about your previous job. This point can’t be emphasized enough.
When you finish mentioning your dislikes, mention aspects of the job you’re interviewing for that you really like! This could be day-to-day responsibilities, or perhaps something noted in the job description (for example, opportunities for advancement or travel).
Stay positive while providing the answer in not only what you say, but how you present yourself, body language-wise. For example, don’t roll your eyes when the question is asked, or start off your answer with something like, “Ugh, that company!”
Mistakes You Should Avoid
With the “what did you like least about your last job?” question, don’t fall into the trap that many interviewees do. Avoid these common mistakes.
Don’t mention a dislike for something that is common at the company that you are interviewing for.
Don’t fall into the company politics pitfall. Avoid talking about the office politics at your previous company.
Don’t answer in a way that makes you seem like you are inflexible, or set in your ways and opinions.
Don’t turn this question into a boss- or company-bashing session, even if it seems like that’s what your interviewer is asking you for. This has been mentioned already, but it bears repeating.
Don’t leave the interviewer with the impression that you are impossible to please or difficult to work with.
Answering this negatively based question doesn’t have to be tough if you follow the layout of these sample answers:
“I really loved my previous employer and the incredibly talented people I worked with. But working solely from a remote location became a bit problematic as our team grew, and I also tired of being alone by myself for five days a week. What appeals to me so much about this job is the fact that it’s primarily onsite, with the option to work remotely when necessary. I’m really looking forward to collaborating with a new team in person, and not through G-chat and video conferencing software!”
“I can’t say I dislike anything too intensely in my current job, but the company is very small, so the opportunities for advancement are limited. I’ve advanced as far as I can go, and I would like to learn more about [technology and/or subject that interests you but is not available at your current employer]. Unfortunately, we don’t work with [technology and/or subject], so in order to grow, I’ve decided it’s time to move on.”
“It’s a really great company overall, but my job kept me typing at my computer all day, with very little interaction with other employees or customers. I enjoy working on computers, but I like the interacting with people too, which is why this job appeals to me so much!”
“I enjoy my current job, but the commute has gotten to be too much for me. I spend close to three hours a day commuting, and with that, I feel like I’m missing out on a lot with my family life. With this job being only a 15-minute drive from home, I’d really be able to get a lot of my life back, and also, grow my career by moving into a management position.”
Show the interviewer that you would be an exceptional candidate for the position is as simple as answering the “what did you like least about your last job?” question in a professional and positive manner while remaining honest and open.