Job Interview Questions about Previous Employment

Questions about previous employment can be problematic if there were issues with any previous employers. You can get stuck for a good answer, or you can put your foot in your mouth with a bad answer.

Common problems with previous employment

The interviewers need background about some of the issues you faced previously in order to make a recommendation. The new employer must question the circumstances of your leaving your previous job. These are the usual situations that lead to difficult questions:

  • Getting fired: When someone gets fired the former employee is in damage control mode from day one.
  • Quitting a job: Job dissatisfaction or "people issues" are the usual causes.
  • Dispute with management: Any dispute with management is a problem, particularly if it results in the loss of a job.

Information regarding previous employment

The interviewers may check the circumstances under which you left your previous employment. There are several critical issues in discussing your work record at an interview:

  • Never provide misleading or false information in a job interview. Any information you give interviewers must be correct and verifiable.
  • Do not, under any circumstances, say anything negative about a former employer: It will look terrible to a prospective new employer. You may have too much to say for your own good.
  • Do not express any opinions about issues with former employers: Opinions aren't facts. Don't accuse the former employer of anything.
  • You don't have to provide a biography: Keep the circumstances of leaving your previous employer simple and easily understandable. Less is definitely better, and far easier for interviewers to note down on your interview record.
  • Don't "self-justify": Like opinions, these aren't facts; they're your version of events, from your perspective.

Interview questions- Right and wrong answers

Always think clearly before you speak when answering these questions:

Question: Tell us about how you came to leave your previous job.

  • Answer 1:  I was fired for stealing office equipment. It was a stupid thing to do, and I was really ashamed of myself. It cost me a good job.
  • Answer 2:  I was accused of stealing office equipment and fired. I disputed this with the manager, but they'd made up their minds.
  • Answer 3:  They said I was stealing office equipment. That was quite untrue; the floor manager had it in for me. He wanted to fire me, and invented an excuse.

Answers 1 and 2 are reasonable descriptions of a situation. Answer 3 is self-justification, an accusation against the former employer. It's also potentially an own goal, because it's accusing the previous employer of doing something illegal.

Question: Why did you quit your last job?

  • Answer 1:  It was a matter of job quality. I wasn't happy in the workplace environment. I also didn't think the job was really helping my career.
  • Answer 2:  I really didn't like working there. I didn't get on with the people, didn't like the supervisor.

Answer 1 is diplomatic, and raises the issue of career progression, a valid point. Answer 2 is saying the interviewee had issues with the staff, and does not find anything positive about the situation.