Published: Sep 18, 2017
In interviews, it can be tricky to talk about previous or current employers. You certainly don't want to bad-mouth anyone, including an employer, manager, or coworker. But you don't want to make yourself look bad, either. After all, you're selling yourself and trying to put your best self forward in an interview. And so, what's an interviewee to do when replying to Why are you leaving your current company? and Tell me something that you could've done better in a previous job and other questions like these that pry into past working experiences?
One thing to remember when answering these types of questions is never place blame. To that end, here's what Logicworks CEO Kenneth Ziegler says he's looking for when he interviews candidates for his cloud-management services company.
When they talk about their previous company, you listen for whether they are blaming circumstances, like their manager or the strategy. Nothing is ever their fault.
You can also learn a lot by asking them about something they could have done better. Ideally, they’re not blaming everybody else for the failure. It’s the same with successes. Do they talk about themselves, or do they say they were part of a great team?
I just listen for their language choices and whether they are giving or taking credit. Are they placing blame or taking it?
In other words, beware of blaming others and solely praising yourself. If you do this, you risk sounding arrogant, egotistical, and entitled (according to Ziegler, "If anyone thinks they’re perfect, they’re actually insane."). So, for example, instead of saying that the causes for leaving your current job have to do with a poor manager or the poor performance of the company, you could say that you're looking for additional challenges, to take on more responsibility, or to concentrate more in a certain area of interest. That is, take the blame, don't place it on others; you and your interests and skills are the reason, not the company, not a coworker. And pay close attention to the exact words you use to answer with, since they could make or break your chances of getting that new position.
And with respect to that new position, once you do get it, take some further advice from Ziegler on what not to do your first few months on the new job.
The one thing that I found consistently painful was they would keep talking about their old company: “At this company, we did this, we did that.” It was never about what we have. It was about what we didn’t have, and why we were unlike another company. People just get sick of that.
It’s natural to gravitate to things that worked in the past. But just remove the “At my old company… .” Phrase it as a question: “Have we thought about this?” Then people get jazzed about it because now it’s our idea, not your old company’s idea.
Again, note that the language you use (or don't use) can make or break your success. And note that Ziegler offers a great tip for working with other people and managing other people: Use questions, not statements. Have we thought of trying x? Have we ever considered of going with y? Chances are using questions like these will open up your conversations, not shut them down.
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