Most people have some point in their career where they have legitimate grievances about a previous company, boss, co-worker, or corporate culture. Every company, even the best ones, are imperfect and can’t be ideal for every personality or work style. Every company and every boss has ‘wronged’ certain employees at times. Sometimes it happens out of bad faith from an individual, or often it happens because of other factors or circumstances but without ill intent.
How you relate your bad experience to a potential employer in an interview, however, can have a great impact on your chances of being chosen to move forward in the hiring process.
Whether you like it or not, or think it’s fair or not, an interviewer generally will naturally take your employers side in the stories you relate. Anyone who has been in a supervisory or managerial role for any length of time, comes to realize that there are always two sides to every story. And while they certainly realize that an employee may have legitimate complaints, the tendency is to wonder what the other side of the story might be.
That’s why job search coaches will consistently tell you to never bash or criticize previous employers. It almost never results in a good outcome for you. Yet… it’s one of the most common mistakes people make in job interviews.
The ‘wound’ is usually ingrained in them, and given the least bit of opportunity, it will open up. Regardless of how well the story is spun, though, it will likely raise concerns or questions about the other side.
Describing how a project failed because…
“objectives and milestones weren’t well defined for me”
or how your previous manager and you had…
“differing opinions about how to deal with customers”,
may be true stories, but may be interpreted in potentially negative ways. It would be natural for the interviewer to muse…
“I wonder how their previous boss views what happened.”
Furthermore, it can be viewed as if you are trying to avoid any personal responsibility and pointing the finger elsewhere. Candidates that take personal responsibility are always refreshing… because they are relatively rare! You could frame those same stories as…
“The project failed because I didn’t make sure I had objectives and milestones clearly defined for me. It was a great lesson to learn and a mistake I certainly won’t let happen again.”
“My manager and I had differing views on how to deal with customers, and I didn’t creatively come up with a resolution that would satisfy us both. The experience has taught me how to be more solution oriented.”
The resulting response from an interviewer is likely to be much more positive. They don’t expect to hire someone that has never made mistakes. They would like to find someone that takes responsibility, learns from their mistakes, and can progress.
As you describe your background and experience to potential employers, be sure to consider how it may sound to their ears. Show that you are someone that takes responsibility and learns from your mistakes. It will reflect on you much more positively and your results are likely to improve.
Harry Urschel has over 20 years experience as a technology recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives.
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