Interview tips beyond the usual

  • Stephanie Clark

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Should you badmouth a previous employer?

Posted by Stephanie on June 1, 2012

It’s pretty much inevitable that by the time we’ve held a few part time and full time jobs, we’ve likely experienced a bad, rotten-to-the-core, unethical or abusive manager or employer. (How these types climb the career ladder is a mystery, but it happens. I hear it time and again from my clients, and of course I’ve worked under at least two of these myself.)

And that leads us to the question of how to deal with a question about the related employment, which was either cut short as we fled, or had no great accomplishments as we simply “did our job” without enthusiasm, or even led to a demotion because we dared speak up.

In general, it’s best to leave the negatives out of an interview, but there are situations in which it doesn’t hurt to point something out. It’s a fine line, a personal decision too, but here’s an idea or two to when that might work in your favor.

  • If your criticism makes a strong case for your candidacy, as it emphasizes your commitment to your chosen field of work, it is more likely to be received positively. For example, if you worked for a landscaper each summer, to pay your way through school, and your field of studies was focused on safety in the workplace, and one of those landscapers cut serious safety corners, you could mention that. Don’t get personal, of course, referring to his old-fashioned hairstyle, body odour, or foul language, stick to the facts such as lack of regard for workers’ safety by not providing work gloves or goggles. After a quick mention of these facts, swing the rest of your reply over to what measures you’ve implemented in the workplace and how much these saved in worker compensation type fees and missed days of work.
  • If your negative comment emphasizes your own career path choice, that’s easier to share. “After working on an organic farm I realized that farming was definitely not for me, even though a career assessment suggested that,” can make an interesting beginning to a great “how I fit this career choice” story! And pulling the interviewer into a conversation with an engaging story works very well in establishing rapport, a critical aspect of interview success!

Interviewing is a bit “tricksy,” and takes strategy, a bit of public relations know-how, and the ability to read social cues quickly. Ah, there’s another topic for next time … how to read your interviewer’s social cues! Working to your career success, Stephanie



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