During a job interview, you want to present your skills and experience in a great light while creating a connection with your interviewer that will make you a memorable candidate. However, sometimes creating a great connection can make it easy to step over the line.
What’s the worst mistake you can make during a job interview?
Badmouthing your former employer or boss is one way to make an impression, but it won’t be a good one. Even if you are a star employee and have legitimate gripes, it’s best to keep them to yourself. Why? Here are a few reasons:
- Your industry may be small, and your interviewer may know—and respect—your former employer.
- The interviewer will likely wonder what you would say about their company in your next job interview.
- Depending on what you say, you may come off as immature, arrogant, or a know-it-all, which may make it appear as if you—and not your boss—were the problem.
How can you answer difficult questions about your former employer?
Often interviewers will ask you to tell them about a time you had a conflict or disagreement with your supervisor and how you handled it. When interviewers ask these types of questions, they aren’t trying to trick you into making a mistake. They are often looking for insight into how you behave in a difficult situation—and a disagreement with your boss is certainly difficult!
An effective way to handle behavioral questions is by using the STAR method:
- Describe the context of the situation as objectively and precisely as possible.
- Explain the challenge you faced in the situation.
- Relate how you solved the challenge. Focus on what you did, not on the actions or words of your supervisor.
- Explain the outcome of the situation. Emphasize what was accomplished or learned from the exchange.
Be ready for a question like this and prepare an answer before your interview.
For example, if you didn’t enjoy your former boss’s micromanagement, say that your former employer liked multiple project check-ins per day. In contrast, you are self-motivated and prefer more autonomy. Explain how you asked your employer to agree to a set number of progress reports so you could have consistent deep focus time during your workday. Emphasize that facing that challenge helped you develop a more flexible working style and learn to adapt to the needs of others.
What should you do if you accidentally badmouth your former boss?
You told yourself not to do it, but the interviewer was so approachable and understanding you found yourself confiding too much about your former employer’s annoying work habits. It happens. And if it happens to you, here are a few ways you can attempt to control the damage:
- Be honest. Acknowledging your mistake will show self-awareness.
- Use the STAR method to focus on how you handled the interaction to create a good result.
- End on a positive note. Put a positive spin on your answer by acknowledging what you learned from the exchange and how you are eager to use your hard-won knowledge in a new work environment.
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