This is one of the nastiest questions that can come up in a job interview. Mille Montejo of the National Resume Writers Association linked to a great post from Donna Svei’s blog Avid Careerist. If you’ve ever been fired, I urge you to read this post and take what it says to heart. I thank Donna and Mille for sharing this advice.
As I often put it to my clients: Only look back when it helps you look forward
I was leading a seminar on interviewing skills last week when a young lady asked me how I would answer this question: “What is the best and worst company you’ve ever worked for?”
I paused. As interview questions go, this one is great – from the employer’s perspective. If the employer’s goal is to test an applicant’s attitude, there is no way to pull the “turn a weakness into a strength” trick (which I don’t think is a good idea, but that’s for another day). I told the young lady who asked me about this question to give me a little time to think about it, which is not a bad thing to do during an interview.
The employer is holding your resume and can see what companies you’ve worked for. If you’ve worked for more than one company, it’s obvious that you would think one is better than another. The trick in the interview is not to show any sign that you will be a bad employee, poor team player, or a trouble maker. Here’s the answer I came up with:
“I’ve learned something from every job I’ve had. The best company I worked for would be Brown and Sons, my most recent employer. That is where I developed the skills you need in a Sales Manager. The worst company I worked for would be Smithers, Inc., which is the job I held after college. Smithers is a great, successful company, but it wasn’t the right fit for me because they wanted me to do clerical work to support sales. Even at that point in my career, I knew sales was my calling. Smithers did not have a sales opening at the time I worked for them, so I took the initiative to find a job in sales with another company and that set the direction for my career over the last eight years.”
Stay positive if you ever have to answer this question or one like it. Don’t bash the company or the people you worked for. The most important thing when facing a difficult question during an interview is to stop and think before you answer. If you do that, you’ll find a way to present yourself as a good employee, someone the employer will want to hire.
This is a difficult question to answer at a job interview. Be sure that the answer you give doesn't indicate that you would be a problem employee.
One of my clients recently left a job because she was not getting support from her manager. It was a hostile work environment. When she told her story at an interview, she said that the interview looked at her like she was crazy. Why? The expectation is that we should never say anything negative about a former employer. This kind of answer indicates that you could be the problem, and most companies will not bring you back for a second interview.
What should my client have done? First be positive. She should say that she enjoyed working at the company and learned a lot working there. The next move is to pivot. Find something about the employer you are interviewing with that your previous employer did not offer. Say that you are looking for a job that would provide whatever that quality/benefit is.
The prospective employer could still press as to why you would leave a job before you had a new one. In that case, your best strategy would be to say something general such as, "It was time to leave that job." This answer could still wave a red flag, but it's better than being openly negative. Bring your focus back to what you can do for the employer, and take the focus off why you left the last job. It is a very tricky question.