Your interview is scheduled later this week, and you’re doing your best to prepare for the surprises and curveball questions that may be heading your way. Of course your session will probably open with some small talk and a polite discussion of the kind of job you’re looking for and why you applied for this specific role. But within a few minutes, your interviewer will probably get down to business and start asking about your past. Will you be ready? Here are a few tips that can help you answer some challenging (and very likely) questions about your work history.

Addressing Why You Left

Your employer may ask about your last job—what it entailed, how you handled your responsibilities, etc—and you’ll be looking for ways to keep your answers positive. Of course you loved your work! The customers were great! Your teammates were fantastic! You believed in your company and its product and you enjoyed making your boss happy. But get ready for the obvious next question: If you loved it so much, why did you leave? Have your answer ready and don’t be caught off guard. Keep your statement positive, clear and short. Reduce the complexity of your decision to a single, manageable sound bite. For example: I just felt it was time to move on. I wasn’t earning what I needed. I was laid off. I didn’t like the commute. Be honest, but don’t ramble.

Your Last Job isn’t Identical to This One

Hiring is a difficult task with high stakes, so managers should be forgiven for a slightly rigid and distrusting attitude. Imagine you’re being asked to trust someone with your child, your life’s work, your reputation, or something very valuable to you…you’d be cautious, too. So don’t be surprised if you hear a statement like this: “Your last position is sort of similar to this one, but it’s not EXACTLY the same. Are you sure you’re ready for this kind of work?” Stay calm and recognize that the gulf between your last position and this next one is not as wide as your interviewer thinks it is. Then patiently point out the similarities and highlight the connections that he or she may not be able to see.

Focus on the Future

Explain that you’re an ambitious person with a clear vision for your future and clear goals for your career over the long term. The position at hand can help you get where you need to go, and in the meantime, your skills, talent and ambitions can help the company reach its own goals. This is a mutually beneficial partnership…but in order to make this argument, you’ll need to keep the conversation pointed forward. Stay focused on the future, not the past, and take every opportunity to redirect your interviewer’s attention to the road ahead.

For more on how to use your past to pave the way to a bright future, contact the job search and interview professionals at Expert.


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