“What do you like least about your last job” is an incredibly tricky question to answer if you’re unprepared. It practically begs you to be negative, and many job-seekers unfortunately take the bait.
This guide will teach you how to answer this question, and also provide you with some sample responses to help you develop your own.
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Why Interviewers Ask This Question
Of all the interview questions out there, this is one that can easily trip you up. Questions like this are deceiving, and you must approach them carefully. There are many reasons why interviewers ask it.
One is to gauge your professionalism. Think of it as a litmus test for how you respond to less-than-ideal scenarios in the workplace. Everyone has work grievances, and it’s normal to have gripes about your job.
However, turning to negativity about those grievances is a red flag and speaks to your lack of professionalism. Employers want to know that you can remain respectful while communicating effectively with your supervisors and colleagues. It’s a make-or-break question.
If you resort to bad-mouthing, you can lose out on this opportunity. Hiring managers aren’t keen on bringing people in who go straight to negativity when discussing previous jobs.
Another reason interviewers ask this question is to learn more about your work history. Hiring managers almost always want to know why you left a previous job, and this question is one way they open that discussion.
Finally, your response highlights what you value from a position. “What did you like least about your last job?” indirectly shows employers what environment candidates prefer and what issues could make them unhappy with the job. Hiring managers often compare your answer to other candidates’ answers to better understand who could fulfill this role and succeed.
How to Answer “What Do You Like the Least About Your Last Job?”
Answering a multifaceted question like this well can put you at the top of the candidate shortlist. If not answered well, it may make hiring managers question your viability for the role. There’s a fine line to walk when responding.
Here’s what you need to know to develop an answer that works in your favor.
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Be Honest
The gut reaction for many job-seekers is to lie. For example, many will say they have no major issues and want to advance their careers. While that’s true in some cases, interviewers know that’s not true for a vast majority of people. Everyone has something they don’t like about their jobs, even those with their dream career.
The best thing you can do is be honest! Talk about what you didn’t like in your last role. You can be honest without being nasty or unprofessional.
If you try to dance around the question, interviewers will think you have something to hide. Furthermore, they’ll assume you lack good communication skills.
While not every workplace issue has a simple solution, employers prefer it when people discuss them honestly. It’s better than seething quietly and bad-mouthing the company later. This is your chance to show interviewers that you’re above that behavior and can discuss problems to find a solution.
Avoid lying or trying to bypass the question. Honesty is the best policy for any interview question, but it’s crucial with this one.
2. But Keep It Positive
Being honest can easily teeter into the side of negativity. Don’t let yourself get to that point!
Keep things positive and professional despite how frustrating parts of your previous job were for you. One way to do that is to bring up some of the things you liked about your job before going into what you disliked. For example, you could mention how that position helped you improve your skills and further your career.
Lead with a bit of positivity first. It cushions the blow and prevents you from coming off as too negative.
You can be honest without resorting to negativity. Choose your words carefully and pay attention to your tone. There’s no need to go into deep details. Try talking more generally about what you didn’t like and keep it concise.
Resist the temptation to go there and keep things as positive as possible.
3. Give a Good Reason
Another important tip is to provide a good reason for your answer. It’s not enough to say you didn’t like how your previous company managed projects or that you weren’t a fan of the work environment. You need to tell interviewers why.
If you start listing off things you didn’t like and don’t provide adequate reasoning behind your thought process, you’re doing nothing to show that you know how to communicate and work professionally.
You should be able to explain why those issues mattered to you.
Focus on how those problems impacted your work, and always keep things objective. When you provide your reasoning, take a company-first approach instead of a personal one.
For example, if you say you didn’t like how your previous employer managed projects, you should explain why that wasn’t beneficial to the bottom line. Instead of saying, “I hated that because it forced me to do too much extra work,” you could say, “I didn’t like that because it affected productivity and wasn’t the most efficient approach to project management.”
Providing a good reason for why you had those issues is a great way to get the interviewer to understand where you’re coming from. Furthermore, it maintains that professional thread and ensures you don’t come off as petty or difficult.
4. Connect That to What You’re Looking for in a New Role
Always connect your response back to the role you’re trying to land. This is a great tip that can make your answer a knockout.
When you discuss what you liked the least about your last job, compare those issues with what you know about this new opportunity. Consider it an opportunity to connect the dots for why you’re there and why you think you’ll do great in this new position.
Going back to the previous example, you could mention that you enjoy this company’s approach to project management after you talk about the issues with your last employer. Explain why you’re seeking a new role and how you believe this position will differ from your last one.
Connect everything back to the position you want to create a well-rounded answer. Ending with that is like tying a bow on the perfect response.
5. Practice Your Answer
Finally, practice your answer!
“What do you like least about your last job?” isn’t an interview question you want to think about on the spot. It’s simply too complex and tricky to answer, so developing a solid response before your interview is best.
Do your research about the company, reflect on your past experiences, and use our previous tips to create an answer that’s free of negativity.
Practice by yourself to reach a point where you’re comfortable and sound confident. And do your best to avoid creating a response you can recite verbatim. You want it to sound organic and natural.
What You Shouldn’t Do When Answering
There are many ways to get this question wrong. Here are a few mistakes you should avoid making when responding.
The most important thing to remember with this question is never to bad-mouth your previous employer or work colleagues. People fall into this trap often, usually costing them a job opportunity.
Contrary to how it sounds, talking about what you least liked about your last job is not an open invitation to be negative. It’s about being professional while providing more insight into your work history and communication skills.
Bad-mouthing will only hurt your chances of getting a job. It may even harm your relationship with your previous employer or affect your reputation within your industry. Keep things positive!
Avoid Mentioning Multiple Issues
Another common faux-pas is listing off a ton of grievances.
When you start listing off issues, you may come off as petty or difficult to work with. It’s a huge red flag.
Keep things short.
The best policy when answering this question is to only mention one thing you didn’t like about your last job. Find out what grievance is the most appropriate to talk about. Then, provide your reasoning and say something nice about your previous employer.
That’s enough to create a rich response without going long or being too vague.
Don’t Inadvertently Offend the Interviewer
Last but not least, do your homework!
One of the most awkward things you can do is start talking about an issue that applies to the company you’re interviewing for. For instance, imagine how awful it’d be if you spoke of a specific management style you didn’t like from your previous employer, only to find out later that this company uses the exact management style.
That’s like telling the interviewer that you’re not a good fit for the role you’re trying to get!
Research the company and ensure whatever issues you bring up don’t apply to this organization.
Everyone’s response to this question will be different. You must reflect on your experiences and develop an answer unique to you. However, we have a few example answers you can use for inspiration when structuring and wording your response.
In the first example, we have a candidate looking to advance their career. The number-one reason why most people leave their jobs is for career growth. Because it’s so common, you must find a way to make your answer unique.
The candidate uses this question as an opportunity to emphasize how important career growth and development are to them. The answer works well because it doesn’t bad-mouth the previous employer or indicate potential workplace issues. Instead, it leans into the desire to succeed and grow.
“I enjoyed my time at [COMPANY]. I had great colleagues, and the office environment was full of collaboration and support. But despite learning so much at [COMPANY], I realized that staying there too long would limit my chances to push my career forward.
My responsibilities didn’t provide much room for skill development outside the core competencies the job required. I’m grateful for my time there, but I believe the open position here would give me more opportunities to develop a rich skill set while presenting me with new challenges that will help me grow.”
In our next example, the candidate is switching careers entirely. They’re going from a relatively entry-level position at a fast food restaurant into a more professional environment as a receptionist. They use this question to highlight their desire for more challenges while showing they’re ready to handle whatever this new position will throw at them.
It’s a good response that takes all of our tips into account. It’s professional, mentioning positive things about the previous employer before discussing grievances and connecting their issues to the new job opportunity.
“I’m proud to have worked at [COMPANY]. I believe that my experience working in fast food prepared me to tackle any challenge that comes my way.
However, the thing I liked least about that job was the repetition. It can be exciting and fast-paced. But no matter how busy it got in the restaurant, I’d always do the same repetitive tasks.
Even communicating with customers has processes that everyone must follow. I understand that repetition and processes that anyone can replicate are crucial in the fast food industry. However, I’m ready for something more.
That’s one of the reasons why I applied here. The receptionist position will allow me to work with people, communicate more organically, and present unique hurdles to overcome. My time at [COMPANY] has prepared me to work hard and efficiently, and I believe I’m ready for the challenges of working in your office.”
Our last example touches on a common workplace grievance that can be challenging to discuss positively. However, the candidate does a fine job remaining professional while telling the interviewer why they believe the new position is right for them.
It’s a solid answer that checks off all the boxes.
“My previous employer, [COMPANY], taught me a great deal about project management and workplace organization. I had a great time there and wouldn’t be here without that experience. But the thing I liked least was how disorganized things could be there.
My tenure at [COMPANY] occurred during a period of substantial growth, so my team and I were constantly pivoting while receiving unique instructions from multiple supervisors. It was chaotic at times, but we managed to maintain productivity.
Ultimately, that experience helped me improve my ability to work under pressure. It also taught me how to communicate better because I often had to go to management to get clarification about my team’s objectives.
My goal now is to move into a position with more stability and organization so I can focus on career growth. Your company’s structure is perfect for me, and I believe this opportunity will give me the space to challenge myself as I continue to develop my skill set.”
Talking about what you liked the least at your last job doesn’t have to be tricky. In fact, by following our simple tips you’ll be able to develop a great answer and make a great impression.
Take some time to work on your answer, practice a bit, and stay positive. If you do this, you’ll be happy with the outcome!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.