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How to Answer the Toughest Interview Question

By Cally Martin / October 13, 2016
toughest interview question

You will find a zillion articles on how to answer tough interview questions, how your body language is interpreted by a hiring manager, and what to wear to your interview. While these tips can be helpful, if you’ve been on the job market for any length of time, you’re probably past the “interview 101” stage.


When interviewing for a job, you have some idea about how you should behave, what to say, and what to avoid. We can agree on some of the reasons why you didn’t nail the interview—lack of knowledge on the company, lying about skills, being too enthusiastic, or not showing up at all.


A lot of things can go wrong during an interview (and some of those horror stories are so ridiculous that we can’t believe they happened either), but what is the worst of the worst?


Most recruiters will agree on this one: Negative or malicious statements about a former company, manager, or coworkers is a definite red flag for rejection.


We leave jobs for a variety of reasons, but most of the time we leave our bosses or supervisors, not the company. Bad mouthing anyone says a lot more about you than it does about them. It sends a message to the interviewer that you are the negative person in this equation.


Even more than that, it gives the interviewer the impression that you are not the ideal person to have in team environment because you often don’t take ownership of your behavior or performance.


When you’re still angry, it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and accidently slip with a potential negative dig at a previous employer, even if it is just answering the common, “Why did you leave your last job?” question. If it was strictly because of a manager, you should have a good answer prepared ahead of time so you don’t start trash talking your former boss.


Something along the lines of, “We didn’t see eye-to-eye on projects/problems/goals that ultimately led me to seek other employment opportunities.” Or if you were fired for performance or other issues, “The company was looking for something that I was no longer able to fulfill for them.” Better yet, lead with something more positive like, “I learned a lot at Company XYZ, but felt like I outgrew my position and I’m looking for opportunities to grow.”


Maintaining your composure and attitude is also crucial. There is always more to a story, but you don’t need to sell anyone out during your interview. Be direct without giving specifics. Hopefully they won’t, but if an interviewer pushes for a more detailed answer, it is okay to tell them you don’t feel comfortable discussing the details of your departure. Keep your anger out of it


Keep your reasons for leaving a previous employer general and to the point. Leave out specific stories that could harm your chances with a new company, and you will look good in the eyes of the interviewer and your potential new company.


A new job gives you an opportunity to reinvent who you are and how you are perceived. You’ve learned from your mistakes not to ignore red flags and you can start out on the right foot this time.

About the author

Cally Martin

By way of Michigan and Chicago, Cally has finally made it back to her roots in Texas. When she isn't writing blog posts and doing techy things, she is out enjoying the sunshine, drinking mimosas, and bragging about her current reign as NCAA March Madness bracket champ!

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