Ask a Recruiter: How Much Should You Share About Your Past Job in an Interview?

Are you telling too much? Or not enough?

You got past the phone interview and now you’re sitting in front of someone who could be your boss in the very near future. Then they ask the dreaded question: “Why did you leave your previous position?”

You have so much to say. Maybe your boss was a control freak who was impossible to work for. Perhaps you wanted a promotion that was never in the cards. It’s even possible you just wanted a change of pace.

But does your interviewer need to hear all that stuff? How much info is too much?

We asked our Express Employment Professionals expert recruiters to find out.

Avoid Negative Emotions

If you left a job because you hated your boss, it can be tempting to say so. But bringing that up in an interview is unprofessional. Keep the discussion to the job and any duties you were responsible for and leave your boss out of it.

“I always advise my candidates to keep anything negative about a previous job unemotional. If it was not a good experience, highlight what experience that you gained and stick to specific job duties. I’m against saying anything negative about previous bosses or coworkers. Most companies take that as you, the interviewee, being hard to please or get along with.”— Carlos DeLaFuente, Portland, OR

Be Honest

Obviously, you don’t want to lie during any stage of the interview process. But when it comes to interviews, being honest means answering questions truthfully but appropriately. For instance, if you’re asked why you left a previous position, don’t say, “The work was boring.” Instead, say something along the lines of, “There was a mismatch between the company’s work culture and my own way of handling job responsibilities.” The truth about the work is still there, but saying it in an impartial way is professional. Plus, you’ll avoid looking like a potential problem employee with a chip on your shoulder.

And if you were let go? Admit it. Just be purposeful with how you say it.

“I think people have to tread a fine line with being honest, but not oversharing the emotional side of it. I find a lot of people trying to skirt the issue or not being honest as to why they are no longer with an employer. I think it is good to be honest with why the employment ended and if they were terminated as to why they believe this happened and what they learned.” —Shannon Jacoby, Bellingham, WA

“Use phrases like ‘parted ways’ instead of quit or fired. Something like ‘the company was going in a different direction from my work goals.’ Most interviewers will understand that wording and realize that you are being professional and ultimately that is what a company is looking for, people that can maintain a professional demeanor during adversity.”— Carlos DeLaFuente, Portland, OR

Embrace Positivity

When it comes to talking about previous jobs, you want to show that you learned something. An interviewer doesn’t want to hire someone who was employed for four years and didn’t come out of the experience with any extra knowledge.

When you’re talking about your previous job, focus on what you learned and how exciting it was to learn those things. Interviewers love to see applicants who are passionate about their work.

“Instead of sharing how much you dislike a position and why it didn’t work out, flip it around and tell the interviewer what you learned while working in your last role and what your greatest accomplishment was during your time there. NEVER trash talk your previous supervisor or company! I have had situations were applicants have cried at my desk or talked negatively about their life or previous job. All that being said, keep it positive and professional!” — Kim Vargas, Howell, NJ

“Showing excitement about what you did is very appealing to an interviewer. Speaking highly of coworkers or ex-bosses is perfectly fine as long as it is kept to work relations. Avoid talking about personal time away from work with coworkers. An interviewer might read this as potentially bringing drama to a team.” — Carlos DeLaFuente, Portland, OR

Any more questions about how much to share about a previous job in an interview? Let us know in the comments section below!

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14 Responses to “Ask a Recruiter: How Much Should You Share About Your Past Job in an Interview?”

  1. Monica #

    Can you please provide an example of an excellent response for the reason leaving is due to turning unethical and/or becoming a toxic environment?

    September 5, 2018 at 7:35 am Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Hi Monica,

      Honestly, when something like this comes up, it might be best to state your reason for being as being a mismatch between the company culture and what you’re looking for in a workplace. It’s not lying, but also not getting into too many negative feelings.

      September 13, 2018 at 2:50 pm Reply
  2. Becci Huffman #

    Why is it so hard for an older person with more experience than a younger person to get a job? Older seniors with more experience and stability at a job is unheard anymore, it’s like the employer is being bias. How do you get past that in an interview?

    September 5, 2018 at 8:58 am Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Hi Becci,

      Our best bet is to focus on that experience. Show them that you’re an incredible asset. Here’s a previous blog about exactly that!

      September 13, 2018 at 2:48 pm Reply
  3. Tina #

    How do you answer if you left a job because of unethical or inappropriate things going on?

    September 5, 2018 at 10:20 am Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Hi Tina,

      Great question! We’ll try to fit this into a future blog. Stay tuned!!

      September 13, 2018 at 2:46 pm Reply
  4. Kelly Canaday #

    Hello, I have a question about how to handle a situation on my resume and in a job interview. My last job ended in Dec. 2016. I was let go from the job due to missing too much time. The reason I was missing time had to do with an illness, but I had only been at the job for 9 months and was not eligible for FMLA. Since Dec. of 2016 I have not had a job due to the same illness and the fact that I applied for Social Security Disability. When it comes time to look for a job, how do I handle questions that witll come up about why I left my last job, and also questions that will come about the gap in time that I haven’t worked.

    Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing back from you with your advice on how to handle my situation. Kelly

    September 5, 2018 at 11:06 am Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Hi Kelly,

      Check out our previous blog about getting past a gap in your job history. Thanks!

      September 13, 2018 at 2:45 pm Reply
  5. Shanna #

    What if you parted ways with a previous employer due to refusing a UA, which is basically an admission you will fail it? How should that be handled in an interview.
    Especially if you no longer do the things that caused you to refuse it in the first place.

    September 5, 2018 at 12:22 pm Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Hey Shanna! This is an interesting topic to cover. We’ll try to write a future blog on it! Be sure to check it out!

      September 13, 2018 at 2:44 pm Reply
  6. Neonetta Devall #

    Thanks for explaining how to respond to interview questions! I greatly appreciate the information. I will utilize the positive spin on my previous hob experience.

    September 5, 2018 at 2:18 pm Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Thanks for the comment! Good luck on your next interview!!

      September 10, 2018 at 8:59 am Reply
  7. Charles Hunting #

    If terminated for company policy how do I explain that in interview?

    September 6, 2018 at 9:03 am Reply
    • Movin' On Up Staff #

      Hey Charles, we’ll try to cover this in a future blog. Be on the lookout for it!

      September 13, 2018 at 2:43 pm Reply

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