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How Employers Hear Your "True Stories"

By Harry Urschel

Most people have some point in their career where they have legitimate grievances about a previous company, boss, co-worker, or corporate culture. If you aren't very careful, those legitimate grievances - carelessly expressed - can sabotage your job search in an interview or a conversation.

Every company, even the best ones, are imperfect and can’t be ideal for every personality or work style. Every company and every boss has "wronged" certain employees at times. Sometimes it happens out of bad faith from an individual. Often it happens because of other factors or circumstances, but without ill intent.

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The Interviewer's Perspective

How you relate your bad experience to a potential employer in an interview can have a great impact on your chances of being chosen to move forward in the hiring process.

Remember: whether you like it or not, or think it’s fair or not, an interviewer generally will naturally take your employer's side in the stories you relate.

Anyone who has been in a supervisory or managerial role for any length of time, comes to realize that there are always two sides to every story. And while they certainly realize that an employee may have legitimate complaints, their tendency is to wonder what the other side of the story might be.

The Most Common Interview Mistake

That’s why job search coaches will consistently tell you to never bash or criticize previous employers. It almost never results in a good outcome for you. Yet… it’s one of the most common mistakes people make in job interviews.

The "‘wound" is usually ingrained in them, and given the least bit of opportunity, it will open up. Regardless of how well the story is spun, though, it will likely raise concerns or questions about the" view from other side."

Describing how a project failed because…

"Objectives and milestones weren’t well defined for me."

Or how your previous manager and you had…

"Differing opinions about how to deal with customers"

may be true stories, but may be interpreted in potentially negative ways that reflect poorly on the job seeker.

It would be natural for the interviewer to muse…

"I wonder how their previous boss views what happened."

Furthermore, it can appear as if you are trying to avoid any personal responsibility and pointing the finger elsewhere.

A Better Approach

If you absolutely must tell a negative story from your work history, change your approach.  Candidates who take personal responsibility are always refreshing… because they are relatively rare!

So, re-frame those same stories as…

"The project failed because I didn’t make sure I had objectives and milestones clearly defined for me. It was a great lesson to learn, and a mistake I certainly won’t let happen again."

Or…

"My manager and I had differing views on how to deal with customers, and I didn’t creatively come up with a resolution that would satisfy us both. The experience has taught me how to be more solution-oriented."

The resulting response from an interviewer is likely to be much more positive. They don’t expect to hire someone who has never made mistakes. They would like to find someone who takes responsibility, learns from their mistakes, and can progress.

Bottom Line

As you describe your background and experience to potential employers, be sure to consider how it may sound to their ears. Show that you are someone that takes responsibility and learns from your mistakes. It will reflect on you much more positively and your results are likely to improve.


About the author...

Harry Urschel has over 25 years experience as an independent recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives and on Google +. He can be contacted by email at: harry@eexecutives.net