Learning never stops, especially for the best. The best employees, managers, teachers, artists, students, athletes. Doesn’t matter if you’ve just graduated from college, or have already wasted 20 years of your life in a corporate world. Interviewing for a new job (or for a place in a study program), the hiring managers will always wonder about your attitude to learning. And asking about new things you learned during the last year is a great way of getting to know your attitude. But what do they want to hear from you? And what should you focus on?
Before anything else, they want to hear that you have actually learned something. Anything. It doesn’t necessarily have to be something groundbreaking, like picking up a new musical instrument or mastering a foreign language, or learning to finally get along with your wife after 15 years of a struggle called marriage. And it doesn’t even have to be a skill. You can talk about learning to address some situations in the workplace better, or in your personal life. Or about improving your communication or empathy and receptiveness to feedback from your colleagues. And that brings us to the second point:
In an ideal case, what have you learned should benefit you in the job you are trying to get. Even if the connection is rather obscure, it is better than nothing. For example, learning to work really well with MS Excel may not help you in a big way in a job of a manager or product analyst. However, each corporate employee uses MS Excel (or a similar software solution) once in a while at least, and hence it is a helpful skill, and each hiring manager will (or at least should) see the connection. Another example: learning a musical instrument clearly demonstrates your patience (each musical instrument needs a lot of patience), and boy you’ll need a lot of it in any corporate job!
Before we look at 7 sample answers to this question, I want to stress one more thing: the enthusiasm. As I’ve said at the beginning, the interviewers care mostly about your attitude. They want to hire people who enjoy learning new things, people who do not like to stagnate in life, people who have passion for the unknown, simply positive people (are there still any left around?) who can become great employees. Hence it is crucial that you have some enthusiasm in your voice when talking about the things you learned, and they get the impression that you learned new things in the past year because you wanted to, and not because you had to.
Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to this question. Obviously there is so much you can learn (or none), but I tried to come up with interesting selection, including some answers for people who actually haven’t learned anything (due to being too busy to do so), and some out of the box answers. I hope that at least one of my answers will resonate with you, and help you come up with the right words on the big day. Enjoy!
Sample answers to “What new things have you learned the past year?” interview question
- I have learned to be more receptive to the feedback from my colleagues, and in general from people around me. Sometimes when we grow the career ladder we forget to stay humble, and think that we know everything better, and that we are always right. I made this mistake in my last job, but I really learned a lesson from it, even if in retrospect. And therefor the past year was great, even if I am without the job now. Let’s hope it will change after this interview.
- New things? Well, I picked up piano playing and made great progress. In today’s fast paced world, when the attention span of a typical 20 years old person is like 5 seconds, the piano is a great teacher of concentration, focus, and patience. While I was learning a skill the past year–and picked up a new hobby which helps me stay relaxed on any busy day, I was actually working on my personality too, and am 100% sure that I will benefit from this in a new job.
- To be totally honest with you, the only new thing I learned the past year is how to organize my time better. I’ve become a father for the first time, and with all that change brings to my life–helping my wife, being awake on many nights, trying to spend as much time with my son as possible, I really didn’t have any time to start learning some new skills or ability. However, I know this is just a phase in life, and once the son is a bit older, I’ll have more time to learn new things again–which is something I am looking forward to. At least I improved my time management skills the past year, because without doing it I would have no time for my hobbies and would struggle in work too.
- Well, I learned a bit of French last year. Still continue to learn. And while I know it won’t help me much in the job I try to get with you, I simply cannot help myself, since I love the language, the French countryside, the French women, French literature–you name it… I also believe it is important to keep learning new things, because that’s the only way to grow your intelligence and make sure your brain gets the practice it needs to stay on the top of its abilities.
- I have learned that I have a serious liver disease. Probably not an answer you have expected. And then I have learned to live with the condition, and to change many of my habits to make sure I make it better, and even possibly cure it one day. It is still a process, but I like the lessons this illness have taught me. I also learned to appreciate every day, because you never know which one is the last. When I think about it at the moment, I think the disease was a blessing in disguise, and I am yet to fully understand how the things it taught me the past year will change my life down the road.
- I’ve really dug deep to improve my MS Excel skills, since I knew it played a crucial role in the job I try to get with you. You see, it was all a long term plan–getting the degree in the field, becoming a master of MS Excel, and then applying with you, hoping to pursue my dream career. Step by step one can achieve great things. After everything I learned the past year, I feel ready for the next step, and that is starting to work for you.
- Well, I have learned that there’s more to life than work. Experienced a complete burnout in May last year. It was preceded by working overtime and weekends and simply too many hours for too many months, until I could not get out of bed one morning. I just had enough. Sure, I was earning decent money, but I knew it had to stop. And it was a tough pill to swallow and a hard lesson to learn. But I took a 6 months break and now I am here with you, applying for a simple manual job. Because that’s exactly what I need now: no overtime, having my shift, and always leaving it with a clear mind…
So that’s it! I hope you liked the answers, they gave you some food for thought, and you feel ready to come up with the goods in your interview now! If you still need help, consider checking sample answers to one of the following questions:
- What have you learned from your biggest mistakes?
- Tell me about a time when you had to learn something new.