Learning goes hand in hand with making mistakes. If I could turn back the clock, I’d do many things differently in both my professional and personal life. And I am sure you’d do the same. Luckily though, nobody can return it time. All we can do is accept the mistakes of our past, learn from them, and benefit from the knowledge in the future, in our next job, in our next relationship. And that’s exactly what the interviewers want to hear from you.

Do not hesitate to admit that you made a mistake. Maybe you even lost the job because of your mistake–and it is all right, as long as you accept the responsibility, and learn the lesson. Another important thing is to ensure the interviewers that you’ve moved on. Dwelling on your mistakes, and thinking what could have been or should have been, if you had done this or that differently, is not going to take you anywhere in your professional career…

Let’s have a look at 7 sample answers to the question. I tired to include some unconventional answers in my selection (together with some typical examples), and hope that the list will inspire you, and help you come up with your own unique response to this tricky question.

 

7 sample answers to “What would you do differently in your last job?” interview question

  1. I would try to create a better connection with both my superiors and subordinates. Speaking honestly, I feel that we lacked constructive feedback in the workplace. Instead of talking openly about minor issues, we often let them escalated to bigger problems. And that’s because people were sort of afraid of expressing their opinion on the work of their colleagues. The working culture in the company did not favor such an approach, but I do not want to look for excuses. From my position, I could have made a difference, speaking up in the meetings, but I did not do it. Anyway, what happened happened, and I can assure you I won’t make the same mistake in my new job.
  2. I would do many things differently. At the same time, however, I know I couldn’t do them any differently. It was my very first job, a lot of responsibility on my shoulders. Of course I made mistakes, in my daily work, in the way I treated my schedule, in my approach to setting goals. At the same time, however, I got no training and had to learn things on the go. It is a great but hard school, and you will always make mistakes. This is something I accepted, and believe that I fared quite well, considering everything I’ve been against. Now, two years older and two years more experienced, I am sure I won’t repeat the same mistakes again.
  3. Well, I would just take back that one unlucky day which cost me my job. You know, I am responsible, and I normally do not drink, but on some days you realize you are just a human being, and cannot sustain everything. When my long time girlfriend left me, all of the sudden, I went for a couple of drinks. Well, a bit more than a couple. It was just a hard pill to swallow. Then I made another mistake–going to work the next morning. I knew the workload was heavy, and didn’t want to left my colleague alone on the shift. And so I went, thinking nobody would spot anything–how stupid I was! The manager brought the breath analyzer, the result was horrible, and I lost my job… I am still a bit sad about it, but I also understand we have to move on in life. Lesson learned, I am now looking for a new opportunity in your retail store.
  4. This is my first job application, so I cannot talk about any former jobs. However, I want to assure you that I am ready to accept responsibility for my mistakes, and learn from them. I also want to say that I take this opportunity very responsibly, want to try my best, and definitely hope to avoid making mistakes that would prove costly for your business.
  5. I would change nothing. Look, in each moment of our life, we are who we are, know what we know, and live in the circumstances of the given moment. We make exactly the decisions we have to make, and it cannot be any otherwise. At least that’s how I see it. Looking back, I definitely consider some of my managerial decisions wrong. But I am also aware that I could not decide in any other way, with my level of knowledge and experience back then. Everything happens for a reason, and is a part of a learning process. That’s how I see it, and I am glad for the wrong decisions, because they eventually helped me become a better manager.
  6. I would definitely spend my time more efficiently. In my last job we had many meetings, I received dozens of emails daily, and on some days I spent 70% of my working time just communicating with colleagues. Do not take me wrong though–communication is important, especially in small agile teams. But everything should have some limits. The core of the job is the hard work in front of my computer screen, programing, and not talking. And I definitely want to remember the lesson in my new employment, hopefully with your corporation.
  7. If I could turn back the clock, I would have not accepted the job at the first place. Back then I was struggling with money, and needed a job urgently. Got a chance to interview for this place in a restaurant, but did not do a good research, did not verify the claims of the managers, and so on. Eventually I ended up working more hours and earning less, in conditions that didn’t really meet my expectations when it comes to a decent job. Eventually I quit, but I learned a lot from this experience. Now I did a proper research, handpicked your place from many job offers, and am glad to have an opportunity to interview with you today.

 

Honesty will bring you a long way in your interviews

Job interview is a sales talk. We try to present ourselves in the best possible light, talking about our strengths, successes, expectations. So why talking about the mistakes we made in our last job? Does it make any sense? Shouldn’t you rather say you wouldn’t do anything differently?

First of all, people interviewing you are no novices to the corporate world. They’ve seen enough, they’ve made their own mistakes, and know that a perfect employee doesn’t exist. They aren’t looking for one either. What they are looking for, however, is an employee who admits making mistakes, accepts the responsibility, learns from the past, and is not afraid to talk about these things openly in the interviews.¬†Honesty is a highly sought-after quality in the employment market.

You do not have to admit absolutely everything

On the other hand, your ultimate goal is getting a job. If you did something really stupid, such as stealing things from the office, forging documents, harassing one of your colleagues, or some other really stupid thing which eventually cost you the job, you should probably conceal it from the interviewers.

Maybe you did it in a heat of a moment, feel really sorry for it now, and believe you can justify it in your interviews. But things like stealing or sexual harassment are a showstopper in almost every job interview, regardless of how well you explain the situation from your last job, and how sorry you feel about it right now.

Keep it on your mind. There’s a thin line between being honest in an interview (which is a big plus), and saying things that would cost you the chances to getting a job. Learning to balance on this line is the key to your success…

Ready to answer this question? I hope so! Do not forget to check also answers to other tricky interview questions:

Matthew Chulaw
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