Critical Job Interview Mistake You Cannot Recover From

Be sure to avoid this fatal mistake when asked about your previous company or boss.

I talked to a couple of HR directors, and we got to talking about serious mistakes individuals make in the job interview. When I pointed out one of the errors I saw, everyone in the group said, “Yes, that’s the one you can never recover from.”

With so many people getting job interviews right now, many people are not preparing properly. They certainly don’t roleplay before the interview and script out how they’ll answer the employer’s questions. Since much of the time these days interviews are held over video calls, job hunters approach their interviews very casually. After all, it’s just on Zoom—they can wing it. That may explain why they are making this critical error.

The fatal mistake happens when you are asked about your former or current company and one of your worst bosses. You may think these are easy questions to answer, but they are not. If you bring anything negative, it can torpedo your chances.

For example, I was working with a CEO, interviewing professionals for a director job. When I asked Rick, “tell us about your worst boss,” this candidate certainly got our attention. He said, “That woman had Satan in her,” and then off he went complaining about how truly terrible this former boss was. In his mind, Rick was vindicating himself. But that is not how the CEO saw it. He wrote “Satan” in large letters across Rick’s resume. The CEO reacted strongly when I stated that I couldn’t believe how Rick had answered. “Neither could I,” he said, “and I will never hire that guy. If he talks that way about his former boss, that is how he’s going to talk about me if he comes to work here.” The CEO reiterated that speaking badly about a former boss or employer was a critical error that no one can recover from.

How to handle the worst boss question the right way

When asked, “Describe the worst supervisor you’ve ever had,” this situational question requires a precise answer. As much as you want to tell the truth and criticize an old boss and point out that person’s faults, reconsider. As this CEO and the HR directors stated, being negative will reflect poorly on you and eliminate you from consideration.

Here is a better way to answer that question. Find something that you can say that doesn’t overly criticize in a very negative way. Try this: “One boss didn’t give me very much feedback. I only heard from him when there was a problem. Months might go by without any feedback or idea of what he was thinking. Although I don’t like to have someone standing over my shoulder, I do like feeling I’m part of a team. I want to collaborate, have input, exchange ideas, and feel that my work is in line with my boss’s and the company’s goals. Open communication, I guess, is what was lacking. I think that’s important to have with a supervisor.” This answer demonstrates a positive response concerning the importance of teamwork and the desire for collaboration—two things most employers want in their employees.

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Answer to why you want to leave your job

Everyone will be asked, “Why do you want to leave your present job?” Companies want to hear that you seek more challenge, more advancement, a promotion, more growth opportunities, and in some cases, more financial reward. You can also leave to shorten your commute, want only remote work, or because your company is unstable. Try: “I have learned so much working for my current company, but there are no promotional opportunities. I enjoy challenges, learning new skills, and improving my old ones. Therefore, I am seeking a new position at this time that has upward mobility options.”

Here’s another: “I noticed that your company had an opening I qualify for. I’ve been happy at my present position, but the option to move to a good company, such as yours, along with it being a remote job is very appealing to me. Also, I want a position with more responsibility, so I can have an even greater impact on the end results.”

If you are unemployed

Maybe you are unemployed right now. The question you’ll be asked is, “Why did you leave your last job?” I guarantee that you’ll get asked this question, so having an appropriate, acceptable answer is a must.

Good reasons to depart include relocation, layoffs, reorganization, or downsizing that affected your duties. A reasonable response might be, “The company went through a downsizing; that’s why I’m available.”

Maybe you have just moved to the area. Try this, “We’ve just relocated to this area to be near our family, and that’s why I’m available.” It shines a better light on you when “that’s why I’m available” is a part of your answer. It also signifies to the employer that you are a perfect candidate to consider.

If you are returning to the workforce

Did you leave to care for your children and now wish to return to the workplace? If you have been gone more than a year, you’ll need to explain why you left and how you have stayed current during your time off. A good way to reply is to state that you kept your skills up to date. For example, say, “I’ve taken several courses and even completed a couple of new certifications. I’m involved in the professional association and groups too.” By demonstrating how you have been able to stay current, you reassure the employer that you still have the skills to perform the job now.

Stay positive and practice

The moral of all this is always keep your answers positive. I highly recommend that every job candidate do a thorough interview preparation, including role-playing, before you ever talk to an employer. Any mistakes you make will be during those practice times, as you can draft the very best answers to impress the employer when you face them.

This article was originally published in  

©2024 Robin Ryan

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Robin Ryan

A career counselor that helps clients land jobs, I offer Resume Writing, LinkedIn Profile Writing, Interview Coaching, and Salary Negotiation services.

I’ve appeared on Oprah, Dr. Phil and over 3200 other TV and radio shows. A Wall Street Journal #1 bestselling author, I have written eight career books including: 60 Seconds & You’re Hired, Retirement Reinvention, Winning Resumes and Over 40 & You’re Hired. Currently I write a careers column for

Helping people advance their careers and land a new job is my mission.

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