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How can a candidate best respond to “What Is The Most Important Thing You Learned At A Previous Job?”

Whether you’re a job candidate in need of the following tips to nail an upcoming interview or you’re an interviewer yourself and want to know how to recognize a discerning candidate, we have 13 HR professionals and recruiting experts that have shared their preferred responses to the question:  “What Is The Most Important Thing You Learned At A Previous Job?”

  • What You’ve Learned from Past Mistakes
  • Showcase Your Communication Skills
  • Highlight the Value of Your Previous Company’s Culture
  • Sought Out Additional Learning Opportunities
  • That the People are Just as Important as the Work
  • Share a Moment of Successful Collaboration Within a Team
  • Demonstrate Your Career Learning Curve
  • No Matter What, Keep Your Response Positive
  • Became the Master of Time Management
  • Walk the Interviewer Through a Past Learning Moment
  • Underscore Your High Emotional IQ
  • Focus on Valuable Takeaways and Lessons
  • Don’t Soft Sell Your Soft Skills

What You’ve Learned from Past Mistakes

The best way to show a new employer the type of person and employee you are is by sharing how you’ve responded to negative experiences in the past. While people usually avoid mentioning their past mistakes to new employers, being vulnerable and honest about your past failures can actually be a good thing. Employers will respect your honesty as long as you also provide them with what you have learned from those mistakes, and how you have grown.

Another important thing that employers value is how you react in negative situations. Providing them with a real example of a past mistake and what you learned from it is a great way to stand out as someone who is always looking to learn and improve.

Brandon Brown, GRIN

Showcase Your Communication Skills

I think any candidate can share a lesson they learned in their previous job that involved stronger communication. Because effective communication increases a workplace’s productivity and helps colleagues gain trust among themselves. For example, if your communication is strong with your colleagues, it will reduce the number of mistakes and risks because you will consult with your colleagues before making any decision, which can lead to better results. The interviewer will be able to understand how beneficial you will be to the company. I think that when you demonstrate how effective your communication skills are, the interviewer can picture a positive and sincere image of you.

Gerrid Smith, Joy Organics

Highlight the Value of Your Previous Company’s Culture

In most interviews, you will speak about your relevant skills, but this question gives you the opportunity to talk about how you would fit into the larger picture and this is why it’s important to address company culture. Though company cultures may differ, seeing yourself as just a part of a greater whole can let the interviewer know that you understand that you’re there to serve a bigger purpose.

Talk about how your previous company culture taught you to collaborate with other departments, the importance of meeting deadlines, how to be a self-starter, and how to hold yourself accountable. All of these are signs to an interviewer that you’re not only a team player but have the ability to understand that your efforts affect others and fit into the bigger picture. By speaking about company culture, you will impress your potential employer that you comprehend the base values that make businesses successful, and that everyone is part of a greater whole.

Matt Miller, Embroker

Sought Out Additional Learning Opportunities

As you know, we learn a lot in our careers, so candidates can respond that the most important lesson they learned in their previous job was to learn about new technologies. An example may be that the candidate once had a manager who gave everyone the task of maintaining the website, and I took a new course to learn required skills, and maintained the company website. And when they did that, the manager offered them some additional courses where they could learn more about new technologies. By hearing about your desire to learn new technologies and seriousness with your work, the interviewer will think that it’ll be a lucrative deal for their company to hire you.

Lachlan de Crespigny, Revelo

That the People are Just as Important as the Work

I think the most important thing for any candidate is the quality to consider that the people they work with are just as important as the work they’re doing. Because an employee who values their work as well as their coworkers always thrives and supports the workplace’s productivity. I think with this answer you can impress the interviewer and improve your chances of getting selected. Because learning such things makes you professional—and pushes you towards progress.

Daniel Close, We Buy Houses in Kentucky

Share a Moment of Successful Collaboration Within a Team

The answer any interviewer should want to hear is a moment where you successfully collaborated with others. It immediately demonstrates you’re a team player and can work with other people on projects in a productive way that benefits the whole team. Make it clear that you’re eager to do your best work, and that you have experience in both working in a team and with receiving creative, constructive input. It’s best to showcase your ability to be part of a supportive team.

Stephen Skeel, 7 Wonders

Demonstrate Your Career Learning Curve

The single thing you can say to answer this question is that you now understand better how everything is on a learning curve. Each job you’ve held has taught you skills you didn’t have prior, and didn’t even realize you were lacking until you were on the job. This will make you sound humble yet open-minded, and that you want to learn as much as possible not just for your sake, but for the sake of doing the job in the best way it can be done.

Bradley Hall, Sonu Sleep

No Matter What, Keep Your Response Positive

Do not let negativity creep into your answer and even as you cover different points, make sure you sound upbeat about your experiences. No employer likes an employee who paints their former workplace in a negative light, and this is something you should never forget while in an interview. Always present your previous work experience as a learning opportunity you made the most of. Whatever your response, remember to keep it positive at all times because when an interviewer is asking you this question, they’re not only looking for an intelligent response but are also trying to determine the kind of experience you had at your previous organization.

Azmaira Maker, Ph.D., Aspiring Families

Became the Master of Time Management

Punctuality is crucial any job. I think the candidate can respond that the most important lesson they learned was how to improve their time management. Almost any work project can be completed on time if someone knows how to effectively manage their time. Time management has multiple benefits such as increased productivity and efficiency, more opportunities for self-growth, etc. I think this would be the best answer because any company always wants their employees to complete work on time.

Kenny Kline, BarBend

Walk the Interviewer Through a Past Learning Moment

They can tell a story to answer this question. Rather than simply giving a direct answer, candidates can walk the interviewer through a situation they experienced at a previous job that taught them something meaningful. Perhaps they made a mistake and learned from it, such as rushing through a project and then realizing they could have done it better if they had worked through it more thoroughly. The candidate needs to include some context to make their responses both powerful and relatable.

Nick Shackelford, Structured Agency

Underscore Your High Emotional IQ

A response such as, “You should never underestimate the power of empathy,” followed by a story demonstrating a time that you put yourself in someone else’s shoes can be impressive. For example, maybe you were able to understand a client’s complaints and de-escalated the situation. Perhaps, you empathized with two co-workers involved in a disagreement and elicited understanding between them. A high emotional IQ is something that manifests in working well with others and your interviewer will be pleased!

Erin Banta, Pepper

Focus on Valuable Takeaways and Lessons

A candidate should answer this question with a positive skill gained through experience directly related to the job. It might be true, that the most important thing you learned was not to trust a coworker, or that you’re really not a fan of customer service jobs, but those aren’t valuable takeaways from the experience.

A valuable takeaway is something that’s learned directly from your unique work experience, like a skill or insight that you would not have learned elsewhere. A better way to think of this question is: “How did your previous job affect your growth as an employee?”

Brian Munce, Gestalt Brand Lab

Don’t Soft Sell Your Soft Skills

Soft skills are the underrated qualities that separate good employees from great employees. The best part about soft skills is that they’re transferable to practically any job and come in handy when required. Whether it’s strong communication skills, empathy, time management or leadership qualities, make sure you mention a soft skill that you truly learned during your previous employment. That, more than anything else, will help you excel in this new role.

Asma Hafejee, CMR Surgical

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