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What did you learn from your previous job (or school?)

The interviewer asks this question for insight into your skills and job attitude, as these are based on the lessons you’ve taken from other experiences. If the job is customer service, but you talk about learning how to bake a pie, it won’t highlight you as a hot hire prospect.

Stick to the qualities that fit the job, and include how your experience relates to the new position. For example:

General Lessons:
“My last boss told me experience isn’t doing the same thing over and over, it’s meeting new challenges or addressing the old ones in new ways. That’s how improvement happens. I strive to get the job done, but always have an eye out for a way to finish the job faster or better.”

Effective Management:
“I started out as a junior assistant, and through many bosses learned that I did my job better when they clearly defined goals, let me reach the goals with my skills, but stepped in when I asked for help – such as with removing a roadblock like red tape. As a manager I don’t want people who are hands, working as my brain directs them. I want people who can do the job, do it well, but who recognize when my experience, position or authority is needed to help them get things done.”

Be ready for a follow up question, keeping in mind that your initial answer steers the discussion.

Follow Up: You say hire people who can do the job, but what if you’re saddled with someone who can’t?

Answer: “When I come in as a new manager I interview all the people in the department to get a good idea of their strengths and weaknesses. That helps avoid any surprises – I can assign work or shuffle people around based on their strengths and weaknesses. I’ll be more involved for the first few weeks, or projects, then give people more space as I become comfortable with their abilities.”

Follow Up: It’s nice to say always look for new ways to do things, but this company has solid procedures based on long experience, I wrote some of those procedures myself.

Answer: “It’s important to watch and listen. New suggestions or ideas have to be based on experience and respect for what works. If it’s not broken don’t fix it, but if it can be improved 10% without pain, improve it.”

This woman may have made an answer that made sense to her, but it didn’t land her the job. “I learned not to answer silly questions.”

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