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What were your responsibilities in your last position?

With this job interview question the interviewer wants an idea of what you’ve done at a previous job as a measure of whether you can handle the responsibilities on the new job. Here are some keys to answering this question well.

Be honest, don’t make something up for this answer. The interviewer or hiring manager may check with someone at your last job, and they may ask them about your responsibilities. You can be honest while selling your responsibilities as important – they were important to the company or they wouldn’t have had someone in the job.

For example, if you did something as simple as bring the morning paper to the boss’ desk, here are some answers you might give.

“I provided daily reports to my boss about the current business conditions” is technically true, but someone asking about it and hearing “he brought me the morning paper” won’t be impressed.

A better answer is “One of the things I did was to bring the boss the paper every morning. She liked to read up on current events, so that got her day started on the right foot.”

Be specific and positive about what you did whenever answering questions about previous positions.

“I ran overnight reports that weren’t ever read by anyone, it was a waste of time.” Maybe it’s true, but why mention it if it was meaningless?

“There were reports that needed babysitting every night to make sure they completed. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was necessary. Sometimes the reports weren’t read, but if they were needed, I made sure they were run and were accurate.” The same situation, expressed that way, paints you as a dependable person who doesn’t question the boss or consider some work “beneath” you.

Tie previous responsibilities to the new position. This shows that you understand the potential job, and have experience for it.

“I maintained a mailing list and wrote a weekly newsletter to all our customers. It was an important part of our overall marketing and customer retention efforts. I see you have a weekly newsletter, I look forward to working on it too.”

One job applicant seemed to not want the new job, and to not like work in general. “I started out with a lot of responsibilities, but over time I would fail so badly they’d give them to someone else. I loved that job – I ended up getting paid for doing nothing.”

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