"What did you like least about your last job?" is something of a trap when it comes to interview questions, because your interviewer is asking for a negative answer. If you haven't given the subject some thought, you may blurt out something about your boss or the company, and talk yourself right out of a job.
One of the purposes of this interview question is to find out if you're going to be satisfied in the job for which you're interviewing. If you were dissatisfied before, you may be dissatisfied again if the circumstances are similar. Here's how three different candidates might answer this question:
Answer No. 1: "I didn't have enough challenges. After a while, all the projects became repetitive. I thrive on challenge."
Interviewer's Thoughts: A lot of the tasks here are repetitive. What makes this candidate think he will like it here any better? Will we be able to keep him challenged?
Answer No. 2: "Lack of stability. After three company acquisitions, I had five bosses in three years. I couldn't take it any longer. What I am looking for is stability in a job and company."
Interviewer's Thoughts: While our company is stable now, there are no guarantees about the future. This guy sounds like he may have some burnout and flexibility issues.
Answer No. 3: "In my last job, my boss was overbearing and wouldn't let me do my job. If she didn't like the way I was doing something, she'd criticize me."
Interviewer's Thoughts: Could he work with me as a supervisor? How would he react if I had to critique his work? He sounds like he could be a problem to supervise.
Stay on Task
When you answer this question, it's best to focus on tasks rather than company politics or people. A good response would be:
I've given this question some thought, and overall I've been very satisfied with my jobs. I've been able to work with some really interesting people. I have to say that I did have a job where there was an inordinate amount of paperwork. Because working with people is my strength, the paperwork really bogged me down at times.
Notice the word "inordinate." Not a normal load paperwork, but an unusually large amount, which kept you from doing what you do best: working with people.
Job Satisfaction Exercise
Think back to previous jobs when you have been dissatisfied -- times when you didn't look forward to going to work and you hated what you were doing. Was the nature of the work or the office environment causing the dissatisfaction? Create a list of those things responsible for your dissatisfaction. Spend some time looking at your list for patterns. Are there some projects that recur on your list? Are there some situations you don't want to get into again? This exercise will help you identify areas to watch for and to ask questions about during the interview.
When you can identify the factors that give you job satisfaction, as well as the factors that were unpleasant or tedious for you, you can determine if this is the right job for you. People perform best when they are doing something they enjoy. Thinking about your answer to this question as an opportunity for you to identify what you want -- doing the things you like to do best -- as well as what you don't want.