Interview Question: What Were Your Responsibilities in Your Last Job?

Ah, the job interview.  It’s an essential part of the hiring process and an opportunity for your potential new employer to get to know you and decide whether you’re the right fit for their company and position.  For the interviewee, however, it can seem a bit like a trial by fire.  “Did I answer that question about my career goals correctly?”  “What if they ask about that job gap I had a few years back?”  And then there’s the dreaded “Tell me about what you did at your last job” question.  While we can’t make interviewing any less grueling, we can get you prepped for success and ready to nail the whole job responsibilities discussion, but only if you keep reading…

Highlight your Strengths (No Fibbing Allowed)

As an interviewee you should always be selling yourself to your new potential employer.  Questions about job responsibilities tend to be open ended so use the opportunity to highlight the areas you really shine.  Managerial and leadership duties and tasks that show off your ability to take initiative are interview gold mines.  Be careful not to stretch the truth here.  Saying you managed a team of 10 when you really only had one assistant can come back to bite you if your new employer follows up with your current job.  It can also set you up for failure when your new employer uses it to set expectations for your very first day.  Promote skills and duties that you actually had and come off looking confident and qualified.

Be a Great Fit for the Position

This tip requires a little initiative on your part but will have huge returns in impressing your potential new employer.  Review the job description for the position you’re interviewing carefully and do some external searching on similar positions if need be.  Use this info to highlight responsibilities that will allow you to hit the ground running the first day on the job.  A talk about prior job responsibilities is the perfect chance to convince the interviewer that you’re right fit.

Go Beyond What’s On the Paper

While your resume is a great guide for yourself and your future employer for highlighting your qualifications, simply reading what’s written on the paper isn’t going to get you many points.  Your interviewer has at least given your resume a once over prior to the interview.  An open ended question about job responsibilities allows you to expand on the listed information and really impress with your in depth background and understanding.

Real World Example

All this advice may be well and good in theory, but its proper application that makes the difference between getting a call back or offer or receiving the interview equivalent of a dear john letter.  Here’s a few real world examples to help put our handy information to good, real-world use.

If you’re interviewing for a position that involves sales, customer service or other direct interaction with clients, highlight responsibilities from your previous positions that showed your ability to interact with those outside of your company.  Maybe you worked in a call center and had to handle high-pressure situations like complaints or organize follow ups and call backs to resolve customer issues.  Stress your ability to multitask and work in an organized and thorough manner without direct supervisor intervention in order to really fit the bill.

Similarly, if you’re interviewing for a technical position, even in an entry level role, be sure to let your employer know about the prior responsibilities you had in that particular technology field.  Talk about your ability to interpret complicated data, read manuals or be innovative in your problem solving.  Each of these skills will serve you well in your new role.

Our final piece of advice when it comes to job responsibilities is to think outside of the box, especially when interviewing in a field where you have little or no experience.  Think ahead of time of ways you can make your prior experience and skills seem useful, if not outright relevant.  With just a little bit of forethought you’ll be acing the job responsibilities question putting you one step closer to landing the position.

Updated July 9, 2017