'Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?' Tricky graduate interview question

Last updated: 25 Jan 2023, 13:38

Pick up tips on how to avoid the trap of being rude about your old boss and give a positive answer to questions about any negative experiences you may have had at work.

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Graduate recruiters use certain interview questions to see how well you cope when you’re put on the spot as much as to elicit a truthful answer. The question ‘Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?’ definitely falls into this category.

If this comes up, how do you avoid falling into the trap of being rude about your old boss and tainting the good impression you want to create of yourself? Here are our tips to help you come up with a response that avoids negativity and moves firmly back towards the positives – you and your strengths, abilities and employability.

How not to reply to the interview question ‘Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?’

‘Yes. I had a temp job over the summer and my boss was away a lot, which meant I was basically expected to do her job as well as mine, and I was completely overloaded with really boring, mundane tasks. I posted something about the situation on my Facebook page and got the sack.’

You can practise your answers to tricky interview questions using resources from our partners at Shortlist.Me .

Why is this answer unlikely to get you the graduate job you want?

If your response to a bad work situation doesn’t reflect well on you, it’s wise to keep it to yourself. You’re not going to get very far if you present yourself as someone who is willing to besmirch an employer’s brand after a bad day in the office. Also, you don’t want to come across as incapable of finding a constructive, diplomatic way of raising concerns directly with an employer, through the appropriate channels.

It’s not a good idea to suggest that you lack enthusiasm and dedication. Recruiters like to see evidence of a strong work ethic.

What is the graduate recruiter really asking?

This question is a test of your ability to think on your feet and come up with a diplomatic response. It may also be testing your resilience or ability to deal with adversity.

How to answer the question ‘Have you ever had a bad experience with an employer?’

There are two possible strategies here.

  1. You could sidestep the question by saying something like, ‘I’ve always got on well with my employers, as I’m personable and a hard worker, and I’ve gained invaluable experience from part-time jobs and summer vacation work over the years.’ The recruiter may query your response, but that’s just a way of checking how you respond to pressure, so smile, be confident and stand your ground.You may find that you may be asked another follow-up question instead: one that is designed to assess your resilience and ability to face adversity, such as 'Tell us about a time when you handled a major crisis' or ' Tell us about a setback and how you handled it'.
  2. Or… you could attempt to answer it, but without incriminating yourself or attacking your previous employer, and in a way that highlights your potential. For example: ‘I wouldn’t describe this as a bad experience, but it was certainly challenging and could have been difficult if I hadn’t been able to cope with it. I did a summer job last year where my employer was suffering from ill health and was under a great deal of personal stress. It actually turned out well for both of us as I was able to step up and take over responsibility for running the café in her absence, and I even increased the weekly takings by 5%.’

Get help on answering more difficult interview questions with our article on the top nine tough tricky interview questions and answers .

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