Job interviewing advice sought

I’ve been with my current employer for about a year now, and I’m being considered for promotion. The process includes interviews, and therein lies the rub.

My previous position sucked. I worked in a call center as a debt collector in a very unpopular industry. My performance was never an issue; I got a lot of compliments from borrowers about my professionalism and customer service. I got a bonus every quarter, and I was in the top 10 center-wide in a lot of metrics. I was on time to work, didn’t leave early, and wasn’t an asshole. So I wasn’t fired or at any risk of being fired. It’s not me.

It’s them. Since most of my day was spent making outbound calls where people didn’t answer, hung up, or just wouldn’t talk to me, I was bored to tears most of the time. I was subject to quality assurance checks that were inconsistent; one person might rate something at 100%, while another might rate the same exact thing at 0%. Our time was strictly tracked so management knew at any given time what we were doing, and if we weren’t on a call or available to make or take calls, a supervisor would come over to see what was going on. Little opportunity to transfer to a position that was off the phones, and no benefits or raises. Long story short, it was a boring, soul-crushing job that I took because I needed a job. I left when I was financially able to do so and have since found a much better position.

I’m asking for advice because I know I shouldn’t shit all over my previous employer, but how can I spin this so that I don’t sound like that’s what I’m doing?

I’d spin it as a dead-end job and that you were looking for something where you can grow, get promoted, etc etc etc. The fact that you’re sitting there in an interview for a promotion would prove the point – you’re doing well in your current job, and want more/different responsibilities to keep things interesting for you.

Make your old job sound like just the kind of intensive high pressure job that you love.

They don’t need the whole story. They just want to understand your general trajectory.

"My previous position was in a call center with DebtCorp. This role taught me a lot about customer service, especially when managing difficult cases. I was awarded the Medal of Debt Collection and the Alway On Time Reward.

After working for them for two years, I was offered the opportunity to to join NowCorp. I immediately leaped at the opportunity to build a career in Widget Making. Since then I’ve…"

I am pretty sure the interviewer will know that call centers are unpleasant dead end jobs.

This is pretty much it. Old advice you seem to know, but whatever you do, don’t be derogatory to the old job or company. I believe the current phrase de jour is along the lines of ‘there was no room for advancement’. Which is perfectly valid reason for leaving the job. I would prepare an answer to the question “What did you least like about that role?” And plan it so the answer is personal to you and not a slam of the job as a whole.

I am learning as I have moved up a little in my company that people in management* appreciate people who have some self desire* as it makes you one of them as it were. Generally folks who have stepped into those tough jobs between the rank & file and the lofty upper management are acutely aware of their position and do not find personal desire to move up is a bad thing at all - they are doing that themselves.

So yes the idea that you worked hard and did well coupled with a lack of possible growth is more than acceptable. As with with all possible jobs one stresses how you will make their lives easier, with slight references to what you will get out of it. It’s not shameful, they are doing the same thing, and I understand it.

When I’ve been in meetings considering people for promotions, previous jobs never came up. It is important for a new job, but your current employer knows you and is not going to care all that much about a previous employer. Which of your bosses is going to be so insecure about their ability to evaluate you that they need to worry about outside.

If it does come up, I agree with the general gist of the answers, but you can use it to play up your current employer. “I liked my old job, but I was looking for greater opportunities and challenges, and I’m so glad that I came here, because it was exactly what I was looking for.”

I agree that it seems unlikely you’ll be asked much more than a cursory question about your old job. But if you want the version with “spin” on what you said in your OP, here it is:

*The job taught me to be patient and perseverant, since people often respond negatively to cold calls from the [whatever] industry. The quality assurance process had an element of subjectivity so I also learned how to handle inconsistent feedback on performance. There was no autonomy on the job, and although I coped with that well - one thing I’m proud of is that I consistently performed well and got bonuses - I really prefer an environment where I can take more personal responsibility for allocating my time and finding the best approach to getting the job done. *

…But again, I think it is really unlikely you’ll need to go into it. My advice would be to think up about 3-4 possible questions they could ask about your previous job (examples below) and practice reciting positive-spin answers in response. Then you should be ready for anything.

  • Tell me about your last position; what was it like?
  • What was your greatest accomplishment while at X-employer?
  • Why did you leave that job?
  • Did you enjoy your job with X?

Yes, spin into a positive experience and if they ask why you left just say you wanted to pursue an opportunity that would allow for career growth. Now, they may persist and ask why you felt there was no growth opportunity at your old job. Just be real. Tell them the company simply did not elevate employees who were on the phone, especially those who were valued at the position, such as yourself.

It’s easy enough to be direct - simply say you did a great job while you were there but it wasn’t a long term prospect for you because you wanted to do xyz instead. I’ve interviewed many folks who had a position on their resume just because they needed to work and it was a job. That’s no problem.

I agree that internal promotions will not really dwell on outside the company experience unless it’s a huge deviation from what you’re doing and the external experience is relevant.

Thanks for the input, everyone. I feel a lot more confident in how I can discuss my previous employer.

There are 4 basic things interviewers are looking for:

  1. What is your experience?
  2. Will you get along with the people at this workplace?
  3. How long will you stay?
  4. How much will you cost them?

I’m pretty sure any interviewer would already know why someone would want to leave a call-center job. Yes, the closest any question would likely come would be “Tell us what you learned from the experience” or some such, and then you just quote your canned answer about ambition and advancement etc.

I deal with this in my line of work and the best advice is, people hire people, they like and would like to work with. The fact you get an interview means the interviewer has looked over your resume or application and feels you can do the job.

The interviewer is really going to be asking, “Would I enjoy seeing this person on a daily basis for the next few years.” And I strongly advise practice interviewing over and over, even in front of a mirror. You would be surprised how easy it is to let derogatory things slip out.

Exactly my #2 point above.

Not always point number 4. In big companies a department gets a heacount allocation, and managers get yelled at for not using it. The exact cost isn’t really relevant - it is built into the level of the opening. HR would much rather give a good candidate a bit more money than lose her, since that might mean hiring someone not as good and having to go through the whole damn process again.

I’d add “can you do the job?” which isn’t quite point 1.

I’ve recently sat in on some job interviews. The questions are pretty immaterial. We’re watching your reaction to the questions.

“What was a mistake you made? How did you fix it and what did you learn from it?”

Yes, you did. We all did. How are you going to fix it?

And words are all good. But we’re really listening for subtext. Are you going to throw your co-workers under the bus? Are you going to play dodgeball or hardball? I have no time for Teflon people.

Find a friend to ask you a bunch of inane questions. Have that friend tell you every time you till your eyes or give an indication of boredom. We can’t ask the questions we really want to ask. We have to follow a script. You. Do not. See?

Of the six people I interviewed, one wouldn’t shut up, four just said conventional babble, and the other, the one we hired, made us feel like she would get along with whomever she had to deal with.

The most important thing you can bring to an interview is sincerity. Once you can fake that, you’ve really got it made.
(Stolen from George Burns who stole it from who knows who.)

I don’t have a script. And I do care about the answers. But, all things being equal, the candidate with energy is going to get the job.
The people who know how to interview best are actors - since every audition is an interview and an actor may do more of them in a month than most people do in a lifetime. And for kids at least the thing that distinguishes a kid who can act from a kid who can’t is a natural energy and charisma level when the audition starts or the camera rolls. In an interview you are acting, so you should take a hint from the professionals. You should decide the role you need to play to get the job, and play it. And smile.
Because if you don’t pick a role you will play one by default, and it might not be one that is good for your prospects.

I agree – they know you and want to see if the new position would be a good fit for you and them. If the new job were different enough from your current one, and a former job was closer to the new one (this came up recently for us with an applicant in our area), then yes, it’s worth talking about the former job.

On #1. Actually I should have said it as “What do you bring to this job?”. Which can be experience or training.

On #4, they can also look at a person and their “cost” could be like will they need their own office? Will they need to work at home?