There’s no ‘wrong answer’ to the interview question ‘When were you most satisfied in your job?'

"What we're screening for when we interview people is culture fit, not competencies."


Millions of U.S. workers have taken the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to reevaluate their work and career priorities. Half of employed Americans have recently changed employers or are considering a job change, according to Care.com's recent Workplace Culture and Care Report, which surveyed 2,000 American workers.

If you're on the hunt for a new gig, consider preparing ahead of time for some of the questions that may arise in an interview. Among the most common are "What are your weaknesses?" and "What are your goals?" Another popular interview question is "When were you most satisfied in your job?"

"I don't think there's a wrong answer" to this question, says Amanda Augustine, career expert for TopResume. Because the nature of the question is so personal, "this isn't something where you can script a perfect answer," she says.

Still, there are ways to tackle this question that give the interviewer a better sense of why you're a good fit for the role.

This question 'gives some clues as to how you operate'

When an interviewer asks when you were most satisfied at work, your answer "gives some clues as to how you operate," says Augustine. "It helps them figure out if this is going to be the right type of role for you as well as the right type of organization."

That's because getting a sense of when you were happiest on the job could also give a sense of "What motivates you? What gets you excited? Where do you seem most alive?" she says. If, for example, you say you were most satisfied when you made your 30-sale quota within minutes of the last day of the month, it indicates you thrive under high pressure with big goals.

"Often, what we're screening for when we interview people is culture fit, not competencies," says Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, entrepreneur and author of "Choose Possibility." "You're trying to find environments in which somebody will thrive."

Give examples using the STAR method

While preparing to answer this question, brainstorm specific examples that could give a detailed sense of who you are as a worker. "We usually go to the STAR method," says Brie Reynolds, career development manager at FlexJobs. STAR stands for situation, task, action, result. "It just helps you structure your answer" and lay out exactly what transpired and why it affected you.

Say you're a teacher and felt most satisfied when you saw your class engaged in a project you'd assigned. The situation would be the class, the task would be the material you had to teach them, the action was the project you planned to help them learn the material, and the results were that the kids loved doing the project, which helped them retain the information.

The result "doesn't have to be a percentage or a number necessarily," says Reynolds. "The result is what was the impact, why does it matter that you did this thing?"

Hack your next job interview to improve your odds of being hired

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'You have to be genuine'

Because this question is about assessing who you are as a worker and what you need to succeed, "you have to be genuine" when you answer it, says Augustine.

If you think the company culture where you're interviewing is fast-paced and highly creative, for example, it may be tempting to say that's the context in which you do your best work. But if you actually thrive in an environment where you have time to do each project and the workflow has a more rigid structure, working for a company where that's not the case could trip you up in the future.

Think in detail about the context of the work situations in which you felt most satisfied and answer in earnest when the interviewer asks.

"If you're not compatible with their environment or, more importantly, if their environment is not compatible with you," says Augustine, "then it's not going to be a good fit and ultimately you're going to find yourself back on the job market sooner than you expected."

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