How To Answer Interview Questions About Your Experience

By Sky Ariella and Experts - Jan. 20, 2021

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A candidate’s prior experience is crucial for identifying whether they can succeed in an open role. While soft skills and personality attributes can bolster an already impressive interview performance, questions about prior experience establish where their abilities stand.

Why an Interviewer Asks About Your Experience

A hiring manager asks interview questions to prompt a discussion about your experience because they want to understand the work you’ve done before more comprehensively than reading the bullet points on a resume.

The interview is an employer’s last chance to get a better idea of an applicant’s background straight from the source before deciding to move forward with the hiring process.

Without questions about experience, the interviewer runs the risk of hiring someone who doesn’t have the knowledge and required skills to fulfill the position.

Examples of Interview Questions About Experience (With Sample Answers)

  1. Tell me about your professional background. This is a generalized question that hiring managers often ask to get a sense of how you’ll speak about your professional background.

    While other questions are targeted to a specific position listed on your resume, this question is phrased in a way that asks for the complete story of your work history succinctly and informatively.

    Example answer

    “I started working towards my goal of becoming an early childhood educator long before I began teaching. Since I was in high school, I knew it’s what I wanted to do with my career.

    When I was studying for my undergraduate degree in child development, I took on my first internship role as a teacher’s assistant to a kindergarten class. I worked in that role over my senior year, and at the end of the internship, I was offered a position as a substitute teacher.

    This gave me a lot of experience working with many different children and strengthened my skills in classroom control. I’m now seeking a full-time teaching position to further my knowledge of childhood education in the field.”

    Why it works. It’s difficult to compact years of professional work into only a few sentences, but this example answer does it well. The response gives a well-rounded answer to a sizable question, while still maintaining specificity and highlighting their skills. Even though the candidate hasn’t had a formal, full-time position before, they sound professional and qualified.

    What not to say

    “I don’t have much professional experience because I’ve never had a full-time teaching job before. I’ve worked as a substitute teacher, but only for about a year.”

    Why it doesn’t work. This answer makes the applicant sound insecure and inexperienced. The interviewer doesn’t specifically ask for a recounting of paid positions you’ve worked.

    Use that opportunity to speak about experiences you do have if your job history is lacking, such as an internship or project.

  2. What experience do you have related to this role? When an interviewer asks what experience you have related to the role, they’re curious about two things.

    First off, your prior experience and the intent to use it for success in the future.

    Secondly, how familiar you are with the requirements of the role you’re interviewing for. Answer this interview question by tying in elements of the job description with your background.

    Example answer

    “Most of my professional experience has led me up to this administrative secretary role. I’ve been working in the field for almost ten years now. I got my first position as an office assistant when I was 18 – a position that required a lot of communication with both co-workers and customers.

    After two years, I was offered a new position as a secretary for a well-known dental group in the area. I worked in that job for nearly seven years. I eventually worked my way up to a management role.

    The job description stated that you’re looking for a candidate with at least four years of experience in a secretarial position with excellent communication skills. My background satisfies these conditions, and more.

    I’m interested in this position specifically because it would allow me to expand my leadership potential and continue working in an environment that I have a great deal of experience in.”

    Why it works. A hiring manager chooses to use this phrasing of an experience interview question because it’s more direct. It gets right to the point of skills that are relevant to the job. This response works because it answers what the interviewer is asking.

    The speaker gives a solid description of their work history up to that point and paints themselves as an experienced candidate.

    They also mention specific skills that were asked for in the job description, which shows the interviewer that they did their research on the role and company.

    What not to say

    “I’m not sure what your business wants in its secretaries, but I’ve worked in similar roles before.”

    Why it doesn’t work. Unless you’ve scoured the job listing and it’s given very little information about the position, there’s no excuse for not having a good idea of what the company is looking for in the role.

    This answer doesn’t have any specificity about their responsibilities, and the interviewer is forced to pull these details out of them.

  3. What prior work experience has prepared you to take on this position? This question is a similar rendition of the last one.

    The interviewer is assessing the candidate’s knowledge of the position’s requirements and if their abilities line up with these stipulations.

    Answering well depends on the candidate’s prior knowledge of the position and a focus on the most applicable experience.

    Example answer

    “While I’ve worked in a few different positions in the past, I think the prior experience that has most prepared me for this position was working as a nurse in a Greenview Hospital emergency room for five years. A position that required me to provide top-notch patient care under pressure.

    In the position description, I noticed that you’re interested in hiring a candidate with experience in high-stress medical situations and a familiarity with an ER nurse’s schedule. This former job gave me practice in both these aspects of nursing. I believe these skills would help me to succeed in this role as well.”

    Why it works. The candidate references the original job description to state how their skills fit these needs.

    They explain a specific role that gave them the most relevant experience for the position they’re applying to and then went on into further explanation. This is a compact and informative answer.

    What not to say

    I’ve had experience working as a nurse.”

    Why it doesn’t work. Responding to an interview question is best done briefly, but it isn’t supposed to be this short.

    This answer doesn’t work because it doesn’t provide any details into the responsibilities of the role involved or how it relates to the position you’re hoping to land. It all around just needs more detail.

What an Interviewer Is Looking for in Your Answer

There is a purpose to every question that’s asked of you during an interview. When an interviewer is asking questions related to your previous experience, they’re looking for a few qualities in your answer.

  1. Clarity. As with any other inquisition put forward during an interview, experience questions are used to form a clearer picture of who you are professionally. This helps an interviewer decide if you’re the right fit for the position needing to be filled.

    They’re looking for a response that enhances clarity in terms of why you’re experienced enough for the position.

  2. Honesty. Any form of lying is unacceptable in an interview. Some questions require you to reach into your professional past and find examples of skills that match the job you’re going for.

    Don’t exaggerate the truth in these instances to make yourself seem more experienced than you are in reality. Be truthful when describing your previous job functions and experience level.

  3. An intent to put experience to use. While your professional background may be a compelling story, there’s a reason beyond this that interviews ask about former experience.

    They’re curious to see how these skills would be useful in the position they’re interviewing you for. Explain how you intend to put your experience to use if hired for the role.

Tips for Answering Interview Questions About Experience

  1. Be specific about responsibilities and accomplishments. When discussing your previous professional experience, be specific about the role you served.

    Specificity helps build an understanding of how your past job responsibilities and experience could be helpful in a new circumstance.

  2. Don’t memorize an answer. A lot of candidates decide to prepare for their interview by memorizing their answers to questions about prior experience. This often produces a stiff response that’s unsatisfying to an interviewer.

    Alternatively, formulate a list of brief points you want to include in your response to questions about previous experience, but allow the answer to flow freely.

  3. Connect prior experience to future goals. An interview seeks to gather information about how an applicant intends to behave in their role if chosen for hire.

    When answering interview questions about experience, always bring the response back to focusing on future goals with the employer. Describe your experience fully, but close with how the skills attained will benefit your performance in the position if hired.

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Author

Sky Ariella

Sky Ariella is a professional freelance writer, originally from New York. She has been featured on websites and online magazines covering topics in career, travel, and lifestyle. She received her BA in psychology from Hunter College.

Expert

Denise Bitler, CPRW, CDBW, MRW

Denise Bitler has 30+ years of HR experience working in various industries and with all level of employees from hourly through C-suite, as well as company Board Members.She is the founder of Resume-Interview Success, LLC and is an expert in best practices related to resume, cover letter, and Executive bio writing, LinkedIn Profile optimization, job search strategies, and interview coaching.

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