How to answer ‘What’s the most valuable thing you learnt in your last role?’ interview question
Knowing how to answer interview questions can be one of the most important skills you can learn for your job search. More often than not, knowing how to answer questions in an interview is the part people worry about the most. The key to success is preparing your answers beforehand. There is no way to know exactly what questions the interviewer is going to ask you, but you can prepare some mock answers and adapt them if and when you need to during an interview.
Taking the time to think about your answers can not only guide you towards a successful interview but it can leave you feeling a bit more relaxed. So, how do you go about preparing answers for this particular question?
When put on the spot, it can be hard to pinpoint one point in your career that might really stand out to you. The last thing you want is to be sitting there ‘umming and ahing’ so during your interview preparation, start to consider a few points that could be interesting.
So, when interviewers ask What’s the most valuable thing you learnt in your last role? What kind of answers is the employer actually looking for? This particular interview question is a mix of both a personality and competency question. But what does that mean exactly?
- Personality based questions will be asked to help the employer understand more about your personality, work style, how you handle certain situations and what kind of employee you may be.
- Competency based questions are often asked to examine whether you are a good fit for the role they are offering.
The interviewer wants to know about you, how you learn and how you might react to the job in question. Being able to look back and assess your learning is a key skill. Being able to talk about your achievements and reflect on what you have learnt is not only good for your personal development plan, but it shows your desire and ability to learn new things.
How to answer the question
Whether you are leaving your current job for positive or negative reasons, there is always a lesson learned, no matter the job. It would be best to discuss skills you have and may have learnt in your last role, that are relevant to the job you are applying for. You may want to discuss a recent challenge you have faced, what you did to overcome them and the skills you gained from that experience.
A good way to start thinking about an answer is to use STAR.
Situation – Think of a situation relevant to the question they have asked you.
Task – What was the task in this situation? What did you do and what were your goals?
Action – This is your chance to shine. Think of what you did in this situation and make sure you are talking about what you did as an individual as well as what you may have done in a collective team. Discuss what steps you took and how you achieved your result.
Result – This is all about what you accomplished, the end result. What did you learn?
Using the STAR method can help you think about past experiences and formulate an answer step by step. This is always a good method to use when you are struggling to form an answer. Break down the question and develop an answer step by step.
Even if you had some negative experiences with your past employer, there is always a lesson learnt. So, make sure you stay positive throughout. You can mention negative experiences but always talk about what you learnt and how that experience helped you develop as a professional. They might be interested to hear how you turned something that wasn’t a good experience into something positive.
What could some examples be?
You can start by thinking of some potential weaknesses or gaps you have in your knowledge. Think about what you have done in the last few weeks / months and how you may have developed these skills. Have you made any mistakes that you learnt from? It’s okay to talk about mistakes, we all make them, and they help us become better people and professionals.
- You started working remotely and found this difficult at first
- A new system or software was put in place, and you had never used it before
- Worked on your first team project
- Worked on your first solo project
- Recently had to lead a team
There are so many examples you can use, that you might not have considered. You are learning every day you are at work, so it can be easy to overlook some of your achievements, but they’re there! Start with an idea and use STAR to build on that point and form an answer.
During my last role, I was asked to be the lead for a team project. I had worked on countless projects like this one before, but never as the head engineer. The project was to… and although I had the experience required to do the job, it was a big opportunity, and did come as a bit of a challenge in the beginning.
The first step was to talk to my team, discuss their ideas and how we were going to make a start. This meant talking to each of them individually and as a group, to share and discuss what they had come up with. Being able to connect with each member of the team individually and as a group was really helpful and allowed everyone to feel like they had a voice within the group.
From here, we could start the project and I loved working with such a diverse bunch of colleagues. Leadership skills were something that I picked up along the way. I can’t say it was an easy task, but definitely one I value.
You can go into more detail and discuss the specific project and the outcome for example, but the idea is to follow the STAR steps to form an answer that gives the interviewer what they asked for. If you take the time to think about examples of your achievements and projects at work, it will be easier to form answers like this and tailor them to your own experiences. It’s something that will get easier with practice!
Good luck with your interview!