How to answer “If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?" in a job interview
Morgan is interviewing for a senior graphic designer job that she’s really excited about, and the interviewer asks:
“If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?”
Her first thoughts are:
"Well, I wish I didn’t waste all that time majoring in cybersecurity when I really wanted to do something creative."
"I definitely wish I'd learned better time management earlier on, before I lost clients for missing too many deadlines and forgetting to respond to emails."
While these answers may be true, they can also sound negative and resentful.
Why Do They Ask This Question?
Interviewers ask this question to evaluate:
Your ability to reflect on and learn from past experiences
How you make decisions
How you’ve grown professionally in the past
Whether the position aligns with your desired career path
How To Answer
When answering the question, keep these guidelines in mind:
Identify a positive action you would have taken,rather than just expressing regret.
Share strategies you've learned such as making informed decisions.
Emphasize growth and development from your past.
Tie it to your career goals and how that relates to the role you're interviewing for.
How to Answer: Example 1
Maybe at the start of your career, you didn’t have much experience with certain technical tools or software that were needed for your job, which affected your ability to complete projects. Your answer could be something like:
If I could start my career over again, I would have sought training in using X software right away [identify a positive action].
Several months into my job, I completed an online course in using the software which helped me master it and use it to its full potential [share strategies you've learned].
Since that experience, I’ve learned to seek out resources whenever I find using a new technical tool challenging [emphasize growth and development].
I believe that ongoing learning is key to advancement in this field [tie it to your career goals].
How to Answer: Example 2
Maybe when you started your first job, you were hesitant to ask questions when you weren't sure how to do something. Over time, you learned that reaching out for guidance is not a sign of inadequacy. You could say something along the lines of:
If I could start my career over again, I would have sought guidance from my more experienced colleagues from the beginning, instead of trying to figure everything out on my own [identify a positive action].
When I started out, I was eager to prove myself and saw asking for help as a weakness. As time went on, I became more comfortable reaching out to my colleagues and manager for clarification or support on tasks, and I even spent a few days shadowing a colleague with 13 years of experience in this field [share strategies you've learned].
I've learned how valuable it can be to receive guidance from others with more experience or a different perspective. Currently I have a mentor who I reach out to every so often when I come across an especially tricky challenge [emphasize growth and development].
I've also provided mentorship and guidance to others in my past role, and that is a strength of mine that I would bring to this role [tie it to your career goals].
Try It Out
Let’s get back to Morgan. Which of these responses should she choose?
"If I could go back and start again, I would definitely not have majored in cybersecurity in college. I knew that wasn't really something I wanted to do, but my parents felt like it was a safer career and pressured me into it. That was a total waste of my time."
"If I could start my career again, I would have learned time management strategies from the beginning. About 5 years ago, I read a fantastic book on time management at work that really helped me come up with strategies that worked for me. I now have a great system that helps me prioritize tasks and break large projects down into smaller goals. Over the past couple years, my manager has actually asked me to mentor a few fellow employees in time management. I'm excited to bring those skills to this new leadership position."
Which response is a better way for Morgan to answer this question?