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I did an internship at department A of a company about four years ago. It lasted one month and it was horrible. I was given nothing to do and felt very out of place. As an intern, everybody was my superior, and they were very stressed and uninterested in teaching. I should have shown more initiative, but I was demotivated almost from the beginning. This was a very frustrating experience for me. I did not smile very much and I probably made a bad impression during this month.

About half a year after this I've started a project-specific employment at department B of the same company. The people there were nice and respectful and gave me goals and a high degree of freedom in how to attain them. There I blossomed, and I think I surpassed my superior's expectations.

Now the time has come to apply for a permanent job at this company. The thing is, the boss of this company is also the boss of department A, and I'm not sure whether he remembers me, but if he does, I'm afraid that maybe during the job interview I will get asked about what happened during this one terrible month four years ago. I'm not sure what the best way to handle such a question would be.

  1. Telling them that they should have *!&%$ given me something to do and treated me like a human being and not a ghost is out of question.
  2. Telling them that my good performance during 36 months should outweigh that during this 1 month could trigger the question "How can we be sure this won't happen again?" and also might be too defensive.
  3. Apologizing and effectively saying "I'm sorry, my behaviour was unprofessional" also seems suboptimal because I didn't do anything wrong except being displeased and consequently not smiling, which would of course have been clever. Also I feel that preemptively admitting failure when all that really occurred was personal antipathy is a weak move that makes me appear weak.
  4. The best option so far to me seems to talk about positive things that happened during this month, stating that I am thankful for the experiences I made back then, and show that I have profited from this time, which, after all, I did.

tl;dr: I did badly for a short time, and well for a long time, at the same company. In an interview for a permanent position, what do I say when they ask me about the short time?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 7 down vote accepted

This falls under the auspices of "Don't badmouth a previous employer". Always good advice regardless of whether or not your previous employer is the same as the prospective new one.

I would: Talk about positive things. If asked about the less positive things, then mention what you've learned in order to handle such situations better in the future. You should always look upon any job as a learning experience, and you should always phrase what you've learnt from those jobs in that manner. For example, don't say "job x sucked" or "I suck at jobs like x" but rather talk about how how facing a weakness in x helped you improve, or that you've learnt to play to your strengths in the future.

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The trick is to neither lie nor tell excessive amounts of the truth - you should selectively tell the truth.

"I was in the position for about a month... I didn't find it overly challenging." OR

"It was a very interesting learning experience. I feel like it's really prepared me for where I am now." OR

"It was really challenging. I learned a lot about the importance of taking initiative!"

Basically, keep it all very glossy and positive. If they try to press, continue being glossy and positive.

"What was it about it that was so challenging?"

"Well, it was very early in my career. I hadn't really learned to take initiative yet. So there were times when I wasn't at my full potential."

In conclusion, don't lie, but don't say anything negative, especially about your coworkers at the time.

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1  
The reframing of the experience in a positive light is the value of this answer. –  Irwin Feb 10 at 20:32

What you did during Training period in the first months actually doesnt mean much since you are performing well. The only reason that they will be looking for will be :

  • How you are performing your tasks now
  • Whether you jell very well with the team
  • Overall attitude
  • Motivation factor and so on..

As a trainee in the first months, how you behaved probably and how you are performing now clearly underlines the fact that there might be something fundamentally wrong with the first Dept(A). And even if the senior person remember this, they might ask you why such difference perhaps or maybe give an opportunity to speak up as to why you have opted for this firm. To which you can reply by saying even though the initial training period did not go well as planned, changing to another department actually brought the best in you and blah blah blah...

Hope this makes sense.! And All the very best for the Interview.

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I believe you overthink it. People tend to concentrate on the worst possible question which they could be asked on an interview. Most likely, you won't be asked or even if you will be asked about this month, it will be just a checkbox question.

In the very small probability that you will be asked, just spin it positively (as everybody suggested).

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In a time with a company, everyone is going to have some bad months. So, first, don't start the interview expecting negativity. If you walk in freaked out and stressed, you're more likely to trigger a negative reaction - realize that in your time in the overall company, you've had far more good experiences than bad.

Take some time to think about what you would have done differently now that you've had more experience. You clearly found a working situation that you like - how would you restructure your time in Department A so you could be as successful as you were in Department B? Sounds like #1 would be being more active in asking for assignments and help. Now that you've had good goals and freedom, you could describe the kind of conditions that are best for you.

You may not always have a great leader, you may have to make the best of a bad situation, so having a plan in mind isn't such a waste of time.

If the question comes up, describe the poorness of the situation but not the people. Then move (quickly!) on what you'd do differently now that you have experience. It'll let you pivot back to the most successful elements of Dept. B and sing their praises.

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I would go with something along the lines of Option 4, talk about how it has helped to gain valuable experiences and an insight as to what working life is like, talk about how these experiences affected your next 36 months i.e. made you more professional and gave you a better understanding of what is to be expected at work, give examples if you can.

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Hi J-3, Welcome to the Workplace SE, a Stack Exchange expert Q&A site. Can you tell us why option 4 is the best? We prefer answers that are backed up, either with references, facts, experiences, or even a nice explanation. Hope this helps. –  jmort253 Feb 7 at 19:35

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