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As a student who's done work-terms and am applying for contract and part-time positions, I get this question quite a bit: "What do your previous employers think about?" or "What would your previous employers say about you?".

I have a reference letter from my previous employers, and they've all mentioned things like: "ability to maintain excellent rapport with just about everyone", "exceptionally well-rounded, quick learning curve", "rarely met a student employee in the last 10 years who I can rely on as much as this student", "outstanding work ethic" etc.

Up until this point, my reply is just "They'd say good things about me. They'd mention I have a good work ethic and am easy to get along with. I can forward you my reference letter which my previous employers provided, if you need it".

It feels weird to me if I repeat what my previous employers said (I'm much more comfortable simply forwarding my reference letter to the interviewers, but they normally just say "just tell a couple things now, no need to forward a reference letter"). I feel that if I actually repeat what the employers said, I'd come off as full of myself.

With that said, is my response how I should be responding? Is it what a interviewer expects? If not, what's a "good" (assuming the person answering the question is being truthful) response to this question?

  • I was say your spot on. you could also give examples. Like: They say I had a quick learning curve because I made this awesome widget with their proprietary programming language that brought in two million dollar revenue within the first year of the release. You can let them ask questions, or you can lead them on. My next question would be:Holy cow, tell me more about this widget. Then you would spend about 3-5 telling about your work experience. By design, it gets out of the boring HR type questions. – crh225 Aug 5 '15 at 23:08
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    Note: if they ask you that question, they are asking you to brag. Keep it honest and avoid hyperbole, but don't be afraid to tell the truth. (A decent interviewer really shouldn't ask you this question, I think...) – keshlam Aug 6 '15 at 0:07
  • If your previous employer or manager thought highly of you then ask them to write an open reference for you. Not everyone will want to anyway, or often they are not permitted to. – albal Aug 6 '15 at 6:33
  • @Keshlam - A decent interviewer shouldn't ask this question? Every single one of my interviewers, since I was in high school, asked me this. – Mickael Caruso Jan 7 '16 at 21:24
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Remember, the point of an interview is to impress the interview panel. You are a product that you are trying to get them to buy :) So you need to sell yourself so that they'll pick you out of all the other candidates. And if you don't, rest assured that the other candidates will :)

If you've been getting positive feedback from prior employers and you are asked the question, it's not bragging. You are answering the question and showing them that you are someone they should have in their team. Look at it this way - they're not exactly expecting you to say, "Well, they thought I was awful and hard to get on with." :)

Don't feel like you're bragging, you're advertising that you are the product that will solve their problems ;)

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When I go for interview I always have a copy of my resume in a folder (just in-case they don't get one from HR I can hand one out).

If I were in this situation I would also have printed copies of these "reference letter". Then when asked the question just hand over a copy of the letter and also say how cool I am.

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The best way to handle an interview is to be honest. If you are a match for the position then your skills and achievements will sound impressive. Do not claim you can do something you cannot. If you need training/experience in an area then let them know that you are interested in becoming proficient in this area.

This type of question sounds to me like an inquiry on how you perform in a team dynamic. If you already know what your past employers think of you, then there is no problem with passing this along.

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First, memorize several specific traits to mention, with an accomplishment to back them up. Choose the three traits that best address the needs of the position you are interviewing for and plan on listing them, with the other traits to use later, depending on how the interview goes. E.g.:

"Well at xyz company, I think they'd say I was dependable. My manager frequently mentioned to me how punctual I was and that I could always be counted on to meet deliverables such as [name deliverable].

At abc company, they'd say I was accurate. I processed 1000 expense reports during my tenure there and no mistakes were found.

At pqr company, the feedback I got most frequently was that I was a team player. When my boss had to take time off unexpectedly, I volunteered to [xyz task] until she was able to return. This helped our team meet our goal of [finishing the project] on time..."

etc.

What they're really asking is what value you can bring; they aren't looking to hear a list of adjectives or hear you wax eloquent about yourself, and concrete examples of accomplishments help facilitate that understanding. They also want to hear how self-aware you are, because someone with insight is easier to manage, and how well you prepared for the interview, because that demonstrates professionalism, among other things.

Second, once you've got your content figured out, conduct practice interviews with friends (or even with a professional such as a career coach) to make sure you are coming across the right way. Ask for constructive (and diplomatic, if you are sensitive like me) feedback. Different people can say the same sentence and come across quite differently due to inherent personality quirks. By honing your presentation you can be assured that you are not appearing to be too braggy, or too modest.

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It could be a test to see how you react - acting either standoffish or like an entitled rockstar might be a red flag for them.

In addition to mentioning some of your personal qualities, make sure you mention collaborative qualities others have complimented you on (that show you're a team player).

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