How to Answer "What Were Your Job Expectations?"

In many cases, interviewers will want to know what you expected from your last job when you were hired, so be prepared to answer the interview question, “What were your expectations for your last job, and to what extent were they met?”

The interviewer is interested in learning about how good a fit your last position was. They will use the information you share to learn whether the role for which you're applying will be a good match for your qualifications and career objectives.

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

Employers want to know about your past expectations to see if what you expected from your last employer was reasonable, how well the role worked out for you, and if your expectations match the job responsibilities for the new position.

The interviewer will be evaluating whether the job was a good fit for you and your career path in order to gauge whether you'll be a match for the role for which they are hiring.

How to Answer Questions About Expectations

While there is no right (or wrong) answer to this question, it's important to be honest, positive, and specific. Even if your expectations were not met, try to mention something positive that you gained from the role. It's important to not be negative, because that would make the interviewer wonder how you would talk about their company if you were to be hired.

To make sure your answer does not ramble on too long, focus on one specific area and your expectations there. Be prepared to share examples of how the role was a match for your career path with your previous employer.

How to Answer Interview Questions About Job Expectations
How to Answer Interview Questions About Job Expectations

The Balance

Examples of the Best Answers

Here are examples of interview answers that you can edit to fit your personal experiences and background.

Example Answer #1

My expectations for my previous job were that I would be teaching my students a completely new eighth-grade English curriculum that I would have to develop myself, but that I would have the support of a co-teacher in all of my classes. This blend of support and independence allowed me to successfully develop a new curriculum that is still used in the school to this day.

Why It Works: Along with clearly stating expectations, this candidate is able to share a big achievement he or she accomplished in the role.

Example Answer #2

In my previous job, my expectation—based on the job description and interview—was that my job would involve working primarily on team-based projects. Ultimately, many more of my projects than expected were ones I developed and completed on my own. While my expectations were not quite met, this independence allowed me to greatly strengthen my skills in all aspects of project development.

Why It Works: This answer is honest about the job not meeting expectations, without coming across as negative. The candidate is also able to deftly pivot to discussing a positive skill gained as a result of the role. 

Example Answer #3

One expectation I had for my previous job was that I would have the opportunity as an administrative assistant to step into a variety of leadership roles. This expectation was met. For example, I became the supervisor and trainer for all interns and part-time administrative employees. I also attended a number of seminars on leadership and management. I believe my experience and skills as a manager will serve me extremely well as a supervisor at your company.

Why It Works: This response does a nice job of connecting achievements accomplished at a prior job to what the candidate would be able to provide if given the role at hand.

Example Answer #4

I was responsible for hiring in my previous role. I expected that the position would expand to cover employee training and development, and those expectations were met. I was successfully able to coordinate hiring, onboarding new employees, and employee development programs for current staff.

Why It Works: The candidate is able to clearly describe expectations in one specific area, and then delineate accomplishments.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

Be Honest and Positive. If the job wasn't exactly what you expected, it's fine to mention that. However, you should focus on the job itself, not the company, your boss, or your co-workers (if they were a problem).

Be Specific. Pick a focus in your response. You can choose from a variety of topics when referring to “expectations,” from the office environment to your assigned duties to the support from your employer.

Once you've selected a focus for your answer, prepare some examples to share with the interviewer.

For example, if your job involved creating web applications, discuss the specific programs you developed and the responsibilities you were given.

Think About the Job You're Applying For. When selecting the focus of your answer, keep the job for which you are applying in mind. Think about what sorts of expectations you have for this job, and connect them back to your expectations for your previous job.

For example, perhaps you know this company provides professional development for many of its employees, and this is something that is important to you. In that case, you might mention the training opportunities for professional development that helped you achieve your goals at your last job.

What Not to Say

Avoid Negativity. When the job you're interviewing for is very similar to your previous position, you don't want to lose consideration for the new job because you didn't like the old one. Do be careful how you answer, and don't focus too much on the negative. Instead, address the highlights of the job.

Don’t Focus on Money. While you can tailor your answer to a variety of topics, money is not one of them.

Whether you were satisfied or dissatisfied with your salary is not important to the interviewer.

If you focus on salary, the interviewer will worry that you care more about money than the work itself.

Don’t Share Unrealistic Expectations. Focus on realistic expectations you had for the job. You don’t want to seem like an employee who expects too much from a position, colleagues, or a company.

Possible Follow-up Questions

Key Takeaways

Keep it positive: Even if the previous job did not meet your expectations, avoid being negative in your response. 

Only share realistic expectations: Avoid sharing overly ambitious expectations.

Pick one big expectation to discuss: Avoid rambling by focusing on your expectations in one area (as opposed to every expectation you had when you accepted the job offer).