How to Talk About Your Crummy Ex-Employer in a Job Interview
My colleague, Madeleine Blanchard, writes a regular column for the LeaderChat blog titled, “Ask Madeleine.” She responds to questions from readers who are facing some sort of leadership/organizational-related predicament, and offers sound perspective based on her expertise as a master certified business coach. Mad is a legend in the business coaching community and one of the most thoughtful people I know.
I thought the Leading with Trust community would enjoy her recent article, not because it references me, but because it addresses a topic that many people are faced with as they seek new employment. Enjoy the following article and be sure to check out Mad’s work on LeaderChat.
If relationships fail and one decides to pivot away from a toxic organization or situation, what is the best way to tell that story in a job interview?
For example, I may be asked “Why did you leave that company?” My true feeling is it was all about the toxic culture. The objective truth might be more likely that I failed—ran out of patience, failed to make breakthroughs in those relationships, etc. Ultimately, it was a personal decision to leave based on my mental, emotional, and professional health and career choice.
What do you think?
Preparing for My Next Step
Dear Preparing for My Next Step,
First, congratulations for having the guts to jump ship. So many just suck it up and stay miserable. It takes real courage to recognize an intractable situation and do what is needed to take care of yourself.
I consulted our Trust expert and coauthor of the just-published book Simple Truths of Leadership (with Ken Blanchard), Randy Conley, on this one. He says:
“I’d encourage you to be honest in a respectful way that doesn’t disparage your former employer or boss. I’ve conducted hundreds of interviews and have heard the good, bad, and ugly from people sharing reasons for leaving a past employer. The people who impressed me the most have been those whose integrity shined through in the way they explained their departure.
“A good way to get the message across is by using ‘I’ language to take ownership of your decision to leave, while clearly and diplomatically explaining that there was a misalignment between your values and theirs or the culture didn’t provide the type of environment in which you could flourish.
“Yours is a very common reason why people leave jobs, so I wouldn’t get too self-conscious about discussing it in a respectful and professional manner. Remember, your response shapes your reputation.”
I really can’t say it better than that. The only thing I would add is that it might be a good idea to prepare in advance some brief concise remarks about what you are looking for in the culture of your next job. Also, maybe add a little more detail about what you learned about yourself from the experience and what you might do differently in the future should you run into a similar bind. Your last gig made you hyper aware of what you don’t want, so how exactly can you use that experience to define what you do want? And if you are ready to own your part in having to leave, how might you apply that knowledge to build stronger relationships in your next job?
That will keep things on a lighter note—a positive vision of the future is always attractive. And you are ready for the inevitable behavioral interview question: “How might you deal with a perceived lack of values alignment in the future?” It will also assist your interviewer in assessing culture fit for your next potential opportunities.
Both Randy and I wish you the best of luck finding the exact right spot for your next career chapter.
Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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