Explaining why you left a previous employer in your interview is never easy, and there are a lot of traps you can fall into that can cost you your next job.
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This article is going to walk you through how to safely explain your reasons for leaving an unpleasant company without hurting your chances of getting that next job.
1. Don't Badmouth
You may have had a really bad work situation, but if you talk a lot about a terrible circumstance, you're only going to make the interviewer wonder whether you were part of the problem.
It's nothing personal. It's human nature to want to know the other side of the story. The safest bet is to avoid talking about how horrible things were and to never badmouth your former company or boss.
What should you do instead then?
2. Turn It Into a Positive
It's okay to briefly mention the problem and the reason you needed to leave – without speaking too negatively. But then, you should turn it into a positive situation and frame the conversation around what you gained by leaving.
Let's say your boss was unsupportive, and you felt that was destroying your career. You could say that you didn't feel supported by your boss and others in your organization felt the same, so you decided to find a company with a stronger leadership team that would help you take your career further.
Rather than stopping at the problem, talk about what you decided to look for next in your career. It will make it sound like you're striving to improve yourself, which is always a good thing.
The example above did one more great thing, too – it provided social proof. You didn't just say that you felt your boss was lacking; you mentioned that other people felt the same way. This is a good way to show the interviewer you weren't the problem. Be prepared to face follow-up questions if you use this strategy, including questions about why your colleagues felt that way.
3. Reiterate Why You're Interested in Their Company
The interview is about your prospective employer's job above all else, so focus the conversation on that. With the example above, you could say that strong leadership is still important to you and one of your priorities in your current job search. Then, ask the interviewer what types of things management does in their company to help employees grow and improve. (In fact, that's one of the best questions to ask in any interview.)
Here's a Full Example Answer:
Based on the above, we can formulate a full example answer:
Question: "Why did you leave your previous job so quickly after joining?"
Answer: "After joining the company, I did not feel my career was advancing as I hoped it would. My boss wasn't very supportive compared to previous bosses I've had, and others on my team felt the same. I decided to take action and left the company to find a work environment that would support my growth and provide the next step in my career. Working for great leadership is still very important to me. Can you tell me about what management in your company does to help its employees grow and improve?"
If you follow the steps above, you'll be able to craft a great answer that avoids many of the common mistakes that other people make, such as badmouthing too much or giving a long-winded answer. You'll also end your answer perfectly, by turning the focus of the conversation back onto your new employer!
Biron Clark is an executive recruiter, career coach, and founder of careersidekick.com.