Help me spin this.
March 27, 2012 5:29 AM   Subscribe

I quit my last job due to poor management. I know that interviewers don't want to hear an applicant speak negatively about former employers. Help me spin this.

Specifically, I'm worried about conflict between the answers to "Why did you leave your last job?" and "Have you had any issues with your previous boss?"

The man who made my worklife unbearable is no longer with my former company. He was my supervisor's supervisor. If he, specifically, hadn't been there, there's a good chance I'd still be with said company. I didn't have any issues with any of the other supervisors.

I've been freelancing for a little over a year since I quit said job. Could I perhaps answer the first question with something like, "I want to return to [industry]," and gloss over quitting my previous job?

I hate interviews, but they're necessary, and I have two coming up. Any help would be appreciated!
posted by ThisKindNepenthe to Work & Money (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Regarding leaving, simply say that you decided that it was time to move on and pursue new challenges, and that you left on good terms -- i.e., you gave notice, and were not let go. If asked if you had issues with a previous boss (not a question I've ever heard or asked), just say no.
posted by ellF at 5:35 AM on March 27, 2012

Yes obviously don't bring it up. If they ask specifically why you decided to quit and become a freelancer don't say "Because I hated my boss" - not only is that a terrible answer, but then the next question is going to be "why did you decide to freelance instead if finding another full-time job"

So just answer why you decided to be a free-lancer. Always spin things to be positive. "I left" not "I quit"
posted by JPD at 5:36 AM on March 27, 2012 [4 favorites]

Phrases that I've used and/or that could work:

I'm looking for a different corporate culture.
It wasn't the right fit in terms of corporate culture.
I left to start my own business/freelance, but I really miss working in a team environment.
It was a great place to work, but there was really no opportunity for advancement.

Any issues w/ previous boss? No. (this is true, since it was your boss' boss that you didn't like).
posted by melissasaurus at 5:39 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: "It wasn't a good fit."

"I was looking for more room to grow."

"I identified an opportunity I wanted to pursue."

None of those are false, and they all give legitimate reasons for wanting to move on.
posted by valkyryn at 5:44 AM on March 27, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It's not that interviewers don't like to hear someone speak negatively about another employer, but rather a fear of "oh, is this guy going to be trouble?" But a quick look over employment history should put questions like that to rest unless you have been jumping ship every 2 years.

As for the answer to that question, refer to what ellF said: simply say that you decided that it was time to move on and pursue new challenges, and that you left on good terms

No need to delve further, though it is completely within your rights to inquire about management structure, roles and responsibilities and compensation/rewards. How a person answers that may tell you if you'll run into the same issue. But I'm also a pretty candid person when it comes to giving answers.
posted by zombieApoc at 5:49 AM on March 27, 2012

Seconding Valkyryn's answer.

Couch any answer about leaving in terms of pursuit of a different opportunity or an opportunity to grow.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:39 AM on March 27, 2012

Best answer: You went to freelancing? That's the perfect reason, and a good reason to go back to a salaried position. "I wanted to try my hand at freelancing, which I've done for the past year. It was a great experience, but now I'd like to return to the security of a larger organization."
posted by xingcat at 6:58 AM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Here's what people want to know: why are you, candidate, an excellent person and a good fit for us? So, you should be working on your pitch about the experience and skills you gained at this job and why they make you a good applicant. And then you need to apply that same type of thinking to the challenge of working for yourself. You can easily gloss over the reasons for leaving by citing "lack of growth potential at job and exciting opportunity to freelance."
posted by amanda at 7:32 AM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, I used the "culture" answer once and the interviewer asked me, "What didn't you like about that culture?" It was a terrible deer in the headlights moment due, in part, to the potential that the company I wanted a job at had a chance of a similar culture: large co with interchangeable worker cogs without autonomy. It's also hard to find a way to positively spin the project manager with anger management issues, the sycophants and unrepentant favoritism.

On the other hand, smaller firms kind of like a little negative talk about "the big guys" so I can divulge a sanitized version of my true feelings and win minor points. But I always focus on the skills and experience I gained there. Me hating working for X has no bearing on my worth as an employee.
posted by amanda at 7:38 AM on March 27, 2012

As it happens, I had an interview last week in which I was asked both, "Tell me about the best supervisor you've had" and, "Tell me about a supervisor you've had who was not so great." So I would definitely suggest preparing something to say if you're directly questioned on the topic. The formula I would suggest is:

1. Brief description of supervisor's strong points.
2. Even briefer and very dispassionate description of areas of conflict.
3. Summary of ways you attempted to work with supervisor.

So this might sound like, "When I was at Widget Company, I worked under Mr. Jerkface. He knew everything about widget manufacture, and I really learned a ton from him about quality control. However, his expectations for communication and working hours were a little outside the company norm. I did have to clarify that I would not be able to come in on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day for non-emergent duties, and that I would not be answering the phone if he called for updates at 3 a.m. Since I knew he wanted to be well-informed about the status of my projects, I made sure to stay on top of my deadlines and to provide him with detailed updates on a regular basis. His management style did contribute to my eventual decision to explore freelance widgeting, but I left the company on good terms. I'm especially proud that I was able to wrap up a challenging quality improvement project for Mr. Jerkface before I left."
posted by timeo danaos at 8:07 AM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

The question came up in interviewing for my current job. There wasn't any avoiding it, or glossing over. I went with being frank, but not blameful. "Any two people in this world are going to get along, or they're not. The personal dynamic works, or it doesn't."

Luckily, the same sort of conflict led to the position being created in the first place, so my then-future-now-current employers understood perfectly.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:46 AM on March 27, 2012

Best answer: This is the kind of question that is sooooo revelatory in an interview. People who answer "It wasn't the best fit" or "I wanted to pursue something different" always, in my experience, turned out to be good eggs and very adaptable. People who complained, even diplomatically, about the past employers always turned out to be giant pains in the ass.

The exception here is when the prior organization had a very public meltdown known to others in the industry. Then something along the lines of "Well, it's no secret that Enron was off course; I stayed as long as I could help the employees/shareholders, but eventually that became impossible" is usually a sound answer.
posted by Sidhedevil at 9:21 AM on March 27, 2012 [6 favorites]

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