Not to be negative, but.
January 13, 2014 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I'm interviewing for a job that is the exact same job as my current job but at a different location with a different boss. So it will be instantly clear that the reason I want to make the change is unhappiness (which is true), and the red problem flags will be up from the start. How can I answer the forthcoming "why do you want to leave" question with grace?

I currently work as a clerk for a court that is interconnected with a bunch of other courts in our region. In the past six months, my relationship with my supervisor has taken a big downturn. She has become a micromanager, petty -- i.e. nasty to one of us and in turn supersweet to everyone else at any given time, which is offputting even when you aren't the current walking target -- and prone to sitting in her office texting or making travel plans while the rest of the staff is out running around during busy times (which I know is de rigueur for bosses, but her desk is in full view, so it's extra irksome that she has no shame about it). She has been a friend to me in the past and she acknowledges in calmer moments that sometimes she lets her temper get the best of her. I understand that, but it makes for miserable working conditions. So I want out.

I applied for a position at another court in the area. It's the same exact position and has the exact same level, pay, daily duties, and possibility of advancement. It's only five minutes away from my current job, so I can't use the "it's more convenient" excuse. The only difference is that I'll be working for different people.

I've applied for different positions within the same organization before, but have never been in a situation like this, where it will be immediately clear that I'm trying to escape some kind of negativity in my current work environment. I fear that the whole direction of the interview might be the boss at the new court trying to suss out whether I'm the problem or the problem is my old work environment. The only positive spin on the question I can come up with is that I want to work for the particular judge -- which is true -- because I have some personal connections to him (that he is unaware of) and have only heard good things about his character from them. But I don't want to be the person that plays the connections card, and I don't want to come off sounding insincere with flattery either.

If you were in this situation, how would you handle the "why do you want to leave" question with finesse?
posted by houndsoflove to Work & Money (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Is there anything about the physical location that you can say is more convenient for you? Does it have better parking? More lunch places within walking distance (you say it's 5 minutes away, but if your walking it's probably further)? Can you bike to new place more easily (it doesn't matter if you ever DO bike to work -- but could you)? Do you have a friend or family member who works there? Is it a nicer or newer or older or more architecturally interesting building? Would you perhaps have an office at the new place instead of a cube? Would you be working with a larger or smaller team?

Honestly, I would probably say that I want to work for that particular judge. You don't have to say it's because of your personal connections, you can say it's because you admire his work on X or Y or Z legal thing. That's a perfectly valid reason to want to leave your current job. If you feel like you have to round out the explanation, try to find one quirky thing that sounds like it could plausibly be important to you -- but I wouldn't force it too much.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:58 PM on January 13, 2014 [4 favorites]

I would consider going with a fairly generic answer - something along the lines of, "I've learned at lot at <old place> working with <old boss>, and am eager to continue my professional development. I've heard excellent things about <new place> and <judge>, and am excited at the prospect of <learning more about X/developing my skills in Y>."

If you get really backed into a corner, you can go with a non-criticizing criticism of your old boss - "I learned a lot from <old boss> and value the time I spent with her. At this point, I'm eager to be mentored by someone with a different working style so I can continue growing my skills as a clerk."
posted by dotgirl at 7:00 PM on January 13, 2014 [35 favorites]

Does the new judge handle a different kind of cases, and maybe you are more interested in that type of situation?

You've been in your position for a while now (assuming that is true) and you want to continue to challenge yourself by working in a new court?

Making a lateral move to work in a more interesting situation is plausible - if you can find a non-personal reason to want to work for the judge or in that court.
posted by jeoc at 7:01 PM on January 13, 2014

Is there some small, probably insignificant, but not entirely non-existent difference between the two positions? Like, would you be slightly more likely to work on X at the new job as opposed to Y? You'll probably need to use this formula to craft your bullshit appropriately:

"While I enjoy working on Y, I felt I was not getting the experience I wanted in X to help further my career goals."
posted by deathpanels at 7:04 PM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

It cuts a little close to the truth, but maybe, "I thought it might be nice to have a change of atmosphere. I'm OK where I am now, but I wonder sometimes if other courts have, like, a lunch group or little touches of conviviality or a shared sense of collective accomplishment or whatnot. That would be neat, but if it's essentially the same as my old job, at least the change of environment adds a little variety."
posted by Monsieur Caution at 7:12 PM on January 13, 2014

"Every workplace is different in how they do things, and I'm interested in gaining a broader range of experiences as a court clerk. Judge XYZ is well-respected for character traits A, B and C and I feel that working with his team would be an excellent opportunity."
posted by jacquilynne at 7:14 PM on January 13, 2014 [14 favorites]

In addition to whatever statement you make regarding your reasons, provide multiple references from your current coworker pool, and be super-diplomatic. If your potential new manager is trying to suss out which of you is the problem, high-ground diplomacy and those references should make it clear the problem isn't you.
posted by davejay at 7:37 PM on January 13, 2014

Just say you want a change?

In my experience trying to change careers, it seems like interviewers *like* someone who's already doing essentially the same job, since they can trust that person understands what the position entails. So I would view your situation as a feature, not a bug.

Good luck!
posted by mlle valentine at 7:41 PM on January 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: mlle valentine, that's definitely true.

RE: "I want a change"...I have had a string of difficult bosses at my last two jobs, though, and only stayed ~ two years at each, which is about the point I'm at now with this job. I'm sorta afraid to say "I want a change" because with my history that makes it seem like I intend to job hop and leave when I get bored. The truth is, if I get this job and it's all good, I'll definitely stay.
posted by houndsoflove at 7:53 PM on January 13, 2014

Research the new judge a bit. Learn two or three cases he did the got mentioned in the Recorder or wherever. Say that you've heard great things about him and were interested in the X case and wanted to see how your horizons could be widened by working for his court.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:34 PM on January 13, 2014 [2 favorites]

You CAN totally say the new location is more convenient - it's not like the person interviewing you is going to ask for proof that it's closer to your home or whatever. It could be closer to your gym, to your child's daycare, to a doctor that you need to see over your lunch break every day, whatever. They don't need to know the details or know if the details are 100% accurate.
posted by joan_holloway at 8:51 PM on January 13, 2014 [3 favorites]

I applied for a position at another court in the area. It's the same exact position and has the exact same level, pay, daily duties, and possibility of advancement. It's only five minutes away from my current job, so I can't use the "it's more convenient" excuse. The only difference is that I'll be working for different people.

Well I'm gonna guess that people talk to each other and it won't be much of a secret that you don't like your current boss. But that's cool. Everyone has been in the same situation. It does not reflect badly on you.

So you shrug your shoulders and smile and say, "I just want a change of environment". This makes it about the place and about the people, but about nothing in particular. It is also a diplomatic answer that shows you know how to be tactful - which a future boss might also appreciate when its her turn to be dumped by you.
posted by three blind mice at 1:01 AM on January 14, 2014

Given your concerns about the "change" line, I'd go with the people suggesting you say you'd like to work for the judge because you've heard good things about him. Wouldn't go into specifics as to how. jacquilynne (and several others) have great suggestions in this regard I think!
posted by mlle valentine at 4:32 AM on January 14, 2014

The truth is, if I get this job and it's all good, I'll definitely stay.

Well, if it was all good at your current job you'd stay too, right? This is a lateral move you're considering after the same 2-year timeframe where you've left other jobs. Few jobs are "all good" and if the only reason you're leaving your current job is because you don't like your boss, you are putting a lot of eggs in the basket held by your new boss. Two years at the new job means 4 years of doing the exact same thing, while your resume shows another 2-year tenure. Not saying you shouldn't move on, just that the boredom & job-hopping implied by your resume is worth looking at.
posted by headnsouth at 4:59 AM on January 14, 2014

Say you want to work for someone with a different management style.
posted by cupcake1337 at 5:32 AM on January 14, 2014

cupcake1337: "Say you want to work for someone with a different management style."

At which point they ask "Different how?" and the OP has to either dissemble (and sound evasive) or say something bad about her current manager (which you should never, never do in an interview).

OP, go with the advice above: you're interested in working for Judge X because of the new and different professional experiences it would give you.
posted by Lexica at 9:16 AM on January 14, 2014

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