My boss is a crazy megalomaniac! Please hire me?
April 5, 2014 10:26 AM   Subscribe

How do I explain why I left my job when I'm leaving due to issues with my boss?

I am quitting my job because of my boss. He is, as the subject line says, a crazy megalomaniac. He runs the office like it's his personal fiefdom, and keeps everyone in line through bullying and coercion. When I first started, people warned me about spies who would take notes on everything I did and send them along to the boss. He uses staff meetings to berate individual people for minor issues (think misspelled memo, leaving an hour early for a doctor's appointment, not doing a task he never assigned). He also harasses most of the women on the staff, which is what finally got to me.

Because I told him to cut out the touching and stood up to him a couple of other times, he hates me and is making my life extremely difficult - to the point where I am quitting.

The tricky bit is that it's a contract position, and I am leaving before the end of my contract, which is quite rare in my industry. I have a few job interviews lined up and they will all ask why I'm leaving my job, and...I don't really know what to say. I know you're not supposed to complain about your boss in job interviews, and I know that if I tell them that my boss is awful and sexually harasses me, they'll just think I'm a complainer who might turn on them, too. But what do I say? My boss is the only reason I am quitting. I like everything else about the job. "It wasn't a good fit" sounds weird and nebulous and leaves too many options available. My boss is actually just that awful, and I can't do it anymore.

Staying and fulfilling my contract is not an option; this is ruining my life. I've been there a couple years so I can't leave it off my resume. I just want to know how to explain this in the future. I've gotten along well with all of my previous supervisors, and have plenty of references.

Bonus question: My boss will retaliate if I give notice, so I'm not planning to. Is that going to screw me forever?

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How will potential employers know that you're leaving before the end of your contract?

"It wasn't a good fit" is widely known to be the polite and correct way of saying "those people were terrible." Couch it in compliments (which works especially well since you've been there for a decent chunk of time) and redirect back to the things you want to talk about - namely, how awesome you are. So: "I learned so much at Widgets Associated, especially in terms of widget sourcing and development. It turned out to be not the fit I wanted, and I felt that I was outgrowing the role - I'm so excited to start taking on some new challenges. All in all, I'm really grateful for the time I had at W.A."

I quit without notice once, when I already had a job lined up.

Good luck with the interviews!
posted by punchtothehead at 10:33 AM on April 5, 2014 [7 favorites]

"It isn't a good fit" is, as you say, weird and nebulous - and is generally understood to be a professional euphemism for "They hate me or I hate them." Besides, you want to focus primarily on why you really really can't wait to join the team at NewCompany Inc, rather than why you're leaving per se; you focus on the future and not the present/past. When I interview, I try to mention my current job's shortcomings only when absolutely necessary, and emphasize what I'd love about the new job.

"Well, I'm very excited about the opportunities here to be expand my current goat wrangling skills to include goat cuddling. Oh, why not cuddle goats where I am now? It's just not a great fit, and I think this would be a much better place for my next career move in the goat industry."
posted by Tomorrowful at 10:43 AM on April 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

I've interviewed for jobs many times and so far no one has ever asked me why I left a previous job. If they do ask you, just say, "it wasn't working out for me".
posted by octothorpe at 10:45 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

The reasons to give notice are that (1) it's a politeness to your soon-to-be-former employer allowing them time to find a replacement and (2) if your new employer calls for a recommendation or some such, your old employer will more likely have nice things to say. In this case, (2) is out because your boss already hates you, and you have no reason to be polite to that jackass so (1) isn't a concern either. You're not screwed forever, plenty of people in the history of mankind have quit with no notice and managed to find another job. I'd use the tried-and-true "wasn't a good fit" in interviews and change the subject subtly if you get asked.
posted by axiom at 10:46 AM on April 5, 2014

"It's not that I want to leave the position I have, as much as I really want to work here because blah blah blah."


"I filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against my crazy megalomaniac ex-boss for everything he's worth."

Either one sounds like a good plan to move forward.
posted by mibo at 10:55 AM on April 5, 2014

"he runs the office like it's his personal fiefdom, and keeps everyone in line through bullying and coercion."

that's called management. there's a continuum in management style from dictatorial to collegial. "it wasn't a good fit" is a perfectly cromulent answer; for bonus points "i didn't feel like their corporate vision would eventually vault them into the top tier of american companies."
posted by bruce at 11:09 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Mibo, saying you filed a lawsuit against your previous employer is a good way to not get hired.
posted by ryanrs at 11:10 AM on April 5, 2014 [16 favorites]

Never, ever, EVER say anything bad about a previous manager, even if he was a total jerk.

Turn this into an opportunity to show off your knowledge of the technology/vision/mission of the company you're interviewing for, like:

"My contract is ending soon, and I thought an opportunity with you would be a natural fit. I'm really excited about the XYZ project you just rolled out to ABC. Expanding into X market is great because of Y. There's a lot of potential to do Z."
posted by mochapickle at 11:19 AM on April 5, 2014 [14 favorites]

"I found the experience valuable but I think my career goals and my skillset are better suited to this organization" And be prepared to explain why that is.

HR are not your friends. They exist to protect management rather than employees.

The less information you provide about your soon-to-be-former work environment and the more information about your skills the better.

"My boss will retaliate if I give notice, so I'm not planning to."

Yeah, don't. Shopping around for a new job while still employed is pretty much standard these days.
posted by vapidave at 11:31 AM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Does your boss not have a boss?
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:43 AM on April 5, 2014

Reflect on the ways the new job is different than the old job: different responsibilities in the position, larger/smaller company, specific projects or vision at the new place, better fit for your lifestyle/geography (only use this one in tandem with a "better" reason)... Pick one or two and practice explaining why these things are so appealing for you and, importantly, how the new position will allow you to use your skill/experience X to impact growth/sales/the team/etc., even if it is slightly BS.

I wouldn't even use "It wasn't a good fit" because it's vagueness reads slightly negative and you also don't want to appear cagey. You learned a lot (give concrete examples of accomplishments or skills) but believe this new position will give you even more opportunity to do X thing that fits in with your career goals/allows you to make a bigger impact/etc.

Will it be obvious to the new employer that you are ending your current contract early? If not, don't conceal it but don't bring it up in an interview. If they will automatically realize this or bring it up specifically, explain that it is important to you finish what you start so you aren't making this decision lightly, but in this case you could not pass up the new opportunity because X.
posted by dahliachewswell at 12:38 PM on April 5, 2014

That you're on contract then yes, just say that I was at the end of my contract and looking for new work and opportunities that would further challenge me etc.

My concern is this: "Staying and fulfilling my contract is not an option".

Are you contractually allowed to quit without warning before your contract is completed? It sounds to me that you're in for a lot more trouble from your current workplace if this is not the case than having to answer a question from a new employer about why you left.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 12:44 PM on April 5, 2014

I am quitting my job because of my boss. He is, as the subject line says, a crazy megalomaniac. He runs the office like it's his personal fiefdom, and keeps everyone in line through bullying and coercion.

Hi, HR here. I'm the guy who's gonna interview you for your next job. Go ahead and tell me how your boss was crazy, and had unreasonable expectations. I'll write all that down , and after the interview I will write you a nice rejection letter.

Workers who complain about their bosses are a dime a dozen, and the way HR sees it is 'hmm...we hired managers who would be able to increase employees productivity...if this guy has had problems with people who pushed him in the past, he's going to have problems here.

People are dicks. Bosses are bigger dicks. They are supposed to be, you need to manage that up until the point when something illegal goes down. Then you get to complain. Until then, your complaints will make potential employers think there will be an issue.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:24 PM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Bonus question: My boss will retaliate if I give notice, so I'm not planning to. Is that going to screw me forever?

Totally unprofessional. If it was a "he said, she said", most people would side with the boss. there an HR person you can contact? Tell that person about all of this, so it's at least in the boss's own file. So if something like his is reported again, he won't be able to say 'this is baseless".
posted by hal_c_on at 1:28 PM on April 5, 2014

Re: the notice thing, why can't you get a new job, then give two weeks or whatever notice at your current job? If your boss doesn't like it he can fire you on the spot -- which is the functional equivalent of not giving notice -- and then if this issue comes up, you can say you gave notice.
posted by J. Wilson at 2:20 PM on April 5, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't give notice until you've lined something else up.

Find a job, then give notice. Any new gig won't mind waiting two weeks. If your boss retaliates, take it like a champ and count down your days and laugh.
posted by pmv at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2014

The fact that you're on a contract changes the rule on whether you need to give two weeks' notice. In my industry (and all the ones I've worked in) you do not need to do that if you're a contractor; everyone understands that a contractor could quit on the spot if she got a better gig. But your industry may have a different practice.

In your interview, you just say "my contract is ending soon, and I am so excited for this opportunity because [of how your skills will make you able to contribute in the role]." If they ask about your job, talk about how much you've learned (so as to turn it back around to how you will be able to contribute.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 4:40 PM on April 5, 2014

If your boss is like that, he probably has a reputation in the industry. There's a very good chance whoever is interviewing you will know why you are leaving, and will simply be watching to see how professional you are in the interview. "Not a good fit" followed by enthusiasm about new challenges is the standard, expected response in such situations.

Re notice, I agree with the suggestion to give two weeks once you have accepted another offer. Most employers would be surprised that someone would be available to start before that, and it might raise eyebrows. If your boss doesn't like it, he can tell you not to work through that period. And, if he gets nasty, well, there are a lot of viruses going around these days.
posted by rpfields at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

hal_c_on: "People are dicks. Bosses are bigger dicks. They are supposed to be, you need to manage that up until the point when something illegal goes down. Then you get to complain. Until then, your complaints will make potential employers think there will be an issue."

Please don't take this as holy writ, because not every company takes this dysfunctional a view of manager-employee relationships. In my professional opinion, having been both a manager and a managee, the point of employees and managers is for the employee to do the best they can within a limited scope of understanding, and the manager to do the best they can to make sure that the employee's efforts fit into the larger strategy.

The relationship should always be professional and civil, even if there's a point of disagreement: if there's friction, it should be managed so that everyone is on the same page as to what's going on.

Now, that said, to your question.

Full disclosure: I work in the Internet industry, and, culturally, things may work a bit differently in our industry.

One way that I've seen this handled diplomatically in interviews is what I call the "tactical diffidence" approach. When asked about why you're leaving, say something incredibly, obviously neutral, like the suggestions above of "not a good fit" or even something like "it was an interesting place to work, and becoming more so".

I've seen the second deployed to great effect, because all of us interviewing were smart enough to put two and two together: oh, it was interesting and getting more so, yet you're interviewing, so you mean interesting NOT IN A GOOD WAY.

I've also seen the Dramatic Understatement used: the food was great, or I never had a problem finding parking. If that's all you say in response to "why are you leaving?", you've managed the simultaneous trick of saying something completely neutral, or even positive, while at the same time communicating that you would rather jam sticks into your eyes than continue working there.

Overall, the advice you're getting here to either be scrupulously neutral or avoid the topic entirely is spot on. In general, I don't talk about previous employers: if I want to know why someone's looking for work, I use a phrase like "you're obviously qualified and good at what you do: you could go anywhere, so why us?" It does two things: first, it flatters the interviewee and relaxes them a bit, second, it helps me see how much they really know about our company, and third, it tends to elicit answers that are more useful in predicting future success at our company.

In terms of notice, giving notice is a convenience, not a hard-and-fast rule. In at-work states, you can be fired with no notice at all, but you can also leave with no notice. Don't worry about that following you around, especially if everything else about your professional career is sterling. The people interviewing you are humans, and get that things don't always go smoothly. And if your prior boss tries to retaliate, your new employers will recognize that for what it is.
posted by scrump at 10:24 AM on April 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think of "why are you leaving your old job" as a test of your professionalism. What interviewers are looking for is someone who is going to fit in, get along with people, and not stir up shit. They want someone who doesn't gossip, can take constructive criticism, and isn't nuts. They know you're leaving your old job because you weren't happy there, so that question is a test to see if you can judge a situation coolly, dispassionately, and fairly, and whether you can express dissatisfaction with it in a way that isn't snotty and nasty. "It wasn't a good fit" is a good response here; there's no way to be more specific about the problems with your boss that won't sound like whining or gossiping, so don't do it. And when you think about it, that response is actually true--you want to work with people who are respectful and professional, so the environment you're in isn't a good fit for you. A good follow-up to "not a good fit" is something like, "I'm really excited about using and expanding my skills in [x] by working on the [y] you're doing here." That will get the conversation going in a more comfortable and positive direction.

Best of luck to you, and I hope you're able to get into a better situation soon. Hang in there.
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 10:22 AM on April 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

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