Interview ?: Why'd you leave your last job?
July 14, 2007 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I am planning on leaving my job soon, because I work in a "toxic" environment with a miserable and mean boss. When asked in an interview why I left this job, how am I supposed to respond?

I have decided to quit a job because my boss has become excessively abusive to the entire staff, and the environment is so negative that I hate going to work every day. Until recently, I've always loved my job (been there seven years) and I'm also very good at it. But enough is enough.

I thought I'd be in this job for a long time, so I'm really starting from scratch in looking for something new. I haven't quit yet... and depending on how bad it gets, could wait until I have a job before I leave.

The place where I work now is actually fairly high profile in the community ~ pretty much anyone I'd be interviewing with would be very familiar with it and would assume it's a really great and fun place to work. It's not my goal to ruin the reputation of the organization or my boss... I just want a new job!

Since my departure from an otherwise thriving program would seem odd, I do want to make sure they know I decided to move on rather than them thinking I was fired.

Without going into details about the actual environment, I'm just curious how I should respond in a job interview when people ask me why I want to leave (or left) this position.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Personal reasons.
posted by Effigy2000 at 1:51 PM on July 14, 2007

You could just say you're looking for a new challenge/experience/opportunity for growth.
posted by christinetheslp at 1:53 PM on July 14, 2007

Never, ever badmouth your former employers in a job interview. It just reflects badly on you and won't help you get the job. At best, the interviewer doesn't care. At worst, he/she will assume that you look for the worst in any job and will end up badmouthing your new outfit as well.

The interviewer does not want to hear that you're jumping ship ("so bail me out by hiring me"); he/she wants to know that you really want the position being offered. So to the question, "why do you want to leave that job," just turn it around: "I'm actually doing quite well at that job, but I feel that I can't pass up this opportunity because it would allow me to broaden my experience into [whatever it is]". Carry on about why you like the position being offered. The interviewer will not revisit or probe why you want to leave.

And on preview, no, don't say "Personal Reasons". That's like when somebody says "No comment" to the press. The interviewer will assume you're hiding something.
posted by beagle at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2007 [7 favorites]

Yes, for personal reasons.

I'm not sure how bad your situation was, but I know I would never get into anything negative during an interview, always positive positive positive.
posted by lain at 1:54 PM on July 14, 2007

The basic reason is that you'd rather do the job you're interviewing for than the job you're in. Talk about the new things you'll be able to do in the new job.
posted by winston at 2:12 PM on July 14, 2007

Question: "Why do you want to leave Company X to work at Company Y?"

Answer: "I have enjoyed a lot of opportunities for professional growth at Company X, but I just cannot pass up the opportunity to work at Company Y..." Then go into a routine on the positive aspects of Comapny Y and how well suited you are for the job.
posted by LarryC at 2:23 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

If it were an exit interview though, I would tell the truth. Someone's gotta know that they have a manager with a bad attitude.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 2:35 PM on July 14, 2007

When in this position myself, I just said I had a conflict of vision with the management and that I was ready to move on to someplace where I felt my vision of how things could be done might be more readily applied. That seemed to address not only, a personal conflict with a high profile person, but also a professional desire to move on from the position you were leaving.
posted by Phoenix42 at 2:47 PM on July 14, 2007

if you're interviewing for a different job, just say: i learned a lot at company a but felt like i needed new challenges. my favorite part of the job was [whatever similar skills you'll be using more often at company b].

if you're interviewing for the same job, say: i learned a lot at company a but have always been interested in [what company b does differently from company a]. i was very excited when this opportunity presented itself.

the problem with mentioning toxic environments or anything like that is that they have no reason to believe you. for all they know, you're the toxic person and you made everyone miserable around you.

what you might be able to get away with is saying that you've heard that the work environment at company b is great, that it attracts smart, collegial people and has a strong team ethic (or values individuality--whatever it is that appeals to you) and that you can see yourself flourishing in that kind of environment. but if you go this route, just make sure you're right. :)
posted by thinkingwoman at 3:14 PM on July 14, 2007

At my job i'm required to pre-screen all our applicants. If they have it listed that they left due to "conflict with management," they are immediately discarded as that is the only thing my manager told me he feels is an automatic disqualification. Keep in mind, this is retail, but I would go with "looking for a new opportunity."
posted by Ugh at 3:22 PM on July 14, 2007

I have been responsible for reviewing resumes and interviewing candidates in several past jobs, and I would have serious reservations about bringing someone in who says he or she left a job for "personal reasons." I know toxic environments exist, but "personal reasons" sounds vague and a little whiny.
posted by lunalaguna at 3:50 PM on July 14, 2007

True story.

I was worried about the whole why-you-left question when I landed a working interview across town. The manager never asked me that question because it turns out that a few years before, she had my job! She knew exactly what sort of things happened in that office and after I'd been working with her a few months confided to me that more than once she fantasized about tossing the toxic-boss out his office window onto the freeway below.

The moral of the story is that if your current employer really has a "fairly high profile in the community," chances are good that stories about your boss and your work environment have already trickled out.

But if you are asked, how about "looking for a position with more opportunity for growth/promotion/personal development." Stress the fact that 7 years in one job shows you are stable and reliable (if perhaps bored). Avoid saying negative things (you never know whether that's your current boss's cousin). If you are flatly asked "I hear that [XYZ bad thing]," I think it is probably safe to say "Well, I am not going to lie to you, but I don't want to be spreading gossip either." That says I know when to keep my mouth shut about the company, whether it is my former company or yours.
posted by ilsa at 4:07 PM on July 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

It's perfectly legitimate to just say that your current role has basically taken you as far as it can go at Company A, and leave it at that.

There are plenty of reasons why someone might be doing perfectly well and be very happy at Company A, but get hemmed in by circumstance. Maybe you're awesome, and you and your boss get along great, but the only way to get promoted is to get your boss' job, and neither of you wants that. Maybe Company A thinks your role is really important at a junior level, but it doesn't really promote that role beyond your current position. Whatever.

Let them imagine it's any one of a hundred legitimate, non-incriminating reasons. You've still basically told the truth, without going too far.
posted by LairBob at 4:27 PM on July 14, 2007

"It wasn't a good fit."

And then immediately describe why you're so interested in the opportunity you're interested in and why you're a perfect fit for it.
posted by enrevanche at 4:50 PM on July 14, 2007

You were there seven years? You don't need any "not a good fit" stuff - you can say you're ready for new opportunities and have that be wholly legitimate.
posted by judith at 4:59 PM on July 14, 2007

Yeah, I agree on "personal reasons". That's a perfectly fine answer in a social occasion, but in an interview, the question about why you're leaving is designed to elicit a revealing response. You want to be ready to tell them what they want to hear. Do they need somebody creative to shake things up? Do they need somebody stable to lock things down? Do they need somebody who will make them look good? Do they need somebody to do their job while they golf? Try to answer in a way that matches your sense of what they're looking for. Not slavishly -- just sensibly.

For some reason, I'm thinking of the Next Generation show where Picard lives another life as a workaday Starfleet astronomer. He shows up at the bigwigs table with a report, and asks Riker whether it might be possible at his age to switch to command. Mutual embarrassment follows.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on July 14, 2007

When I'm an interviewer, "personal reasons" is a red flag for me: what's going to keep personal reasons from interfering with your ability to work for me?
posted by commander_cool at 10:17 AM on July 15, 2007

I was told to imagine CLAMPS on my mouth and never say anything other than one of the reasons listed below.

C: challenge, it isn't challenging enough.
L: location, it isn't close enough to home.
A: advancement, there isn't room for any.
M: money, you aren't being paid your worth.
P: pride, you can no longer take pride in your job.
S: security, you want/need more.
posted by goml at 9:26 AM on July 16, 2007 [7 favorites]

Whenever interview questions arise here, I'm frequently amused and exasperated by the assumption that interviewers are too stupid and literal-minded to be trusted with anything resembling the truth.

Of course any sensible interviewer recognizes that sometimes it's impossible to thrive in an environment that's a bad fit, and that sometimes staffing or direction changes can turn a formerly good job sour.

I tend to prompt people to talk about bad work situations they've experienced. Everyone who isn't a total pushover has a bad work story somewhere. And nobody wants to hire a total pushover.

I then listen to see whether they can recount the stories with tact and grace, describe situations in a way that sounds realistic and good-humored rather than aggrieved and querulous, and whether they seem prepared to acknowledge their own role in whatever conflicts they describe. I'm looking for evidence that they can handle disagreements in a way that's assertive but open-minded, respectful and courteous.
posted by tangerine at 9:40 PM on July 16, 2007

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