Getting Over a Bad (Employer) Break-Up

Published: Sep 03, 2015

Talking about an ex can be uncomfortable, and many of us try to avoid it at all costs, but what if the ex in question is an ex-employer?

According to our experts, there is no way around having to answer questions about a former employer (or one you are about to say goodbye to) in an interview, and what a candidate says can bear significant weight. So, how can a job seeker most professionally answer questions about a past employer? Our experts have the answers on how to best answer these tricky questions, even if the break-up wasn't pretty.


Keep it brief.
Patrick Lynch, president of The Frontier Group and managing partner of OI Partners Atlanta, warns that less is more when it comes to discussing previous employers. "One of the most common mistakes that candidates make is providing detailed explanations and rationales regarding why they left. These overly long answers can inadvertently open up lines of questioning and concerns from recruiters," Lynch says. While long winded explanations can come across as unprofessional and overly emotional, Lynch cautions that offering an evasive response about past bosses and employers is not the answer either. "Providing vague or opaque answers will send the message that you are hiding something," he adds. So, if you want to ace this question, Lynch advises keeping answers simple and direct.


Don't take the opportunity to vent.
No matter how miserable the situation with an employer was or still is, our experts say that an interview with a potential new employer is not the time to vent. "While it may be true that your last boss was a micro-manager, that you were bored with what you were doing or that they wouldn't give you a raise, none of that will help you land your next job," explains Denise P. Kalm, chief innovator at California-based marketing and communications services firm Kalm Kreative, Inc. Laura Labovich, CEO of job search strategy coaching firm The Career Strategy Group, agrees that candidates should avoid playing the blame game. "The truth is, if you sound bitter, you won't get hired.Period. There's no second chance with this one," she warns.


Keep it positive.
When discussingcurrent and past employers, Stephen Murray, principal consultant for career coaching and training firm, Agility Group, recommends that candidates highlight positive experiences they had with the company. Murray advises that candidates focus on the skills or experiences that relate to the job they are currently interviewing for versus harping on negatives from the past. "Make sure you are honest but frame your responses to focus on your learning, strengths, and professional growth," he instructs. Labovich also encourages candidates to emphasize the learning opportunities they had at their last job, rather than naming the negative aspects. She recommends candidates stick to phrases like "learned a great deal from", "enjoyed my time there because" or "got a lot of great experience from". Both Murray and Labovich caution that hiring managers will be looking for "red flags" in candidate responses, so rather than taking the time to complain about a miserable boss from the past, candidates should spend their time showcasing key leadership qualities like conflict management, objectivity, maturity and professionalism.


Keep your cool.
"Most people are looking for new jobs because something just wasn't right at their last (or current) job," explains Sara Sutton, founder and CEO of Colorado-based Sutton warns job seekers to keep their composure when answering questions about a past employer. "If they ask for more information, be sure to stay unemotional, calm, and even-toned in your responses," Suttons says. Mayer Dahan, CEO of real estate development firm Dahan Properties, agrees that hiring managers are more attracted to candidates that can speak about a past employer eloquently. "If they run down their previous employer, it's a red flag not to hire them. However, if they tastefully explain that their expectations of the job were not met in a courteous manner, I admire their honesty and ability to express aversion without coming off as bad-mouthing," he explains. No matter how bad the situation with a past or soon to be ex-employer, all of our sources agree that bashing former employers in an interview will only reflect poorly on the candidate. Our experts advise that keeping things positive will go a long way in landing that next great job.

Happy Hunting!
The Team at

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