It happens in nearly every interview. You hear some variation of the words:
- Why did you leave your last job?
- Why do you want to leave your current position?
- Can I call your previous employer for a recommendation?
If you recently left a position on bad terms, all of these questions ultimately open the same conversation. It can be awkward, at best. It can destroy your chances at future employment, at worst. The outcome depends entirely on how you handle your response.
Here are four things to keep in mind as you explain leaving your previous job on bad terms:
Try to focus on the positive reasons you left your position. For example, explain that you were seeking new challenges, pursuing a different work environment, or looking to take on new responsibilities when you made your decision to leave.
If you must mention a negative experience, avoid naming specific people and make sure to highlight the differences between your old company and the business you’re interested in working for now. Emphasize, if possible, that your accomplishments made a difference and your performance was entirely positive.
In this uncomfortable situation, there’s absolutely no reason to lie. Focus on the true reason you left, rather than a pre-packaged box of excuses.
Your new employer deserves to know what you seek in a business environment that your previous employer lacked. Perhaps you’ll be guaranteed a positive change, should you get hired.
Practice, Practice, Practice
There’s no reason to believe this conversation won’t present itself during your job interview, so take a few minutes (or hours) to practice your responses to even the most frustrating questions.
It may help to practice in front of a mirror. If you watch yourself practice long enough, you’ll feel more comfortable with your emotions and therefore prepared to examine them at length before heading into your interview.
Understanding your thoughts and feelings in reference to your previous job can help you outline those feelings for your potential employer, who will almost certainly want to hear them.
When discussing your previous position and the circumstances surrounding your departure, don’t spend too much time talking about the past. Focus on the qualities and challenges you’re looking for in the future. This will show your interviewer that you’re ready to move on. At this point, they’ll be more likely to move on, too.
Remember, your interviewer has already seen your resume. If there were serious concerns about your work history, you likely wouldn’t have been invited to interview in the first place. Don’t get caught up on technicalities and labels. Just be straightforward and honest, and you’ll get where you need to go.
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