Dear Employment Specialist,
I am an experienced bookkeeper who recently left a job that I had held for 7 years, after having a very difficult experience with my boss that lasted years. I have now begun looking for new work, but am unsure how to explain why I left the job without looking bad.
I left because I was feeling bullied by my manager, and was becoming very unhappy at work. For the first 5 years, I was perfectly happy – I enjoyed my work (and am good at it!) and I had a positive and supportive relationship with all my colleagues, including my manager. 2 years ago, the company was taken over by new management, and they replaced many of my colleagues and managers with their own staff. The atmosphere in the office completely changed. My new manager never had a good word to say to me. She wasn’t clear about what she wanted and yelled at me in front of my colleagues. I tried to not take it personally, but I was getting unhappier by the day, going home crying and hating my work. Eventually, I had to leave, for the sake of my own mental health.
I am now looking for a new job. What do I tell interviewers when they ask what happened to the last job? What do I do about a reference? Do I tell the truth?
It sounds like you have been through a very trying time. Good on you for prioritizing yourself and leaving that job. Obviously, your health should always come first.
But now, you are in a difficult position. The challenge for you is that employers usually want to know how the last job ended, and they often ask for references from your last manager. It’s a challenge for you to find the right thing to say — if you lie about what happened at the end of that job, you are taking a huge risk that you will be found out; being caught in a lie will end any prospects of you getting hired by that employer – telling the truth, on the other hand, is a challenge too, as employers are nervous if they think you might be a source of conflict in the office.
Despite the challenges, I recommend that you find a way to tell the interviewer what actually happened. You don’t have to share every detail. Try to not sound too emotional or overly critical of your previous employer. Reassure the interviewer that you have never had conflict before on the job, and that the first 5 years with that company were very positive, as were your prior jobs. Give them a sense that this was an anomaly – a one-off incident that you don’t expect will ever happen again.
You definitely do not need to tell the interviewer everything. Tell them enough so that they understand why you felt the need to leave the job and seek out a most suitable employer. Try not to bad-mouth the company unnecessarily and focus on yourself instead.
Could you find a reference from a colleague or previous supervisor? One of the best ways to reassure an employer that you are credible and that you get along well with others is by using good references. You could even tell the interviewer that you are confident that your references will confirm that you are generally a strong team player and a positive influence in your jobs. Coach your references to talk about your positive and constructive team work style.
Focus on the future and try to spend as little time as possible on the negative experience without sounding like you’re avoiding answering the question.
To prepare, think carefully through what you want to tell an interviewer, and write the answer out. Practice it, so you know it well. The less stressed you are about this issue, and the more confidently you can handle the answer, the less of a concern it will be to the interviewer.
Best of luck with your job search!