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I went for an interview yesterday for a senior developer role. There were two developers and one manager present.

I'm no good at making up lies on the spot and the manager interrogated me over my last job.

I explained that 4 out of 5 developers resigned due to work place bullying (mostly aimed at juniors) and problems regarding their legacy codebase and database which are not fit for purpose. I also explained the technical problems in which the two developers looked at each other and nodded their heads in agreement.

The manager, however, was extremely hostile, condescending and rude, and said he agrees with my previous employer over the issues and that we were all wrong to quit. One of the interviewing developers eventually had to step in and explain to him that the situation with the legacy code IS extreme.

I don't feel I was wrong to quit as NO ONE should ever have to be bullied in order to makes ends meet and the fact that four developers all quit at the same time should have been enough to rule me out as malcontent.

Going forward, I don't feel explaining this situation will do me any good in trying to find a job.

How should I explain in future interviews the fact that I left a role with nothing else lined up due to bullying and managements total disregard to flaws in the current system that needed to be resolved for the project to be successful?

EDIT:

Please bear in mind I didn't whine by any means and totally understand no system is perfect and has flaws (I've worked with many).

Whenever I tried to talk about something positive, it was interrupted with "NO! Hang on a minute... What about such and such?”. I tried to keep it positive, but it got to the point where I was so pressured, that I revealed that out of five developers, there is one left. He replied with huge grin "And that's you then is it?”. I responded with "No, I've quit and one way or another I'm going to find something else".

marked as duplicate by gnat, Rory Alsop, DarkCygnus, scaaahu, JakeGould Jul 5 '18 at 21:55

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

  • 9
    The other question asks whether to list a company on Resume. This is different. – user61078 Jul 4 '18 at 14:30
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    You haven't quite explained (to us) in what the bullying consisted. The management being set in their ways and not agreeing to replace/rewrite legacy code isn't bullying, although it probably is bad management if most of the team quit over that. – Fizz Jul 4 '18 at 17:44
  • Wait a moment: are you asking us how to conceal your reasoning, so you can end up in exactly same situation as in the previous company and the one interviewed? – Agent_L Jul 5 '18 at 15:14
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    @Fizz to be fair OP probably doesn't want this to turn into a debate about what does and doesn't constitute bullying in the workplace. – RyanfaeScotland Jul 5 '18 at 19:04
  • @RyanfaeScotland: I have no doubt he felt bullied, since he mentioned the b word 4 times in the question. My point is that once he brings up the b-word, one almost inevitably must explain why he felt that way... especially in an interview because of the [in]famous "don't bad mouth your previous employer" rule. – Fizz Jul 5 '18 at 19:18
125

Just say that it was time to move on with your career, that the technology stack was becoming more obsolete and you need to expand your abilities and are looking for new challenges.

Bringing up workplace bullying as the reason for moving in isn't the best solution, just say that the work environment was no longer a good fit, that with staff leaving you felt that it was time to move on.

As for the manager in the interview, who does he think he is to go around proselytising and condemning people. If he's that negative with you, the interview is probably unsalvageable at this point. I've responded to unwarranted criticism with "I respect your opinion, but you're wrong". Usually shuts them up.

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    Thanks. Accepting this answer. Will say "The environment changed and was no longer a good fit. There was no further progression available so decided to move on." that should do it. – user61078 Jul 4 '18 at 14:38
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    +1 As we like to say on this site, an interview is a two way street. Sounds like the manager failed his. – rath Jul 4 '18 at 15:34
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    It is often advisable to avoid going into too much detail about "reasons for leaving". Be honest of course, but only up to a point. However, in future interviews, see what you can find out about a company that will prevent you from encountering the same situation again. This time, it seems like the manager in the interview might be someone to avoid... that's useful information! – BittermanAndy Jul 4 '18 at 16:45
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    One Recruiter told me: "No matter how bad your previsous job was, If you wan't to talk about it, to get it out of your system, go to a psy. Either you talk about opportunity, or have to move on, that will be enought to ring the bell."... "Never ever talk shit about a previous company on a recruitment. keep those anecdot for coffee break" – Drag and Drop Jul 5 '18 at 9:21
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    "I respect your opinion, but you're wrong" is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Better to say: "Respectfully, you're wrong." or "I can appreciate that you'd form a different opinion based on the little I've told you, but please believe me when I say that you don't quite have the whole picture." – AndreiROM Jul 5 '18 at 13:28
20

I'm no good at making up lies on the spot ...

Good! This is not a skill you want to have! Be honest, be positive, but be picky about what you choose to share. Don't feel you have to tell them the whole truth unless you would mislead them by omission. The problems of your previous employer are no business of your next employer.

I explained that 4 out of 5 developers resigned due to work place bullying (mostly aimed at juniors) and problems regarding their legacy codebase and database which are not fit for purpose.

The manager was probably thinking, "If I hire this person, will they cast my company in a negative light when they leave?" I understand that working at (and leaving) your previous company was very emotional, but your next manager doesn't want to hear this. They don't want to take on someone with a lot of baggage, whether justified or not.

One of the interviewing developers eventually had to step in and explain to him that the situation with the legacy code IS extreme.

Actually, every single place I've worked at has had big problems with legacy code, including my current workplace (which I love working at, by the way). Legacy code can be written two years ago, or even yesterday! I would recommend reading Working Effectively with Legacy Code by Michael C. Feathers.

How should I explain in future interviews the fact that I left a role with nothing else lined up ...

The reason is irrelevant. Again, they don't want to hear about your previous problems. What I've said in the past (to explain a two-year working gap due to bullying and stress) is that I had been working for 5 years straight previously and I was taking personal time, and I was now ready to reenter the workforce. If pressed for details about what I did in that time, I would talk about my hobbies, travel, and positive things I'd been doing. I would never mention that I'd been in therapy, or any difficulties I'd had in that time.

That being said, you should pay attention to any alarm bells during an interview. The jobs where I've been the most unhappy are where I've ignored odd things during the interview process. If the new manager's behaviour seems like your old manager's problematic behaviour, you probably shouldn't take the job and don't worry about them.

I've used my past experiences to refine what I'm looking for in a job. Frequent 10-12 hour working days are a deal breaker for me no matter what else is offered. My health comes first. I know that this goes against programming culture (work whatever hours necessary to get the work done) but not all workplaces are like this. It's the same with bullying: not all workplaces are like this.

If you find yourself strapped for cash and need a job but it's not ideal, stay there while looking for a better environment elsewhere. I endured about 3 months at the end of my last job looking for a better opportunity, and I visited the new office to make sure it really was as good as it seemed before accepting the offer. I was interviewed close to my home for my convenience, which is why I hadn't been there already. Take your time when looking for your next long-term opportunity.

Your situation sounds very similar to positions I've been in. When asked why I wanted to leave my current job, I would reply that I'd grown as much as possible in that job, I wanted more challenges than they could provide, etc. without once even hinting at how much I hated working there.

Find your positive truth and ignore the negative. This will make you much more attractive in the eyes of a potential employer.

Good luck!

  • Good answer, but the positive spin you describe is much, much easier when you haven't already quit a while ago. "I'd grown as much as possible in that job" isn't as strong when "that job" was a few months ago and hasn't yet been followed by another job. Needs something extra – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 5 '18 at 13:46
  • The thing is, the fact that he quit the job before he found something else hints that there must have been something toxic going on, which the hiring Manager seems to be fishing for. So, I'm not sure how much 'put a positive spin on it' really solves the problem. – Time4Tea Jul 5 '18 at 19:07
  • @user568458 If you believe I've addressed your concerns in my edit, please delete your comment. – CJ Dennis Jul 5 '18 at 22:58
  • @Time4Tea If you believe I've addressed your concerns in my edit, please delete your comment. – CJ Dennis Jul 5 '18 at 22:59
  • Not sure I agree that the reason for a gap in employment is irrelevant. In this case, by answering honestly, the OP identified a potentially hostile Manager, that they probably wouldn't have gotten on well with anyway. Nothing wrong with that, if you ask me! (P.s. looks like the question has been flagged as a duplicate anyway) – Time4Tea Jul 6 '18 at 0:57
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One, you should put your complaints in a more tactful shape: You, and several other employees, disagreed with the management style. And you didn’t see a chance to progress with your professional development.

Two, that interviewer belongs to a rare breed. He has no right to tell you that you were wrong to quit. He isn’t walking in your shoes. Most employers know that a good working environment makes better employees. So don’t worry about getting a new job, you just ran into a dinosaur and were lucky to escape.

And what if the interviewer asks what exactly was wrong with the management style? In that case, you are not telling, you are responding to a question. Different situation. So this isn't exactly difficult.

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    Concerning the first part of your answer: it sounds good, however the interviewers would then almost certainly ask OP what the "management style" was. And then he would need to go into detail anyway... It's a very difficult situation. – BigMadAndy Jul 4 '18 at 13:28
  • The interviewer may not ask. I think "disgreed with management style" is a fairly well known euphemism. Of course they may ask in which case you are right that the asker should be prepared but it doesn't need to be difficult. It is a good idea to phrase your response as a positive. "I prefer to work in a collaborative team based organisation where the opinions of the individuals on the team are taken in to account and my old organasition moved away from that to an older style of management". – Eric Nolan Jul 5 '18 at 10:50
13

I actually think this was a relatively successful interview. You described an intolerable condition at your previous job and your prospective manager got defensive. You don't want to land back in that situation any more than they want you.

The main problem I've had in the past is describing a situation and not accurately conveying its degree. Your prospective employer might be thinking, "I put pressure on employees to meet deadlines." or "We use some legacy middleware." So head off those objections before they can be made:

I realize every company has legacy software to support, which would be done differently if started green field today, and I actually agree we shouldn't jump on every fad, but my previous employer refused to consider any new technology, even in cases where it was perfectly feasible to drop into a new project, and where the legacy technology was not merely old, it was the completely wrong tool for the job."

or

I realize every company occasionally has deadlines that get set by business needs rather than technical feasibility, and I certainly am willing to step up and do the occasional overtime to help the business succeed. However, I also expect my employer to do this in a respectful manner, and to listen to their engineers' suggestions about alternate ways to address the situation, and suggestions to avoid getting into that situation too frequently in the future. Without the two-way feedback, my previous situation essentially devolved into bullying.

And maybe throw in a compliment for good managers you've had in the past:

Some of my favorite managers in the past were very good about listening to feedback from their employees, so I know not every company operates like the one I just left.

Interviewers realize that most of the time you leave an old job due to irreconcilable differences with the employer, especially if you left before having something lined up. They ask the question anyway because they want to make sure you won't be just as unhappy at the new job. If you couch your descriptions like above and they still get defensive, you probably don't want to work there. Your ideal manager will be internally comparing himself or herself to the "favorite managers" you mentioned, and be thinking, "This guy likes my management style, and will give me good feedback."

  • 3
    Exactly. OP quit one place of bullying and this interview detected another one. The interview works both ways, it's not OP who failed but it's the manager being hostile. – Agent_L Jul 5 '18 at 15:12
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    I think this is the best answer and it's a shame the OP didn't accept it. This sounds like a good interview outcome where, through being honest, they detected a hostile Manager that they woudn't have been happy working with. Where's the problem? ;-) – Time4Tea Jul 5 '18 at 19:13
  • @Time4Tea, yes, I think it's a shame this answer hasn't received more attention. It's a hidden gem; I agree it's the best one here. – Wildcard Jul 5 '18 at 19:23
7

If an interviewer insists on asking, it's fine to talk about problems at a previous job. But you should never talk about "bullying". That's a term that has been bandied about way too much, so that no one knows what it means. Were you forced to stand and listen to a humiliating description of all your faults at company meetings? Or did someone object to the way you named your variables?

Instead, limit yourself to facts. I left one company because the parent company was run by incompetent bullies, but I would never phrase it that way. I could come up with several instances that were clearly done very poorly, due to the poor company management. If the interviewer wanted reasons, I'd bring those up, just as a straight factual account, without talking about emotions.

2

You need to be very careful using the "B" word. Try to remember that from the "older generations" perspective that word is used to much and everyone in the "we all get a trophy" generation is being unrealistic.

The problem is (sorry for the small soapbox), that in some cases bullying has had too big of a scope, and "participation rewards" have ruined competition and made younger workers unfit for the real world. That may not be the case here but as soon as you said "bullying" you very likely put the perspective manager into that mindset.

Instead, you should avoid the B word and use less direct stories about your previous situation. You should also try to word the experience as a positive. No one wants to work with someone that only complains, could be an HR nightmare, and has unrealistic expectations about competition and teamwork. From the OP that's very possibly how you came off.

I learned a lot about [insert stuff here]. It was a very educational experience, but I wanted to look for a different opportunity. I want to work more in the area of [insert your language or whatever here] and they just are not able to provide that. I finally decided that it would be better for me if I just move to a new employer. One where I was a better match.

You get across the same point, but without making the perspective manager into your therapist. No one cares that your last job sucked. That's implied by you looking for a new one.

2

So, you need an honest, short answer to this question that:

  • Doesn't dwell on negatively: risking you looking like an inflexible complainer who is hard to manage (or worse, someone who might have led a revolt where four employees walked out at once - managers literally have nightmares about such things)
  • Does satisfy someone curious about the gap in your work history, quickly so you can move on, leaving a generally positive impression

This last part is the difficult part - how do you satisfy someone that no job was better than your last job, without coming across as negative?

The best way to do this is to set the context of someone who is taking some time to make sure you're working to their full potential. Which is true - you want something where you can achieve more than your old job, and you were prepared to take some time to make sure you got it. Then turn the discussion to the positives of this job, and how you did achieve things in your old job, despite limitations, and you'll achieve even more here.

For example, suppose what you're thinking is:

I hated working at OldCorp. I was sick of using punch cards, which is the legacy system management clung to because they thought microchips were possessed by evil spirits. Also, they beat us with iron bars, which I'm really surprised isn't illegal

...and the interview is with NewCorp, who use NewTech and a NewMGT approach to management:

I work better using systems like NewTech and in a NewMGT environment. I'd taken every opportunity available at OldCorp, but unlike NewCorp, they're limited in their ability to move on from punch cards and beating employees with iron bars.

You still need to satisfy any curiosity or concern about why you quit before finding a new job - use it to move the conversation to better ground. For example:

I managed to [some achievement], but after [X time], I decided I could achieve much more if I took some time to find a company where I could work to my full potential.

...which is true - you're just not dwelling on how low you felt what you could achieve and were motivated to achieve was at OldCorp. Then elaborate and move the conversation on:

In fact the [some achievement] project really illustrates how much better I can work using NewTech. For example, I encountered X problem. I solved it by using one of the iron bars to beat back the rats that were eating the punch cards, but if OldCorp had used NewTech, I could have...

The conversation is now somewhere you can show off how good you'd be in this new job, and you've given a satisfactory answer, leaving an overall impression of, "This person is ambitious and proactive, and can get things done in difficult circumstances" (not "This person might be trouble").

1

1) Regarding the Manager in question, who interviewed you, who you don't like:

If you truly don't like that person - don't work there. How else can it be?

2) Regarding "why you left" some other job:

Never, ever, ever go in to detail. It just makes you sound like a whiner.

Just state that "the technical quality of work was bad" and the "pay and benefits were low" so you obviously left. That's all you say.

Going forward, I don't feel explaining this situation will do me any good in trying to find a job.

Never, ever, ever, ever whine about a past situation.

Just state that you happened to leave because a much better opportunity came along.

How should I explain in future interviews the fact that I left a role due to [blah reasons you didn't like management there]

Quite simply, never, ever explain why you happened to leave a past contract or job.

Never, ever, ever, ever complain about past management. The specific details - bullying, poor technical choices - whatever - are totally irrelevant. Simply never complain about past management.

But the basic problem you face:

"flaws in the current system..."

Every software system you will ever work on, from now until death, will have massive flaws.

In software engineering, complaining about "flaws in a system" is an absolute mark of a junior, totally inexperienced programmer.

This learning experience is a great opportunity to adopt a really professional attitude about the keys to what you say in interviews. Two of those keys are

  1. Never whine about past situations!

  2. Always remember that the mark of an inexperienced junior programmer, is complaining about "flaws in a software project".

Hope it helps!

  • 11
    "Just state that you happened to leave because a much better opportunity came along" Did you read the question? I'm interviewing for a new position after leaving the old one. That answer is irrelevant. "complaining about "flaws in a system" is an absolute mark of a junior, totally inexperienced programmer." I have 10 years experience, worked with a wide range of technologies and several different industries. You honestly need to see how bad the system is to judge. – user61078 Jul 4 '18 at 14:47
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    I disagree, but that's what the site is about ! Cheers – Fattie Jul 4 '18 at 15:14
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    Fattie's advice is an absolutely true rule of interviewing. Whatever negatives you bring up about your past job or past management are projected on to YOU, even if you are "right"! If you complain about anything, you appear to be a complainer. – Pete Jul 4 '18 at 19:27
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    This answer can do without the preachy attitude, but yeah, complaining about previous management, co-workers, or employer is going to reflect badly on the candidate. This is true even if the complaints are totally justified and, in fact, bad bosses is why many people actually leave jobs. – teego1967 Jul 4 '18 at 23:13
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    +1 for "Regarding "why you left" some other job: Never, ever, ever go in to detail", -1 for missing the point of the question and not giving a suggestion of how to deflect the question when asked that actually fits their circumstances (left a while ago, nothing since) = +0 – user56reinstatemonica8 Jul 5 '18 at 13:51