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I am currently working for a small company that is not going to survive due to mismanagement. The director of the company is chaotic, verbally abusive, and generally pretty bad at making any sort of sensible decision for the future of the company or its employees, and changes his mind about significant projects several times a week.

Because of this, 80% of my colleagues are actively looking for another job with quite some urgency. I know this because it is openly discussed among the staff when the director is not in the office (frequently).

In a previous position I dealt with misbehaving managers by actively tackling the issue in discussion with them and their bosses, but in that case I had a large corporate structure to back me up.

As a result of all of this, I am underutilized, bored and frankly wasting my time, but I have only worked with the company for less than 6 months.

My question then:

How should I explain why I left my last job in an interview without looking like a badmouth - or a coward - and how do I approach this on my CV?

This question is related to How should I explain that I'm looking for a job because my employer may be shutting down? but is focussed on my next employer.

marked as duplicate by gnat, Dawny33, JB King, The Wandering Dev Manager, mcknz Nov 29 '15 at 18:15

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.

  • If you are only looking locally, the odds are pretty good by now that everyone in town knows that YourEmployer, Inc., is a hellhole. Put the best light on it, the way the other guys have suggested, but you might want to bear in mind that interviewers who Know The Truth might wonder why you are painting a hellhole as if it was a summer cottage in a nice area. – John R. Strohm Jun 21 '13 at 20:20
  • True Story: Several years ago, I interviewed a local guy for a job we had. (It wasn't that good a fit, which was good: he would have been wasted at that company.) He was worried about how he should explain the various different company names, as his particular company had been "merger and acquired" about half a dozen time in less years: he didn't want to look like a job-hopper. I told him, in so many words, not to worry about it, as everyone in the country knew about all those mergers and acquisitions. – John R. Strohm Jun 21 '13 at 20:22
  • Only been there six months? Just say it's a bad fit. If they press have a couple of non-sladerous/confidential examples where your personal, professional standards weren't met. – mattumotu Aug 15 at 16:17
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If you don't want to look like a badmouth, don't badmouth your previous company.

An interview is not an opportunity to preach truth from the mountaintops, it's an opportunity to sell yourself and convince the interviewer you are a good fit for their company.

If I am selling turnips, does this seem like a good sales pitch?

"Farmer A down the road was built on an old industrial waste dump -- his turnips are chemically contaminated. Farmer B across town uses the harshest pesticides possible. Farmer C tried to pass off rotten parsnips from last year to meet an order after his crop failed. Buy my turnips!"

Yet what you are saying to this company if you complain is eerily similar:

My old company had horrible management, the CEO was verbally abusive, the directors never come in to the office, and boy the pay was lousy. What? Why do I want to work here? Isn't it obvious? It can't be worse than that place!

Instead you should be using the question as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the new company and show why you're a good fit. Let's say you are looking to sell turnips for a new farmer, and that farmer is known for high-quality organic turnips with the ones he can't sell being donated to a local food shelter:

The previous turnip farmer I worked for focused on sales quantity, not quality. I am looking to work for a farmer like you who cares more about providing a quality product and supporting the community rather than just increasing sales.

The point is you want to focus the question on why you are a good fit for this company and use that as a reason that you are leaving the last one. Chances are if your old company was that bad, any positive the new company has didn't exist there.

But don't badmouth the last company. Rather than having a bad quality, it lacked a positive one. Rather than being intentionally unethical, it didn't meet your high standard of ethics.

At the end of the day, why should the company believe your complaints are justified? People come here every day and rant about their employers. Are all these employers really that bad? I know that when I read one of these rants, I usually think it reflects more on the quality of the employee than it does on the quality of the company.

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    Any manager worth his salt will look through this thinly veiled stuff: "my previous employer did not meet my high standard of ethics" -> "my previous employer was a cheat and a liar and when he was not busy kissing babies he was stealing their lollipops". – Deer Hunter Jun 21 '13 at 13:37
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    @DeerHunter Just because the hiring manager will know that there's a lot to be read between the lines doesn't mean it's a good reason to go out and say "my previous employer was a cheat and a liar". Discretion is the better part of valor and all that. – jmac Jun 23 '13 at 2:03
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    @jmac I think this answer is the one I didn't want to hear the most, but probably also the most realistic and career-focussed. I guess I sometimes feel as though everyone should know what's going on, but like you say - it's not going to get me a job. The only trouble now is what to put on the CV for current job: "I basically read stackoverflow between 12-5pm because all my suggestions for improvement are denied and the tasks I'm given are trivial and stupid". That probably won't go down too well... – remaining-anon Jun 24 '13 at 18:22
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I would simply describe what you want to achieve, and your working style, and how you can't achieve that in your current job. E.g.,

I really like delivering high quality work, but I can't do so because we don't have effective quality control in place.

Or,

I like working in a high-energy, enthusiastic environment, but with several major sales lost recently there is little work and too much office politics.

or, if pressed a bit more

I like to keep busy and work hard on projects, but there is so much change of direction that I can't settle and be as productive as I'd like to be.

There's no need at all to put anything on your CV: this should be dealt with at interview. In my experience, having had a couple of jobs that I was in for less than a year, this part of the interview doesn't take very long (despite my fears to the contrary). Interviewers were far more interested in figuring out whether I could fit into their team and help solve their problems.

A couple of jobs further on in your career, you can be a bit more honest, so long as you've managed to last a decent time in those jobs (it is important not to have a string of short-term positions). You could say at that point that everyone left, the company went under, etc. Everyone in the industry knows this stuff happens.

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    This answer has good suggestions for the way to communicate the idea, but I'm learning that I need to avoid the negative ideas more. "[...]can't achieve that in your current job" suggests that I am incapable of working with the company, and that I am leaving because of my own inadequacy rather than something more sinister. Very tricky. – remaining-anon Jun 24 '13 at 18:32
  • If I heard the first two from an interviewee, I'd ask "what steps did you take to QA your own work?" and "Can you give me some examples of the office politics?" He'd need to have good answers. A really strong answer to the first one might help him out a lot, but no good can come of the second. – Ed Plunkett Dec 4 '15 at 19:58
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When asked why you are looking for a new job (you haven't 'left your previous company' yet - or at least you shouldn't until you have a new job, no matter how terrible it is) you can confine your explanation to simple statements.

In your situation I recommend "the company is not making full use of my skills". It's true, and it's a good reason to leave. They may ask for more details, in which case talk about skills you have that are not being used. They may ask what steps you took to fix this situation within the company, and hopefully you have taken some.

An alternative is: "I don't think the company has a long term future". If you are pressed for details on this one don't say anything. Tell them you would rather not discuss the details as they are confidential.

  • "My current company is having difficulties" is a fairly standard "why are you leaving" answer. Just be sure you follow it up with a great "why do you want to work here" answer, because you don't want the interviewers thinking "he's only interviewing here because he's on a sinking ship". – Adam V Jun 21 '13 at 18:49
  • @DJClayworth I think this phrase might help. It contains everything I'm thinking but doesn't descend into mud-slinging. I'd like to think that a recruiter would understand the reasons for saying this, but I think in reality, I'm just going to come out saying something like "The company does not make full use of my skills...because they're a bunch of MORONS - ARRRGH!!!". – remaining-anon Jun 24 '13 at 18:26
  • @remaining-anon IMHO "the company is in trouble" is by far the best bet. Companies fail, and you're not required to go down with the ship. It's wise to look for a job while you still have the luxury of waiting for a good fit. And you can admit that there are problems, while flat-out refusing to badmouth anybody: The company is having trouble executing on some stuff, it's not your field, you're not directly involved, and you're grateful that such good people are grappling with that tragically insoluble problem. – Ed Plunkett Dec 4 '15 at 20:30
  • If it's true, you could mention high staff turnover and how it contributes to problems, implying it's not just you being 'sensitive' but a bigger issue. – mattumotu Aug 15 at 16:15
  • @remaining-anon Not calling your current employers a "bunch of MORONS" is an important interview skill and you should practice it. Maybe practice having a conversation with another person in which you don't insult your employers. – DJClayworth Aug 15 at 16:26
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The best way to deal with this question is to answer vaguely - something like

My current company isn't a good fit for me

The hiring manager will almost certainly ask a follow up question as to why it isn't a good fit. Find a concrete metric as to why you think the company won't survive. Try not to mention the management directly if possible, but make sure any reasonable person can read "bad management" between the lines. Try something like

We've lost half of our original team of 8 developers, and I don't want to be the last one off the ship.

or

Most of the development team is actively looking for a new job, and has openly discussed this fact with me.

If this is the first time you've job hopped after a few months, it likely won't raise any flags.

  • "Not a good fit for me" Then describe what a good fit would be. Challenging, quality, professional etc, Ask if that would be a good fit for this job? Don't lay it on too thick – mattumotu Aug 15 at 16:13

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