I am currently in the job market for a leadership role, and could use some advice on how to answer this question objectively.

My previous position was in many ways a dream job. The company was having explosive growth, I had been promoted three times in four years, and was a key player in driving much of the change that the company was experiencing. I had the respect of my team and coworkers, in a very fun and familial environment with fabulous benefits and fun, challenging work. Almost everything about it was wonderful.

However, my director was a terrible individual to work for. He was opportunistic and Machiavellian, often pitting team members against each other for promotion opportunities, twisting and spinning situations to his advantage, and other really shady stuff. The dealbreaker was two-fold:

  1. For the third time in a row he promoted his buddy over me, even though the popular consensus was that I had outperformed his buddy. (I say this objectively; a number of people approached me afterwards and expressed their shock and dismay at his choice.)
  2. Although he routinely took credit for my ideas, on one particular circumstance did it so blatantly that again others were alarmed at his audacity. This is how he got promoted to VP. The C-level execs loved him, and now he's a VP, so I had no avenues available to address the problem.

So I quit. I had other opportunities already waiting, and it was obvious to me that I would never be able to reach my full potential under this director.

But this is all very negative, and I don't want to come across as catty or fickle. I loved the company, loved the people, loved the job. Hated my director. How can I explain (preferably in much fewer words!) this candidly in an interview so that it's obvious that I left due to ethical and philosophical reason, and without sounding bitter or trite?

  • 5
    What is wrong with saying the following "I left my previous position broaden my work experience at another company" or something to that effect. Basically say "I wanted to work for somebody else"
    – Donald
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 12:09
  • 1
    This is don't quite answer your question- but good employers, if presented with right perspective will understand your point. The important point is to present your aspiration rather than conflict. What you need to show that you consider growth and recognition is important to you and prove that you are capable of making good contribution given the environment. Though not directly relevant to your case, this might give you a good perspective dipanmehta.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/… Commented May 29, 2013 at 17:02
  • related: How to respond to “Why are you looking for a new job?”
    – gnat
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 11:42
  • You could just point to this question now (; Commented Nov 1, 2014 at 1:06
  • Not a duplicate, check timestamps.
    – kmunky
    Commented Jan 8, 2016 at 19:22

5 Answers 5


it was obvious to me that I would never be able to reach my full potential

There you go. Add "at that company" instead of pointing to a specific individual and you have your answer.

It's honest. It's not negative. It doesn't stink of you missing out information. It's saying "I'm better than I could be there. I believe you offer me more potential to grow."

If the interviewer digs further, remain honest. Some of us accept that people don't usually move companies without some negativity, and we're asking because we want to know if you have issues with something that will also be an issue at our company.

But, to beat off the interviewer who just churns out stock questions and expects you to remain positive, "it was obvious to me that I would never be able to reach my full potential at ..." will work just fine.

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    Love it. And it makes a perfect way to pivot to praising the opportunity - "and it sounds like your position would offer these interesting challenges that would let me grow in my skills... " Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:19
  • Thanks pdr, really like your answer. I tend towards candor over euphemism, which is in part why I'm fretting over this question. I know that if I say what I really feel, as I am wont to do, it would be difficult for me to phrase it positively. So if asked "Why do you feel you didn't have any further opportunity to grow", how might I address that directly? (I have my own ideas on this, of course, but I'm abstaining in favor of the forums' unbiased perspective.)
    – kmunky
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:46
  • @kmunky: To some extent, you have to read the room with any interview response. The answer above can be turned into a full-and-frank answer, or continued in the same vein ("I just felt that the structure of the company was such that the next step wasn't going to happen any time soon."). That's why I'm very keen on honesty with the opening.
    – pdr
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 19:25
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    As a "big book of interview answers" answer to this question from the "big book of interview questions", yours is one of the good ones.
    – BryanH
    Commented Mar 19, 2014 at 18:25

Nothing turns people down worse than bad-mouthing a previous employer. Be understated, and let them read between the lines. Start with "There are so many things I liked about ", then list them. Then add "politically my position became untenable as I lacked management support", or "I felt that I reached my limit in my ability to progress".

  • 2
    If I know the kind of projects I'm going to be working on for the next 6-8 months and they don't seem to be adding anything new to my resume, then is that a fair answer for this question ?
    – Phoenix
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 3:16
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    I'd be careful with that. In every career there are times that you will be given work that is not what you would like to be doing, it doesn't look good to an employer to say you're leaving because you've been assigned to a boring project. Probably better to phrase it as though the company's direction is going contrary to your career goals.
    – GdD
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 9:10

How can I explain (preferably in much fewer words!) this candidly in an interview so that it's obvious that I left due to ethical and philosophical reason, and without sounding bitter or trite?

You don't, because you can't make it sound anything other than a whiney ex-employee. The response should be neutral: "it was time to move on" or "I had reached the limits of what I could do & grow at that company." The only time you will be able to explain poor ethics at a previous employer is if they ended up being a public scandal - like Enron or Arthur Anderson.

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    Ironically, I worked at Arthur Andersen during the Enron fiasco, which is in part my reason for ethics at the workplace being a crucial component to my continued employment anywhere. ^_^
    – kmunky
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:51

How can I explain (preferably in much fewer words!) this candidly in an interview so that it's obvious that I left due to ethical and philosophical reason, and without sounding bitter or trite?

I do not think that you can. It is pretty apparent from the way you worded the question that you are bitter. I am not trying to judge if it is deserved but it is better to recognize that you are bitter so that you can try to deal with it.

What you can do:

Focus on the positives of the position. What did you learn? What did you accomplish?

As for answering the question I would simply state that I was no longer happy there and did not see a future with the company. Accept the blame for this on your shoulders. If pressed about what you did not like, simply state that you do not want to talk negatively about your former employer, you respect and appreciate the opportunity they provided to much to do that. Any decent employer should respect that.

  • 1
    Excellent answer, Chad, thanks. Please see my reply to pdr re: how to specifically address if pressed.
    – kmunky
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:48
  • 3
    @kmunky - If you want to be candid then do so. But you will find eventually that it will change the tone of your interview to the negative. That is not saying it will cost you the job but any time I have been "honest" about some of my positions it has never gone well. I think most of us that have done any amount of contracting have a horror story comparable to yours. Nothing good will come of sharing in the interview, or after for that matter. Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 19:17
  • "Nothing good will come of sharing in the interview, or after for that matter." Well said.
    – kmunky
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 22:26

Tell the truth - but not necessarily the whole truth.

You don't have to name individuals but just say something along the lines of:

There were unresolved issues that made it difficult for me to do my job effectively.

If you can demonstrate that you were effective in other aspects of your role - do you have (or can you get) testimonials from clients or other managers? - then this one area shouldn't be a deal breaker.

It may even help to explain a less than glowing reference from your previous employer.

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    but not necessarily the whole truth and yell YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH when inquired about it.
    – Rarity
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:10
  • I think I'll steer away from "personality clashes", as I wouldn't want to be pegged as somebody who can't get along with others. Thanks for the reply.
    – kmunky
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 18:48
  • @kmunky - Yes. Bad choice of words.
    – ChrisF
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 20:26

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