I know that it's not a good idea to badmouth former employers in an interview. But what if you quit because your employer was asking you to say or do unethical things?

For example, would you say "I quit my job because my boss asked me to lie to a customer," or stick with the old "I was looking for new opportunities" line?


Many people, understandably, aren't comfortable with the notion that you "can't say anything negative" about your previous employer. It feels disingenuous to answer the question "why are you leaving?" without indicating, naturally, WHY you are leaving. Leaving a place because it was awful, toxic, or unethical are really good reasons to leave. Everyone understands that and everyone has left a bad job or two (or more) in their career.

The subtle twist here, which even the interviewer may not be cognizant of, is that the question isn't really asking you to list how your current employer is insufficient, malignant, lacking, or somehow blocking your career intentions. The true intent behind question aims, instead, to get at where you are going to rather than what you are running from.

Nobody wants to hire a candidate who seeks to join them simply because the candidate is escaping a sinking ship and the job-offer is like some kind of career life-raft. They want to hire somebody who is choosing to join them because of what they (the candidate) can make of the job. They want someone who has a deeper career-intent than merely to escape somewhere awful.

In fact, even if one's current job is like hell-on-Earth, one should NOT describe that to a prospective employer. Doing so gives them the impression that the candidate is just looking for the first available "life-raft" rather than acting on a carefully-considered career goal. On the other extreme, complaining about small shortcoming is also bad, it gives the impression that candidate can't handle ordinary problems that successful people deal with and overcome routinely.

The way to answer "why are you leaving?" is to describe your upcoming career goal and, hopefully, how the prospective job can meet that goal. It is perfectly fine to say that you've reached an "endpoint" at your current employer and need to change jobs to go further in your career. However, anything that signals to the employer that you're "running from" something rather than "running to" something will raise a red-flag (whether the interviewer consciously realizes that or not).

| improve this answer | |
  • 2
    It's a terrible, terrible question. It will almost never get an honest answer, and doesn't actually achieve anything for either party. I've never understood why the question isn't "Why do you want to join us?" or "Where do you want to be in 1, 5 and 10 years?" (although even they are unlikely to be truly honest answers) – Jon Story Oct 26 '15 at 14:42
  • @JonStory, unfortunately candidates have no say in what questions they are asked and interviewers vary wildly in skills and perceptiveness. One has to make the best of the situation. For this particular question, however, it is still possible for the candidate to approach it in an authentic way and tell "the truth" without being phony, without being sycophantic. – teego1967 Oct 26 '15 at 15:13
  • I certainly wasn't questioning your answer, just commenting on the fact it's an atrociously useless question – Jon Story Oct 26 '15 at 15:29
  • @teego1967 Thanks, this is a great way to think about it. I've definitely made moves to get away from things rather than to get to where I want to be, and it almost never works out well. – oh-this-is-perfect Oct 29 '15 at 12:30

Most companies nowadays will not disclose a "reason for leaving." Consequently, it's your word against... nobody's. If your interviewer is smart, he knows that, if you're smart, your answer will never be about something negative that involves your prior employer, i.e. badmouthing.

The question they're really asking is "will you badmouth your prior employer?" Or, if you like, "Will you badmouth us when you leave?" Don't answer "yes" to that. They will see it as blaming your prior employer; they don't want to hear that.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .