As a follow up question of this I need to figure out a clever way to describe my situation during future job interviews. The summary of the situation: I was working for a start-up as a software developer and one day I got a task that I found unethical. I rejected the task and asked for a new one. That triggered a conversation with my boss and during this conversation I learned that the company relies on similar practices and if I want to keep the job, I need to accept them. I decided to say no so my employment will soon be history. My question is how to present this situation to my prospective employers without revealing too much about my former employer? (On personal level we agreed to part as friends, I believe it is not my task to morally judge them, I just don't want to be part of it.)

One more important thing: the whole thing happened during my probationary period and I spent 4.5 months working for this start-up. (Probationary periods are ridiculously long in this country.)

Update: please see my own answer below.

  • What kind of firm is this? What is the practice?
    – Aaron Hall
    Apr 28, 2016 at 16:18
  • You say in your question title that you want to tell a future employer that "I left my previous company because of ethical reasons...". I don't think you can do that without implying that either you or your previous company is ethically challenged! Either 1) don't mention ethics or 2) go ahead and tarnish them.
    – James
    Apr 28, 2016 at 19:18

4 Answers 4


I'm a Recruiter and HR Director and always appreciate when candidates diplomatically phrase their answers in terms of what they are looking for in a culture, so you could try something like "While I appreciated the opportunity learn X skills, I quickly realized that I'm looking for an employer whose business decisions I could fully support and whose values are aligned with my own. I believe the opportunity as [new employer] will be a much better fit in this regard because of [elaborate on why you're interested in the new opportunity]." Keeps things really positive and places no real blame on the previous employer. However, I agree that, if pressed, you should be honest about the ethical differences.

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    I agree that you want to convey emotional intelligence and not be profusely candor with your potential employer, but at the same time relaying verbiage written by a defense lawyer tends to make you forgettable in an interview. You want to stand out (in a good way,) so, while yes you should be diplomatic and strategic, you should also be yourself and forthcoming (sterling ethical principles and values are appreciated now more than ever). Bottom-line, do not recite lines that have been rehearsed many times over, if you have to be direct, do so. It's often looked upon as good in many roles.
    – G.T.D.
    Apr 30, 2016 at 0:57

The phrase you are looking for is "It wasn't a good fit." This puts no blame on the employer and is completely accurate.

Edit: On the off chance that they press, I would advise against saying you disagreed with some of their decisions as this may paint you as a "my way or the highway" kind of person. If they press I would advise to say "The corporate culture was quite different from my expectations." Again this is accurate and fairly neutral. If they press again I would give them the unabashed truth since this would show they are unwilling to take a neutral, generic answer but it's unlikely that it would get this far.

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    And if the interviewer asks you to elaborate, just say that you didn't agree with some of the decisions made in the company.
    – undefined
    Apr 28, 2016 at 16:20
  • 2
    OK, this answer might point to the right direction. But if I say "It wasn't a good fit" or "The corporate culture was quite different" how can I make sure that they don't interpret it as I just wanted to work 1.5 hours per day or wanted to get drunk during working hours, or anything similar?
    – Megharapta
    Apr 28, 2016 at 16:51
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    I think I said "We both knew I wasn't a good fit, their business model assumed a looser adherence to ethics that I struggled conforming to." Apr 28, 2016 at 17:17
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    @Megharapta they won't think that, experienced interviewers know what it means in general, it means, 'don't ask' I don't have anything good to say about my last company. So long as it is resignation rather than termination this is normal enough.
    – Kilisi
    Apr 28, 2016 at 20:41
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    @Megharapta No, mutual agreement is fine (it even shows that you were able to work out a clean departure), it's just that you did not get fired.
    – user8036
    Apr 29, 2016 at 19:14

Been there. You could tell, if asked, that you were searching for a better opportunity. Still this won't justify that you're leaving and many people will see this as a red flag but there is not much you can do about it.

However, if you use your unemployment time (worst case scenario) for messing with projects of your own or for getting proficient in a particular skill, you can tell about it and lean the scale for your benefit.

Sometimes we deal with assholes asking us to do things which are really nasty, yet you should not speak bad about your previous employer, boss, or tell more than you're asked to. If the interviewer is smart enough he will realize that you have integrity and that is appreciated by most companies.

-Edited: I was talking in past tense and you're still employed, Best of lucks there!-


As an addition to the great advice already given by others, let me write down what I have in mind (I am the OP).

If asked, I would go ahead and explain the situation in details without mentioning the start-up actual name. I could call them 'The start-up' or something similar in my CV.

-It helps me to clarify what kind of tasks I am unwilling to do in the future.(And here is where maybe the other otherwise-great answers might fall a bit short: if I have to be too diplomatic I can't express myself clearly. If I can't express myself clearly how can I be sure that similar situation does not occur in the future?) Moreover, this approach also gives me the opportunity to list the technologies I used and the experience I gathered. Also interviews will mostly be conducted in my third language (not even in English). Expressing myself 'diplomatically' in this language might add to the difficulty factor.

-It does not harm the start-up either, because no-one can relate the name 'start-up' to the actual company.

-Finally I don't see any valid reason why my prospective employer should be interested in the name of my previous employer. They should be interested in my character and my skills and the tasks I am capable of doing but not the actual name of my former employer. Also let's not forget the fact that we are talking about 4.5 months only which is just a small part of my career.

The only downside I see is that this way I can't use my former employer as a reference. But I can live with this fact.

But I might be wrong. If you see any problem with this approach, please do hit the minus button.(Preferably with a comment)

  • 1
    "I don't see any valid reason why my prospective employer should be interested in the name of my previous employer" - for references, and checks that the history in your CV is valid. Don't do weird things of any kind in your CV, you will damage your chance of being hired if they are noticed. Having a generic "I worked for 5 months for an employer" without naming the employer is a weird thing. Especially if it is the immediately previous employer. May 1, 2016 at 6:12
  • Background check does need previous employer. Either a letter or salary slip or tax slip. No name is unprofessional. May 1, 2016 at 8:41
  • If 4.5 months is just part of the probationary process, then I think this is reasonable. If I decided to part ways with an employer on the first day, then I probably would not include that experience on my cv.
    – emory
    May 1, 2016 at 22:56

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