I have been working at an Insurance company's IT department for about 3 months now as an IT Project Manager. I really love the company I work for, no matter the "growing pains"; however, I have become privy to some really sensitive issues.

In particular there is a manager who I found out was having an affair with her supervisor (our VP). I only know this because she sent me vulgar/sexual messages via Lync and then quickly called me into her office and demanded that I never tell anyone. With this relationship she is able to influence decisions & directions and feed him information about people she doesn't like - we have had 5 people let go already in the few months I have been here. Maybe there isn't a cause and effect there, but it does not give me a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Question:

How can I explain my reasons for leaving to my potential employers without telling them precisely? I know it is none of their business, but I don't want to lie and say the company is total crap when that is far from the truth. I want to just say it is an ethical issue, even though it is a little more than that, but I really do not want to get into detail.

What is the best way to explain this reasoning?

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    Why would she send you those messages?? – Revetahw Oct 26 '16 at 9:42
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    @Fiksdal It was obviously a misclick and she didn't notice until after it was sent. Could just be a case of the OP and the intended recipient having similar name or if nothing else being close alphabetically. Its how I found someone emailing porn links to their home email since they kept emailing someone else by accident. – Matt Oct 26 '16 at 10:31
up vote 126 down vote accepted

You don't say anything bad about the place or why you left. Just say it was a bad fit. Whereas the job you're applying for looks like a perfect fit for your skillset, because, blahh blahh etc,.

  • 48
    +1. There is no reason whatsoever to imply that it is due to office politics or whatever. It is not a bad mark either for you or your company if you say "bad fit". You gave it 3 months, it did not work out. The fact that you are looking for a new job, and you presumably do not have 10 other 3-monthers on your CV already, makes it look much better than if you were let go by your company after 3 months. – AnoE Oct 24 '16 at 14:52
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    And, do not get into any details about that "bad fit". You can take the positive spin that you want to look forward. The new employer might want some details, so maybe come up with something both honest and polite. Maybe due to reorganization, the job ended up being something vastly different? – MikeP Oct 25 '16 at 19:55
  • Is it uncommon to hear a follow up question "bad fit in what way?" – Andrew Savinykh Oct 26 '16 at 9:43
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    @AndrewSavinykh Yes it is, but if they do ask you just say you were being tasked with work that isn't in your field or something. But usually 'bad fit' is sufficient. Never go in to detail, it's none of their business and won't help you in any way. Just turn the focus back to the job you're applying for. – Kilisi Oct 26 '16 at 9:45
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    "It was a bad fit, this place looks better, blah blah"...!? This answer has 120 upvotes and an accept!? Good grief. – Grimm The Opiner Oct 27 '16 at 12:05

You don't need to tell them anything in advance, but if they ask in an interview, a reasonable response would be

"Soon after I joined the company, there was a major internal reorganisation which removed the future career path that I was hoping to take. If I had been told that this might happen during the job application procedures, I would probably not have accepted the job offer".

That seems pretty close to the truth, is a rational reason for wanting to leave after only 3 months, and doesn't refer to any particular individual.

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    This is orders of magnitude better than "it was a bad fit". I just don't see how "bad fit" won't initiate follow up questions and then you'll either end up looking like you are hiding something or a gossip depending if you choose to answer with details or not. You absolutely don't want to lie. For the OP's case this is a great answer, but somebody else may need to come up with something similar but also isn't a lie for them. – Dunk Oct 24 '16 at 19:01
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    I thought "it was a bad fit" was the polite euphemism for "they were complete $%#$%$% but I'm too polite to say that" :) – Mel Reams Oct 25 '16 at 2:41
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    No; strictly speaking, this is lying, and it's not necessary. A potential employer will know "it's a bad fit" doesn't mean they gave you a chair that was too small; there's no need for elaborate half-truths. – kungphu Oct 25 '16 at 5:54
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    I would feel much more comfortable with this than saying "it was a bad fit" and fearing for follow-up questions. Still, kungphu's "they gave you a chair that was too small" comment made me chuckle. – hunger Oct 25 '16 at 9:12
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    @kungphu is right-- OP says nothing about the re-org removing career opportunities. That makes this a lie. Saying that there was a large reorganization is fine, but the only way it's bad for their career is if OP gets fired. – senschen Oct 25 '16 at 17:21

"The company culture changed in a lot of ways that I was no longer comfortable with." - or something to that tune. You can be vague and still leave the impression that the company became unfavorable.

Good luck.

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    I disagree, either it sounds like criticism or as an openned door to ask for more details. Furthermore it's not even about a culture, but about a ... really not gentle person. – Walfrat Oct 24 '16 at 12:28
  • @Walfrat basically agree, but when it comes down to it, when people voluntarily separate from a company, it's almost always due to someone, not something like pay. Pay is actually fairly far down the list. – Richard U Oct 24 '16 at 14:00
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    OP says they've only been there for 3 months; company culture takes considerable time to change and so using this line may raise questions. – Carrosive Oct 24 '16 at 15:43
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    If you don't like this answer because it "opened a door to ask for more details" then why wouldn't "it was a bad fit" also open the same door? If someone told me that then I'd certainly want to know, just in case my company also had the characteristics of being a "bad fit" for this person. – Dunk Oct 24 '16 at 18:45
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    This could be very easily interpreted as "I'm not very comfortable with change". – Krumia Oct 25 '16 at 10:41

In U.K. Law, her behaviour would be considered constructive dismissal and it is likely to seen as unfair. If you are able to show that your competence and conduct didn't justify the victimisation aspects then the company may be vulnerable for a considerable compensation pay out. With at will employment in the USA, the protection available varies state by state.

If you still have a copy of her Lync texts, then you have the option of flagging up her conduct internally. Perhaps with her partner, saying that her intimidation of you needs to stop, or through the companies HR department - this is not very predictable though. You could find this "stops" the harassment for a while, or you find yourself out of a job - perhaps with a substantial payout? But perhaps with no notice, and no pay.

I personally, would get my plan B in place first, and then talk to HR - explaining what has happened, and why you feel you have no option but to leave.

As to explaining it to a potential new employer, simply say that you have recently joined the company but it is not the right environment for you. If pushed, I would explain what has happened, and say that you have no wish to be involved with that kind of office politics.

  • 2
    The tag says "united-states", not Canada. – WorkerDrone Oct 24 '16 at 13:50
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    The "right to work" states in the USA are misunderstood. It would be a constructive dismissal in the USA as well. Likely harassment and/or sexual harassment as well. – Richard U Oct 24 '16 at 13:57
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    The problem with this is that (even though it feels righteous to do so) it is very difficult to prove. HR and the higher ups would probably be covering their tracks and would support the existing power structures instead of the lone employee. – Val Oct 24 '16 at 15:42
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    Someone leaving, having found a new role and not being dismissed, mentioning in their exit interview that this is the reason why, and here are the messages sent - without making an issue of it would be listened to. Whether HR are brave enough to investigate further depends on the company culture. – Michael Shaw Oct 24 '16 at 15:47
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    Even with "At will", there are still rules, and if you can prove that this was retaliation, you would most certainly have a case. You need to speak to HR and admonish them this is absolutely highest level of confidential. I would advise you see about getting a lawyer, might be able to get one on contingency of a successful suit for wrongful termination. You are in IT, if you know anyone that has access to those Lync accounts, note how the logs might be retrieved and any records retention policies so your lawyer can properly request the logs from her account. – Bill Leeper Oct 24 '16 at 21:57

You don't tell them. It's as simple as that. As much ground as you think you may cover by getting the truth out about this, and as much as you may actually be a completely innocent party in all of this, all that's going to be far outweighed by two things:

  1. The fact that you are telling a prospective employer that you were involved in some very shady stuff. Yes, I know that you didn't do any of the shadiness but they're likely not going to care. At best they'll see that you're a part of a bad work environment. At worst some of your prospective hirers will get skeptical of your story - because there's always two sides to everything - and believe that there's more that you're not telling. Again, regardless of whether or not you are being 100% truthful here (and I personally have no reason to believe that you are being anything but truthful).

  2. When you spread stuff like this to strangers you tend to get the reputation for being a workplace gossip. A lot of people, especially people whose job it is to find people who can work well with their current staff, do not like people who gossip about stuff. I am not saying that you actually are this way, just that that will be a side effect of airing your soon to be former company's dirty laundry in public.

I'd stick with "they were not a good fit for me" and try and get a reference as high up in the company as you can who can corroborate how talented, hard-working, and well-adjusted you are. I'd also go ahead and say that in the particular field of IT, it is not weird at all for people to be moving on and finding new work after a couple of years on the job, so the fact that you are leaving this one may not even in and of itself raise any real red flags amongst other companies.

In Norway, the standard euphemism is "There was a personality conflict."

If there are followup questions, "I'd prefer not saying any more, since they are not here to present their side of the story."

If they press the point, it is not to hear the answer, but to see how you handle pressure. The thing to do is firmly stick to the "no further comment" line.

Of course, you leave open the interpretation that the you are the problem, but there is nothing you can say to avoid that.

If you give a generally good impression that is unlikely to be a problem.

As I said, this is from Norway, not sure how well it translates into American.

  • 1
    This is a common euphemism in the USA, but I'd really avoid saying this. Many co-workers and clients can have difficult personalities and this suggests that you potentially can't work with them. – WetlabStudent Oct 27 '16 at 4:20
  • "If they press the point, it is not to hear the answer, but to see how you handle pressure" Really? Really? Someone sits in front of me in an interview and says the last position led to an un-resolvable personal conflict then I'd damn sure want to know that THEY weren't the problem. – Grimm The Opiner Oct 27 '16 at 6:59

TLDR; be truthful, be very brief, name no names.

This might be terribly naive of me, but I'd consider telling the truth. Or at least enough of it. You love the company, the work, the team, but: "A senior colleague accidentally sent me some 'romantic' messages over company infrastructure that were meant for someone else. Since then our relationship has deteriorated". Any attempt to say something else will likely come across as an evasion - and let's face it, it is.

That said, and I acknowledge the question isn't about managing the current work situation, but if you generally like the company and work then I'd stick it out for a bit and just keep getting it done - their fear of you having this information might well transform to gratitude for your discretion once they realise you've let the incident wash over you and have no intention of "using it".

Assuming you don't.

Otherwise, I'm afraid there is no stackexchange.blackmail site.

Yet.

  • Except that it doesn't make sense for the other party to wait and give the OP the opportunity to use it. Assuming this party actually has the reach, the safest move for them might be to get the OP fired. – employee-X Oct 26 '16 at 21:10
  • @jpaugh That would be an incredibly risky move by the company. Especially if the OP documented everything. Firing the OP would really open them up to a lawsuit. Additionally, it would be a risky move by the manager and the VP, whose info is possessed by the OP and could be released in retaliation at anytime. – WetlabStudent Oct 27 '16 at 4:29
  • @jpaugh while juristictions vary, there aren't many where sending someone unsolicited sexual messages then firing them is considered a "safe move". Not even the US. Sure, HR is there to protect "the company" (ie: the senior figure here), but once it becomes obvious what she did then they will, well, "protect the company" - she gets sacked and the employee gets payed off being quite likely. IMO. – Grimm The Opiner Oct 27 '16 at 12:09
  • @GrimmTheOpiner Having never been in the situation I/you described, I still find your view optimistic. I believe the OP would need to pursue (costly) legal action, and potentially have little proof. Unless they have a screenshot or recording of the 'alleged' message, of course. – employee-X Oct 27 '16 at 20:02

"I'm moving on to a new & different challenge."

That's all you need to say. You don't have to get into anything else, if you don't want to, and if they press for details you simply repeat the challenge line, adding that another opportunity has come up and you plan to avail of it.

EDIT: This answer was provided based on a misunderstanding of the question - I thought the OP was asking what to say to their current employer, not a prospective one. I wouldn't advise using this for a new employer, I'd say something like "the culture didn't fit, I'm more interested in a place that does x" where x is something the new company prides itself on.

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    This is ignoring the fact that he's been there for only 3 months. – Puzzled Oct 24 '16 at 12:59
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    The question is about what to tell his existing employer, not a prospective interviewer. – TrueDub Oct 25 '16 at 7:53
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    Although the body of the question is less clear, the title explicitly states that this is about what to say to a potential employer, not the existing problem employer. – trichoplax Oct 25 '16 at 11:43
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    Correct - my apologies. – TrueDub Oct 25 '16 at 12:06
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    @Andy Yes, I agree. The point I'm making here is that you throw out that understanding if you tell them you just got bored rather than a standard, ambiguous "I don't want to trash talk anyone so here's an obvious platitude" line. You can't expect an employer to read positively into "I'm moving on to a new and different challenge" after a three month stint. – kungphu Oct 26 '16 at 2:11

The reason potential employers ask you about your reasons for leaving is to make sure you don't leave them for the same reasons as well. They don't actually care about why you left your last workplace.

So, think about it for a minute. If you mention things like "bad fit" or "mismatch", these are things that happen at every company. That invites questions, and you are either asking them to trust you (which is a big ask) or you risk giving them a vague answer.

My suggestion is:

  1. Look for reasons other than what you just mentioned that could be valid reasons for you to leave, and after you make sure that these reasons don't exist with a potential employer, then outline those in the interview.

  2. If #1 doesn't work out, consider telling a white lie. You aren't hurting anyone. You are protecting the reputation of your last employer as well as lowering the potential for rejection for yourself.

    I also have never understood why I was expected to share something so personal as my reasons for leaving a job with someone that I met an hour ago. I always make it a point to say that I am very happy with my current employer, but if I find something even better I will of course take the chance. That is a perfectly valid reason for switching careers and if any employer doesn't think so, that is a valid reason to not work for them, ever.

protected by Chris E Oct 25 '16 at 18:51

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