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I had a recent interview with a CTO of a company, and while I feel that my interview went well, I also feel that I may have come across as bad mouthing my previous employer.

In the interview, I discussed the technology stack that my previous company was working with, and talked about how I felt the technology was "past it", and I felt how the technology I will be working with at this new company will be more current.

I also discussed how I felt that the new company I will be working at is more "adaptive" with the constant shifts in technology, and how I felt that the previous company I worked that seemed "slow to sense shifts in technology", and always "enter the market at the wrong time". I also said that because of these mistakes that I felt the previous employer made, I'd like work at this new company, where I felt the CTO/CEO will be more adaptive to technology changes, and won't make the mistakes that my previous employer made.

I know that to not sound like I am bad mouthing my previous employers, I need to ensure to focus on the company I am interviewing at, instead of focusing on previous companies' mistakes. My question is how do I discuss these kind of mistakes that my previous employer made, without sounding like I am bad mouthing them?

  • fwiw, from your description it doesn't sound like you were really bad-mouthing your previous employer -- your criticisms were objective and business-focused, rather than personal. I've heard much, much worse. – mcknz Aug 21 '17 at 19:32
  • Not sure it's a duplicate but check out workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/9312/… – mcknz Aug 21 '17 at 19:33
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Don't discuss (business) mistakes your previous employer made. Period.

Pointing out previous mistakes is bad-mouthing, so no amount of sugarcoating will get away from that.

Like you said, focus on the positive of the company you're interviewing at.

State any positive of the new company in absolute terms instead of comparing it to the old company.

Try to avoid discussing things which you can't phrase in terms of a positive.

For example:

"Why do you want to leave your current job?"
I want to work with the latest technologies - {new company} is currently working with X, Y and Z and that really interests me.

You seem very "adaptive" to the constant shifts in technology and that sounds exciting.

If this leads to a follow-up question (on their part) bringing up the old company (or if this comes up in them asking about your past experiences), stick to the facts and try to come up with something positive to say:

"So {old company} doesn't work with the latest technologies?"
Not really. We're currently working with A, B and C. B actually keeps up surprisingly well compared to the latest technologies in terms of efficiency, considering its age.

You can again try to circle back to expressing excitement over what the new company is doing, if doing so makes sense.


"Enter the market at the wrong time" doesn't seem like something you can put a positive spin on. That seems very subjective in the moment and, unless you're upper management, I'm not sure why this is something you're even concerning yourself with (although it's a different story if they're well on their way to bankruptcy). Perhaps I'm just misunderstanding what you mean by that.

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Your answer: don't speak negatively about your previous employer. you will only come off as an arrogant, foul mouthed, disgruntled ex-employee. Put a positive spin on things instead.

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    Does discussing technology mistakes that previous employers made make me come acroos as arrogant though? Does it feel as though I would be scapegoating? – Mantracker Aug 21 '17 at 6:43
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    I guess my question is, is it still bad mouthing if I am being as objective as possible, and not saying "my boss is an idiot", or saying anything toxic about my previous employer? – Mantracker Aug 21 '17 at 6:48
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    @Mantracker this definitely depends on the person that is interviewing you. A programmer most likely wouldn't see this as a negative thing if you're objectively criticize, but a HR person might see it so – Mafii Aug 21 '17 at 6:59
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    I guess I just need to make sure to really put a positive light on things when I discuss stuff like this. I just didn't want to come off as a complainer when I said the things I said with the CTO – Mantracker Aug 21 '17 at 7:09
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Consider the words you use to express the problems. If you say something like,

At my last place, they were stuck on XYZ methodology and it was a royal pain to live with,

you might be interpreted as negative and condescending.

You might have better results and come across as more thoughtful and open minded if you expressed the same idea along the lines of,

There can be some challenges that come with XYZ methodology that I'd like to see whether I can help avoid in the future. Some of these challenges are...

Of course, it could be a methodology, a technology, a business practice, or anything else. Try to be less accusatory and more cooperative in the words you choose to use. Practice saying them before each interview.

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"I would like to grow my career in a slightly different direction; I like how your company does X, Y, and Z, and think this approach is a good fit for me."

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