This is a guest post from Ron Haynes who writes for The Wisdom Journal, a blog about Wise Choices, Improved Finances, and a Better Life. A partner in a regional lumber and building materials company, he has a bachelor’s in Human Resources Management and an MBA with a marketing concentration.
Putting a positive spin on what (at the time) felt like the worst day of your life is the easy part. Volumes have been written about how to spin your layoff, or handle a termination, or explain away that annoying gap in your employment history. No, those are easy. What’s far more difficult is resisting the urge to trash your former boss when deep down you know he or she really deserves it. Yes, it’s the hardest part of your interview, but it’s also the most critical.
All bosses hate to see an interviewee criticize their former employer. Even if you work for an ogre who deserves to be fed to radiated vampire cockroaches, the thoughts of hiring someone who is willing to unload a truck of bitterness — even if it’s warranted — on a former manager is unsettling at the least and an immediate interview killer at its worst.
When asked about a situation where “things just didn’t work out,” always seek the balanced approach. Try saying, “I learned a great deal at XYZ Company but I felt that I needed a change.” If the interviewer presses you, continue with something like, “There were a lot of really great people at my level and the prospect of any professional growth was slim.” Or “I was growing professionally, but not in the direction I really wanted.”
Sometimes those will work, but if they don’t and the interviewer seems to be goading you for more information, lay it out there: “My boss and I didn’t see eye to eye on some matters. It was really no one’s fault but I like to be happy in my job and I want my boss to be happy, too.” Once you say that, don’t keep talking about it. Turn the interview into one that’s focused on the position and the company’s needs in the future by asking, “So, how does my experience and education stack up for this position?”
Remember that not all interviewers are very experienced in drawing information out and some will actually want to test you to see if you’ll take the bait to trash your boss. Don’t take that bait. There’s a better than average chance the interviewer knows something or knows someone in your former organization who has spilled the beans about your situation. By keeping cool, you’ll communicate that you’re not there to play that game.
And one more thing, make sure you find someone with a title at your former job who will be a good reference for you. He or she doesn’t have to be a former superior, just the fact that someone is willing to vouch for you will help you land on your feet and nail the interview.