Whether you’re interviewing to be a CEO or file clerk, you can count on this question coming up at some point in the process. While a seemingly simple question, it can be easy to fall into the trap and start denigrating former employers or at least say things that cause a few red flags to wave. On the positive side, this is a question whose response can remain relatively the same from one interview to the next.
Some explanations are fairly straightforward and will often be easily acceptable to interviewers. Examples include the following:
- Left to take a job that was closer to home
- Accepted a position with a company that had more opportunities for advancement
- Took a job with a company that offers telecommuting options
- Felt burned out from the excessive work hours
But some explanations are tougher to navigate, so we selected three big ones we often hear. This week, we’ll focus on one of the toughest, and the other two (and a few final general tips) will follow next week.
Trouble with coworkers and/or supervisors
This is a rather challenging response because it could imply that you are blaming someone else for your ultimate decision to leave, and it could make you appear difficult to work with. But with that said, it is possible to weather this answer tactfully.
The best way to take the edge off is to explain the issue diplomatically and tell the interviewer what you did from your end to alleviate the problem. Trying to address the issue yourself shows that you take proactive steps to solve interpersonal issues in the workplace as opposed to an employee who simply complains about it, waiting for the situation to spontaneously disappear. The legitimate effort you made in addressing the issue can give the impression that you are a solid candidate of good character who just happened to be in a difficult situation that ultimately couldn’t be remedied.
As you describe the problems with this coworker/supervisor, keep your language soft and gentle and avoid going into a laundry list of complaints. While your intent with this laundry list might be to further substantiate your position, it will most likely only serve to make you appear to be difficult and negative. And last, it may help a bit for you to take on some of the responsibility yourself. We all have our limits of what we can tolerate. While the difficult coworker/supervisor is the source of the struggle here, your own limits (as reasonable as they may be) are ultimately the reason you are unable to tolerate the issue with this employee.