By: Alissa Ohashi
If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all. Ah, the elementary advice that tends to fade as we grow up and start to take full advantage of our first amendment rights. However, when it comes to interviewing for a new job, the idea of holding one’s tongue rather than verbally lashing others is as important as it was on the playground. To exemplify why, let me tell you a little story.
Years ago, one of the Partners at our IT placement firm went on a site visit with a long-time client in the finance industry. Upon returning, he received an email from one of the client’s technical employees (we’ll call him ‘Lenny’) who expressed interest in pursuing new professional opportunities elsewhere. That’s business as usual for us.
But, when Lenny began explaining in more detail why he wanted to leave, things got a little stickier.
While it’s natural for many professionals to dislike their boss, Lenny went above and beyond. He absolutely defiled his manager (our client) as a human being, graphically described an inadequate management style, a history of favoritism and workplace discrimination (he believed he was given more work than his married peers because he was single).
Now, sometimes candidates need to vent and it’s better for those feelings to come out to us as staffing professionals instead of an actual hiring manager. As such, our account reps agreed to send him out for an interview with another client, providing the caveat that he should describe his distaste for his manager less forcefully.
As luck would have it though, shortly after Lenny’s interview, we received a call from the woman who had just interviewed him. While she appreciated his experience, it turned out that Lenny spent half the interview hating on his former employer, which – not surprisingly – was a major turn off and nullified his candidacy at that particular firm.
And while we were willing to give him a second chance, Lenny continued this pattern of aggressive behavior on the next interview, leading to another rejection and ultimately our decision to terminate our relationship with him.
The point here is that negative people have a harder time succeeding in the job market than those with a more pragmatic attitude. And while explaining all the reasons your current employer stinks may be a cathartic experience, it raises all kinds of red flags in the minds of employment gatekeepers who could give you a new opportunity.
With that in mind, here are a few ways that bashing your boss will work against job seekers in the hiring process.
1. You come off as a generally negative person.
People who focus on the shortcomings of others rather than their own virtues (no matter how great they are technically) are perceived to suck the positive energy out of a corporate culture and are easy to cast into a hiring authority’s ‘no’ pile.
Moreover, because interviews for full-time roles are as much about vetting candidates for long term fit as they are technical skills, forcefully bashing current or former managers may cause hiring authorities to question ‘What will this person say about me down the road?’
2. This person doesn’t know how to play the game.
Everyone has demons they can complain about. However, good candidates know what information to put forth and what to withhold in order to make a good first impression. With that in mind, someone who spends a lot of time talking about their negative experiences is illustrating that they don’t understand best practices in professional correspondences.
And when employers see that a candidate doesn’t know how to play the game during the early stages, they’ll likely worry how his/her behavior will evolve once he/she gets more comfortable.
Solution: Even if you had a manager who was an absolute tyrant, focus on YOUR abilities. Employers want to know what value you can bring to the table, so focusing on why your last job sucked instead of what you hope to accomplish in a new position is a disservice to yourself.
With that in mind, stay positively-oriented and focus on your skill set, eagerness to learn/grow, leadership and experience.
But, even though now you know the importance of having tact while speaking with hiring authorities, another valid question is what to do when a hiring manager directly asks why you’re looking for a new position. And if the reason is indeed because you and your manager hated one another then it is wise to …
Keep your explanation brief.
Don’t dwell on the details; there’s no need to open Pandora’s Box (this is especially true if you were fired from your previous job). Rather, when an employer asks you about your RFL (reason for leaving), be honest, but keep it vague.
For example, instead of saying that you need a new job because your manager was a clown, try something along the lines of ‘management and I didn’t see eye to eye, so we decided to part different ways.’ Act as if the specifics have no bearing on your candidacy for the job in question and behave as such by passing over the topic quickly and calmly.
Note: Should you come across a nosey Nancy who keeps prodding you for more information about bad experiences in your professional history, take note. That kind of behavior speaks volumes about the culture of the company and might be a red flag that you don’t want to work there.
Take home points:
Remember that he who sets the agenda wins. With that in mind, it is wise to prepare for an upcoming interview by setting an agenda for the direction you want the interview to go. That direction should not lead you down a rabbit hole of animosity towards others.
If you decide to talk smack about your boss to a possible future employer, they may see this as a weakness. It also insinuates that you are reactive and see yourself as a victim, and few people want to work with someone who reeks of self-pity and negativity. So, make sure you have mentally moved on from negative past experience, stay positive and opportunity-oriented throughout the interview and always look forwards instead of backward.