Being bullied by a boss at work can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. And if you don’t navigate subsequent interviews for new jobs correctly, the bullying you experienced can continue to haunt you in the future and hurt your career.
To help minimize the risk of losing future employment due to a bully in your past, you need to think about how best to respond in job interviews. To learn how to explain leaving a job due to bullying, read on.
What Is the Difference Between a Bully and a Cranky Boss?
Before you take any steps, especially something as drastic as leaving your job, you need to have clarity about whether you’re actually being bullied, or whether what you’re experiencing is something else.
First of all, you can expect both good and not-so-good relationships in any job. While you may have been so lucky to have a good rapport with all your managers up to now, you can bet your bottom dollar bill that this will not always be the case.
Apart from gauging whether the issues with your manager are not just due to a personality clash, you also need to ask yourself whether their criticism of your work is perhaps not valid.
If you’re not completely sure whether you’re somewhat responsible for the hard time you’re having at work, it’s advisable to first clean up your act before you accuse your manager of bullying you.
However, if you’re doing your best at work and still receiving constant criticism, their bad treatment of you is unwarranted and amounts to bullying. Here are some tell-tale signs that you have a bully on your hands:
- Your boss tells jokes at your expense.
- Their tone is aggressive and unprofessional.
- They criticize you and not your work.
- They belittle you in front of other staff members.
- Their criticism is constant and unrelenting.
- They purposefully provide you with unclear directions and too tight deadlines.
How To Explain Leaving a Job Due To Bullying
What’s really unfair about being bullied at work is that it can have long-lasting repercussions on your career, even if you leave the job in question.
The problem is that prospective employers may react negatively when they hear that you’ve left a previous position because of workplace bullying. This is why you need to be careful about your choice of words during interviews.
How to explain leaving a job due to bullying will depend on various factors. Here are a few possible ways in which you can handle interview questions regarding why you left your previous job:
1. Don’t Badmouth Your Former Employer
In the world we live in, being brutally honest will not always provide you with the best results.
Unfortunately, it may not go down well with a prospective employer if you complain about a hostile work environment at your previous job in an interview.
An interview is not the right platform if you’re looking to gain sympathy and understanding about unfair treatment from a former boss.
If you do want to complain about a bullying manager, you should do so through your company’s HR department while the bullying is still taking place.
In the event that you choose to leave the company, you can make your reasons for leaving clear during your exit interview.
If you bring up a bullying boss at your former place of employment during an interview, a prospective employer may start wondering what you may say about them in the future.
They may also view you as weak or negative, or lacking in communication skills or relationship building.
If you’ve left your previous job without laying formal charges against your manager, and you have the chance of receiving an OK reference from them, it may be in your best interest to rather not mention the actual reason you decided to leave your job.
You can side-step the interview question about why you left, with these types of responses:
- While I was quite happy in my previous position, I felt that the time had come to look for new challenges.
- I am grateful for the time I spent at ABC. But I am now ready for a more dynamic company culture.
- I had grown as much as I could at the company, so I needed to make a move to ensure that my career continues to develop.
2. Tell the Truth
While it is often the best move to not say that you left because of harassment in the workplace during an interview, you may choose to rather tell the truth.
You can either choose to do so because you feel you prefer to be truthful and have done nothing wrong, or you could opt to go this route because you made the reasons for why you were leaving your position clear with your previous employer.
This means that if you lie in your interview and they ask for references from your last employer, the truth may come out and you will look like a dishonest person.
However, even if you decide to tell the truth, you don’t need to furnish the interviewer with all the details.
Remain as unemotional and as objective as possible, and only share the necessary facts. Aim to not be overly critical of your previous employer, since this will reflect badly on you.
It’s also important that you highlight all the positive relationships you’ve had in your career, and that you mention the fact that this ongoing conflict at work was something new to you, since you typically get along with coworkers and management.
Ultimately, a prospective employer will be weary of employing someone who lacks people skills or the ability to work well in a team.
Your response to an interview question asking why you left your previous job, could look something like this: “Due to differences of opinion regarding what constitutes honesty, integrity, and professionalism in the workplace, I decided that it was in my best interest to pursue new opportunities. I would like to find an environment that is more compatible with my standards.”
3. Keep Turning the Conversation Towards the Future
Remember, it doesn’t matter how unfair or nasty your previous manager was. The world is small, and you don’t want your current actions to somehow affect your future employment negatively.
The wisest course of action would be to shift the conversation away from the negative events in the past and to rather focus on how you want to develop your career, and why you think you’re a good fit for the role you’re applying for.
If your interviewer asks you about difficult relationships you’ve had with coworkers or management in the past, you can mention your issues with your previous manager, but be sure to lay emphasis on the steps you took to try mend the relationship and overcome the conflict.
You can then mention what your manager’s responses were and that you ultimately chose to pursue other opportunities due to their actions.
If you’ve received positive references and good performance reviews from clients or other managers in your prior job, you should definitely mention these.
Instead of focusing on the negative relationship you had with this one manager, you want to paint a more holistic picture of who you are.
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Founder of Eggcellentwork.com. With over 20 years of experience in HR and various roles in corporate world, Jenny shares tips and advice to help professionals advance in their careers. Her blog is a go-to resource for anyone looking to improve their skills, land their dream job, or make a career change.