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I refused to report to someone with whom I did not feel comfortable. As a result, my employer opted to put me on a performance plan. Instead, I resigned with a severance, but am devastated. How do I address the circumstances of my departure in an interview?
Office politics can be complicated. Sometimes the stakes are low…and sometimes they are frighteningly high. It sounds like there has been some conflict brewing for some time with your colleagues, which has culminated in your departure. I’m sure the situation has been stressful and I’m sorry for that. I recommend that you find healthy ways of decompressing after this experience (vacation, exercise, eat healthy, spend time with friends, seek professional assistance etc.) so you can be prepared and on your game when it’s time to interview.
You have not provided me with the details regarding the nature of your reporting refusal or the root of your discomfort, so I cannot say for certain whether your refusal to report to a specific colleague is indeed tethered to your perceived performance issues. Regardless, you are leaving your job and will need to explain the circumstances of your departure in any interview you encounter. In order to address this question successfully, you will need to keep in mind the following advice about your message:
Keep It Simple.
There’s no need to go into the weeds about the circumstances involving your soon-to-be former employer. One whiff of a soap opera and your candidacy will be DOA. Even if you are in the right, you will be perceived more negatively if you are at or near the center of a political conflict. So your message should be simple without a lot of twists and turns.
Keep it Brief.
Employers have a good deal to learn about you in a short period of time. So a long and cumbersome explanation will be tedious and waste time that is better spent conveying your awesomeness. So keep it brief and move on.
Keep it Positive.
I know you’re coming off a bad experience and are devastated. But employers do not like candidates who are negative, angry, snarky, overly emotional, whiney or resentful. While you may feel better by expressing your true feelings, there is simply no upside in doing so. Instead, focus on the positive. What did you learn? How did you grow? With whom did you like working and why? What did you like about the company/firm? If you feel you are in a place where you cannot muster the strength to be genuinely positive, put your job search on hold until things have calmed down and you are in a better place.
Keep it Honest.
This does not mean that you have to disclose all the gory details, but it also does not mean that you should lie. Any message can be conveyed effectively, it’s how you do it – with the words and tone that you use.
Many people have a hard time with silent pauses and blank space in a conversation. So when silence ensues, they talk…and talk…and talk. In your interview, you will undoubtedly be a little nervous, which may escalate when the topic of your departure arises. So once you deliver your message, stop talking. Be silent and move on to the next topic of discussion. Sit with your discomfort and resist the urge to fill dead space or you’ll find yourself over-sharing.
Below are a few examples that will serve as a guide as you prepare for your own message:
Interviews can give rise to sticky situations. And addressing the reasons behind a departure can get even stickier. But a departure with a little drama need not kill your candidacy. By following the suggestions and examples above, you can deliver a well-prepared message that can ease your nerves and increase your chances of moving forward in the process…drama free.
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