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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

November 15, 2019

My management team is dysfunctional and the culture is terrible. How honest should I be about this in an interview? What should I say when asked my reasons for leaving?

Julie Q. Brush

The High Road. It isn’t always easy to take. Particularly if you’re charged with negative emotions about a current or prior employment situation. But in a professional setting such as an interview, taking The High Road is the only option. And those who choose to walk a path with unchecked emotions risk tremendous career downside. Regardless of how terrible things are: dysfunctional execs, mercurial boss, bad culture, being underpaid or being wronged…talking negatively about the reasons for your departure in an interview will reflect poorly on you. Every time. This negativity also makes a lasting impression on employers about their experience with you as a candidate. A disapproval that could follow you and impact your career long past this job interview.

So how does one take The High Road and preserve a professional demeanor without stretching the truth or being overly cryptic?

In order to do so effectively, I recommend that you contemplate your reasons for leaving and write down…word for word…how you plan to articulate these reasons when an employer inquires. In addition, it’s important to practice this messaging out loud until you are confident with your response. Below are a few categories and message examples:

• Undervalued/Underappreciated
“I’ve been at Company A for seven years and feel like I’ve had a great run. I’ve learned a lot and have achieved many goals. So I’m ready for my next challenge in an environment where I can contribute in the many different areas where I can bring value.”

• Bad Culture
“My role has been challenging which is what I enjoy and thrive on, but the company’s culture has gone through some changes and I no longer feel like there is an alignment. So I’m seeking a position with a company that is team-oriented, collaborative and positive.”

• Dysfunctional Executives
“Throughout my three year tenure, I’ve worked on very interesting matters and I also enjoy working with my colleagues in the legal department. However there has been some misalignment in the executive ranks which has had an unfortunate influence on the culture. So I’m seeking another environment that is positive and energetic where I can thrive.”

• Passed Over for Promotion
“I’ve been with Company X for four years and have enjoyed my position. But I feel like I currently have limited opportunity for growth. So I’m exploring opportunities with organizations where I can continue to grow and learn.”

• You Don’t Respect Your Boss
“I have enjoyed my role and am proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I’m interested in seeking new challenges and learning from a new group of great executives.”

• Company is Failing
“When I joined Company J, it was growing quickly and the executives were optimistic. But a few years ago the company lost its way and the execs have been trying to regain its footing since that time. I’ve had the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility as a result – which has made me a more well rounded and sophisticated lawyer. I’m now looking for my next chapter where I can bring value to another organization.

No employer or job is perfect and every employment situation has its warts. But it’s crucial to keep your emotions in check and take The High Road when discussing your reasons for leaving in a job interview. Doing so will preserve your reputation and integrity – and will project executive presence. All positive attributes in a candidate. The High Road isn’t always easy and sometimes it requires a Herculean effort to stay on course. But by making this your common route you’ll heighten your quality as a candidate as well as a professional.

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