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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

September 14, 2016

I was passed over for GC and now want to leave the company. How do I address my reasons for leaving without sounding negative and bitter?

Julie Q. Brush

Whatever one’s reasons are for seeking greener pastures, the messaging about this topic…and how it’s communicated in an interview setting is critical. One wrong look, one wrong tone, one bitter comment – and you will have compromised your candidacy. Sometimes, beyond repair. Why the high stakes? Because employers like candidates who are positive, upbeat and professional. And they want to hire people who possess good judgment. Being negative, snarky, disparaging or vindictive about your current employment situation or employer demonstrates just the opposite. It also indicates that this negativity may be part of your disposition. So employers heavily scrutinize a candidate’s answer to this question. And they remember it.

So, when losing out on a promotion, how does a lawyer provide his/her reasons for leaving and avoid the negativity? Is it possible? Absolutely. Below are a few suggested options:

1. Question….Answer.

Employer: “So, what’s motivating you to look at other opportunities?”

Candidate #1: “I’ve been in my position for five years and have learned a lot since I started. As a senior lieutenant in the legal department, I have a great deal of responsibility and feel like I’ve capitalized on the opportunities to broaden my skills and develop as a legal executive. It’s been a terrific experience, but there is no additional room for advancement. So, I’m exploring other opportunities where I can continue to grow.”

Candidate #2: “I’ve been successful in my role and I’m well regarded in the organization. Recently, our General Counsel left the company and I was considered for his/her replacement. It was a selective process and I am grateful for the opportunity to have been considered. Ultimately, the executives chose a successor who was very strong in __________ [ie: corporate securities which was a requirement for our public company, had been a GC for 10 years, had a broader background/more management experience that was a better fit for the position etc.]. I think the legal department will be in great hands, but given this development I’d like to pursue new opportunities where I can continue to grow.”

2. Proactively Address the Reason For Leaving.

In this situation, you don’t wait for the question. You proactively address it and weave your response in to the conversation. Example: “This opportunity is appealing to me because of the diverse aspects of the position and the level of responsibility. I enjoy my current role and my colleagues, but recently a new GC joined the company and I feel like opportunities to grow and learn new things will be limited. I’ve had a great time, but am looking forward to moving in a new direction.

Handling the subject of a departure effectively in an interview requires a delicate balance of graciousness, diplomacy, honesty and a little velvet in the touch. If a candidate can learn these skills and apply them wisely, s/he will be able to tackle any sticky interview question that may arise. So do not approach this dynamic with fear, but rather view it as an opportunity to demonstrate your judgment, maturity and overall professionalism. You’ll feel less anxiety and more confidence. And the results will speak for themselves.

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