When Is It Okay to Bad-Mouth a Past Employer?

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Workers can be laid off for a wide variety of reasons. Sometimes it has to do with a lack of performance, and other times it stems from personal differences in leadership or work style. You wonder, at what point is it okay to speak the truth about how you were pushed out of a company? Surely the hiring manager will understand having likely worked in HR themselves. So when can you speak to how horrible you feel your past employer or boss was in a first interview? Never. While you should speak truthfully, it’s important not to be negative. We’ll explain why below.

Keep Calm & Carry On (Your Job Search)

Before getting into why it’s not a good idea to bad-mouth past employers, we’ll talk about why you should hold onto positive experiences. It’s common to feel slighted whenever you are let go. The company may have been downsizing, or acquired, or maybe you didn’t reach a monthly quota. For whatever reason, you are now looking for another job. While you may have good memories and experiences from that past job, they’re probably not at the forefront of your mind. However, it’s important that you hold onto them. Those positive experiences of growth, learning, and teamwork are what you will want to bring to interviews. Avoid bringing up the less friendly emotions resulting from being out of a job.

This is important for a few reasons. As we’ve mentioned in previous blogs, storytelling goes a long way in getting an interviewer on your side. Holding onto your best and most productive days in your last position are what will allow you to tell stories that will engage the interviewer and demonstrate your value as an employee. Being able to talk positively about your job shows the recruiter that you are focused on moving forward. Nobody is going to hire someone who still is holding onto a grudge from their last job. This brings us to the next point.

You Only Hurt Yourself

If you do wind up speaking ill of your past employer, it will do more damage to you then it does them, every time. No matter how wronged you feel, the interviewer is focused on you in this interview. Even when you bring up past positions and companies, they are all focused on seeing them through the lens of your employment. So if you speak negatively about a past company you’ve worked for, it only makes you look bad.

It’s a tough line to walk, but you have to be honest without speaking negatively. It’s okay to say that you had creative differences, or different methodologies. They will most likely speak to your references (or already have). This means anything you say will be confirmed later, or already has been. Given that, take the opportunity to illustrate how you wish to improve and grow. If you were let go due to sub par performance, discuss how it’s motivated you to be a better worker.

Find what is positive about the unfortunate circumstances, and show them that this has made you a good fit for the job you are looking at now. It can be tough to resist the urge to speak in a bad light about your past employer. However, if you are able to approach it tactfully, you will thank yourself when you are called in for a second interview.

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