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Career Management Advice: The Departed

by on May 25, 2010

When you are looking for a new job, at some point the interviewer will ask you why you left your last job.  They’ll ask about your relationship with your last boss and what pros and cons were involved in your last position.  These are tricky questions, but you have to answer them and you need to be as positive as possible in your answers.   In no event should you discuss disliking your ex-boss, co-workers or office environment. 

This is crucial because your answer will be a clue ro your potential about how you will talk about them should you be brought on board and then are fired/ laid off or quit.  It is also simply seems petty to complain about “so and so” who made you end having to do extra work, etc.  Instead, try to speak about what appeals to you in the position you are applying for.  If you were bored at your old job, talk about how you are looking forward to an even more challenging role.  If you felt you had personality conflicts with your boss or felt overworked or mistreated, simply say that they had a different management style than you are accustomed to. Most recruiters and HR people are well-connected and very likely know who the screamers and paper throwers are at any given firm.  In a similar vein, your interviewer will likely know about the firm’s culture and quality of life, so if the work environment as a whole was a poor fit for you, simply indicate that you are looking for a change (to spend more time with your family, reduce commute, etc.) and they will likely be able to read between the lines.

On the flip side, many people also make the mistake of bad mouthing people exiting their firm or failing to maintain a good relationship with peers with whom they get along. Why is this important? Because, in the words of Hiring Partner at Law Shucks:

“If you ask people who have left places of employment – firms, companies etc. — most of them will easily remember if they were not treated well on the way out the door.”

And besides simply being professional, HP also points out other reasons for avoiding bad feelings when you or someone else leaves your firm:

“Well, aside from being a decent person, there are several other reasons. I don’t seem to get why people do not understand that when someone leaves your office, they actually become more valuable to you as a contact — if they are going in-house, that is a potential client; if they are moving firms, that is a potential referral. People outside your firm or organization are not the enemy…they can be allies, referral sources.

If people like you and think highly of you — like you are a classy person who treated them well — they will call on you for things like speaking engagements, committees, etc.”

“And when your friend is settled, email, Linkedin, Facebook, make it easy to stay in touch. Give them a call or set up a coffee, lunch, an after work drink to see how they are doing. They will appreciate it. When someone emails me new contact info — even if it is a generic email to a bunch of people in the firm – I forward it right away to my assistant so she can update the information in my contacts. That way it is easily accessible. It takes a little bit of time to make the effort to stay in touch, but is well worth it.”

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