The Only Interview Rule I Follow: Don’t Badmouth Your Former Employers

In another life, I was a district manager for a retail chain. Part of that job included traveling to various cities and recruiting, interviewing and hiring entire staffs for stores that were opening. I didn’t have much HR experience, but I learned really quickly how to read an applicant and gauge their work ethic from just a short interview.

Obviously, that type of interviewing is the most basic level of hiring you can get. Check backround reports. Make sure there are no grammatical or spelling errors, which always throws out a lot more candidates than you would assume. Once that was done, I basically had one criteria that told me most of what I wanted to know about a person, did they or did they not completely trash-talk their former employer? I felt like it told me so much about their attitude and ability to be professional. And yet, a surprising number of job applicants spent precious time rattling on about how awful their last boss or company was.

For years, I assumed that what I thought was obviously bad manners of inexperienced interviewers would no longer be a problem once I entered a more professional setting. Surely, no one looking to move into an established company would complain of office politics or payroll issues of their former companies.

Then I had a long talk with a friend who handles HR and hiring for a multi-million dollar company. What was her biggest red flag? You guessed it. Negativity about your former employer.

Listen, there are possibly a million interview tips across the internet. There are ways to hold your head, your hands, and your briefcase. There are words you can’t say, words you must say and words you should consider “sprinkling” into the conversation. You can a million and one job interview tips if you’re so inclined.

But I have just one. Don’t badmouth your former boss.

I don’t care if your employer violated the law, don’t talk bad about them. This is the one part of the interview where an intensely vague, “We were moving in different directions,” or “There were personal issues,” is completely acceptable. In fact, you can compliment your former bosses and still say that you were looking for something different, something more.

Negativity about your former job sends the signal that you’ll be negative about your next job. Interviewers don’t want to hire someone who complains, who looks at the bad side, or who doesn’t seem to be satisfied. From the prospective of the employer, a whiner looks ungrateful. And that’s the last thing anyone wants in their office.

I don’t know how many executives I’ve heard say that they’re building a culture at their company. And it’s never a culture of people who see the glass as half empty. Everyone wants an optimistic atmosphere in the office. They know that they aren’t going to achieve that by hiring someone who brings up their old gripes when they’re looking to start a new position.

You can get a lot of tips about interviewing. There are whole books about it. I have one, very simple rule. Don’t complain.

(Photo: Yuri Arcurs/Shutterstock)


Share This Post:
    • B.A.M. Marketing Solutions

      Simple, and very very true! A positive and can-do attitude is certainly something we look for when hiring new employees. No company wants a negative employee dragging them down.

    • B.A.M. Marketing Solutions

      Simple, and very very true! A positive and can-do attitude is certainly something we look for when hiring new employees. No company wants a negative employee dragging them down.

    • Pingback: You Need To Talk About Salary Negotiations In Your Job Interview()

    • Pingback: Joan Anderssen | Job Interview Red Flags: Talking Inappropriately About Your Former Boss()

    • HS

      Whilst badmouthing former employers in an emotional way is not OK (and is a very immature and unprofessional thing to do), I do think an employee should tell his
      prospective employer what he wants – and also doesn’t want. I don’t see any
      issue in showing that you have a view on things.

      If a past work environment or past working procedures weren’t a good fit for you, you
      should express that in the most neutral possible way (sticking to the facts). Your future employer isn’t benefited in any way if you don’t say the truth, put on a big smile … and then once you work there, come up with unhappiness/ different expectations or worse, quit after a short period of time.

      E.g. expectations, working preferences and company culture are essentials that should be discussed during the job interview to avoid expensive hiring mistakes!! No one is benefited by considering those topics taboo, when they are quite neutral in fact.