I received an email from a professional asking how she should handle the “Why did you leave your last job?” question. Now, I know this person personally and can tell you that she was in a really challenging work situation with a pretty crazy boss (let me be more specific — a bat-shit crazy boss) and she didn’t leave under the best of circumstances.
She wasn’t fired, but she left under awkward conditions and her former employer handled it very, very poorly. Over time, her job responsibilities had shifted — she was no longer doing the work she had been originally hired to do — and the program she had been working on was being taken in a totally different direction.
If you say “personality conflict with boss” you’re subtly throwing your former boss under the bus. And while that is tempting, any hint of negativity towards a former employer or boss is a red flag.
When asked she explained that the position roles and responsibilities, program direction and directives changed so much that it was no longer a good fit for either her or the employer. A friend of hers had advised her to say it was due to a personality conflict with her boss.
I agreed that the former (rather than latter) answer was the way to go. Here’s my response to her:
If you say “personality conflict with boss,” you’re subtly throwing your former boss under the bus. And while that is tempting, any hint of negativity towards a former employer or boss is a red flag. (We all know that “personality conflict” is code for “my boss was an idiot”). But in your case, I think there’s an even more compelling reason not to say this — you stuck it out and were there for a number of years. I would expect someone who cites a personality conflict with boss to have a short tenure with said boss – not a multi-year relationship. You know what I mean?
When you answer this question, you want your answer to satisfy their curiosity, not raise more questions. Personality conflict doesn’t pass this litmus test for me.
I also like the changing role/responsibilities explanation because you’re not blaming anyone. But mostly because the essence of your answer is “these things happen, things change, and that just resonates more with your personal brand.” You’re someone who comes in and get things done. So this answer just feels more authentic and real. It also shows maturity and adaptability too – times change, positions evolve and you evolve professionally too.
I cannot recommend that you use this same interview answer. Why? Because there is no one-size-fits-all rule. Your answer has to be authentic and honest. And above all, keep it clean and simple.