At some point in your professional career you’ll face conflict or disagreement in the workplace. If this conflict eventually leads you to part ways with that organization, describing this experience to prospective employers can be a tricky task. Many job seekers, including seasoned professionals, make the mistake of talking negatively about a previous employer, which puts them in an awkward position during interviews for a new job.
Take for example a report where Tom Coughlin, former head coach of the New York Giants, bashed his old team in an interview for a head coaching vacancy with the Philadelphia Eagles. Not only did this almost guarantee he wouldn’t get the position, but there are certain steps he could have taken to call out difficult experiences while making a positive impression on the Eagles. If you’re unsure of how giving bad reviews can hurt your chances of getting hired and how you should respond if you find yourself in this situation, consider the following 3 anecdotes:
- Bad mouthing past employers is seen as unprofessional
Although you had a bad experience at your previous employer, resist the urge to talk negatively about them at all costs. Why? Nothing says unprofessional during an interview more than someone talking ill about an employer only to make themselves look better. According to the report, Coughlin “came off more concerned with making the Giants look bad than being consumed with coaching the Eagles,” which didn’t sit well with the prospective team.
In the eyes of prospective employers, this is seen as a poor reflection on your professional character, and as a result, can draw attention to weaknesses you possess. In contrast, prospective employers are most concerned with your ability to help their organization, therefore, instead of talking negatively about other employers, put more emphasis on how you handled (and overcame) difficult situations in a professional manner.
- There are more graceful ways to describe bad experiences
“Tell me about a challenging time and how you got past it” is a typical interview question you may encounter. However, how you answer this question will say a lot about you as a future employee, so it’s important to choose your words wisely. For example, rather than highlighting his two Super Bowl championships and multiple trips to the playoffs while working for the Giants, Tom Coughlin focused on “how he felt wronged by the Giants” during his interview.
Whether you disagreed with the management style or didn’t get along with certain staff members, broadly state your particular experience, but highlight the skills you cultivated in order to overcome those obstacles. You can also point out how this success will translate into your new role. For instance, if you stayed in a job in which you felt out of place yet still performed at a high level, this could speak to your emotional intelligence; particularly your ability to manage stressful situations/relationships in a professional manner. Therefore, whenever there is an opportunity to emphasize the soft skills (i.e., communication style, transferable skills, etc.) you developed from a negative experience, mention them, as they can speak to a variety of your professional strengths.
- Lying about an experience is just as bad as giving a negative review
Unless your story shows how you persevered, you should refrain from lying about a negative experience during an interview because there’s always a chance the truth will be revealed. Put yourself in a hiring manger’s position, would you believe 100% of what an interviewee might tell you during an interview? Chances are you wouldn’t and nor should you expect a hiring manager to believe everything you say.
Whether you lied or fabricated certain parts of your experience, you never know how your interviewer will respond. In order to gauge if a job seeker is telling the truth about a specific experience with an employer, some hiring managers will do their own research to confirm that you’re telling the truth. If they find out you lied, it can do more than cost you the job; it can also hurt your credibility and professional reputation. Take for instance, Tom Coughlin’s dissatisfaction with how his 12-year career ended with the Giants. While it isn’t clear if he stretched the truth during his interview, this experience has certainly raised some red flags about his professionalism to other NFL organizations. In the end, before you consider giving a bad review or lying about an experience to increase your chances of landing the job, understand that you might actually be doing yourself more harm than good if it isn’t an accurate portrayal of the truth.