Question: I walked off my last job in frustration with a boss who constantly belittled me and others, never gave clear guidance and ripped apart anything that wasn’t his idea. I know that not giving two weeks’ notice may hurt me, so how do I explain it in job interviews?
Answer: It may be easier than you think to deal with this issue, so don’t beat yourself up about quitting suddenly.
Feeling undervalued or unrecognized at work is one of the main reasons why employees quit. It sounds as though you couldn’t stand the abuse you were getting from you boss for another moment and that walking out was the right thing for you to do.
“If people are so abused on the job that it hurts them mentally or physically or in their private lives, then walking out is sometimes what they need to do for themselves,” says Russ Jones, a partner with First Transitions Inc., an Oak Brook, Ill., outplacement firm.
Potential employers may never know that you walked out without giving notice, so don’t bring it up unless you’re asked. But you’ll need to craft a carefully-worded and dispassionate statement to explain why you left. Tell the truth but keep your answer very general. As much as you’re tempted, don’t blame your boss. There are always two sides to every situation, and employers may shy away from someone who doesn’t seem to take responsibility for problems. You might say, “My manager and I had very different work styles and I decided to leave.”
However, be prepared to answer a follow-up question based on your first response, says Mr. Jones. For example, in the answer above, you mentioned differences in style, so you might be asked to explain your boss’s style. Here you could say, “My previous supervisor and I had a very open collaborative relationship. But my latest boss took the opposite approach and I felt I was working for a different company.”
Try to take some responsibility for what happened, says Christopher Seiwald, president of Perforce Software Inc. in Alameda, Calif. “If a candidate says his former boss was a jerk, it sends off alarms,” says Mr. Seiwald. “But if you say, ‘I couldn’t handle my boss’s style,’ and concede a bit, you’ll gain respect.”
Perforce Software typically asks open-ended “behavioral” questions that require applicants to explain how they did something, Mr. Seiwald says. His company might probe to determine if you can get along with managers or if walking out is a pattern for you by asking something like: “Tell us about a situation where you and your manager didn’t see eye-to-eye.” Again, you might say, “In my last job, I felt I met all my objectives and delivered more than what was required. But my boss and I always had a different point of view. I resigned to devote myself full-time to finding a new position.”
If you’re contacted by an executive recruiter, you’ll likely be asked more detailed questions about why you left your previous position, says Marie Rice, a managing director of Jay Gaines & Co. Inc, a New York search firm. In most cases, a recruiter will find out if you quit suddenly, she says.
“It would come out in our discussions about the circumstances surrounding the recent job transition,” Ms. Rice says.
Recruiters try to explain any potential red flags about candidates to their clients. Tell the search executive truthfully, objectively and succinctly what happened. To ensure candidates were honest about a career misstep, most search firms will try to learn both sides of the story on their own, Ms. Rice says.