How to speak about your ex-boss in an interview

The questions always come up.

‘Why did you leave your last role?’

‘How would your previous boss describe you?’

‘What do you think of your last boss?’

Or anything along these lines which can remind you of the nightmare that is your ex-boss.

No matter what you think of that person, it’s important that this doesn’t show in your interview. In an ideal case, before going into the interview you should make peace with who your boss is as a person. Perhaps try to see things from their perspective and then peacefully try to find a workplace in which you feel more comfortable. However, sometimes when we feel hard done by, it’s not so easy to take this perspective. In saying that, it’s obvious we cannot be negative when talking about our old bosses (new bosses do not want to hear that!)

So, here are our tips on how to speak about your ex-boss in an interview.

Don’t get personal

Don’t allow your emotions to get the better of you. Maybe your boss was horrible, but that is not what the interviewer is actually asking you about. They’re testing you. Are you professional? Will you communicate effectively? Can you find the positive in difficult situations? Can you think quickly? This is a moment to use your logic. You need to answer carefully, without judgemental language. It is also useful to watch your body language when tough questions come up. Sometimes a facial expression can give it all away. Remain composed.

Be honest

It’s okay, everyone knows that not everyone gets along and there are regularly differences between colleagues. Be honest but artful in describing the situation. State the circumstances with objectivity, don’t throw blame on anyone else, even take some responsibility for what happened! It’s only useful to you to be honest and show that you handled the situation eloquently and with professionalism.

Show growth

No one has a bad boss or an awful experience at work without growing and learning from it. It’s vital to be able to make a negative into a positive. Describe why a difficulty enabled you to learn how to improve something else. For example, an article from Glassdoor uses the example of a woman having an inflexible work schedule that ultimately taught her to manage her time better.   

Don’t say too much

When talking about old bosses and ex-workplaces it’s essential that you know when to stop answering a question. Even if there were several negatives that come to mind, pinpoint one that is easiest to apply the above tips too. Don’t ramble on about how badly you want/ed to leave, it will come off as grouchy and desperate.

Your potential employers will never want to hear bad words about your ex-employer. It can be concerning for a manager to think about what you’ll say about them. If you do end up lashing out at your old boss in an interview, it will likely cost you the job.

Other ways to get into a better headspace when it comes to discussing your old boss is to remember the positive aspects of your role and workplace. And, as mentioned earlier, try to see things from their perspective. Most bullies were bullied themselves at some stage. Try to understand their behaviour. Lastly, look introspectively and make sure you weren’t adding fuel to the fire with your behaviour at work. This will help identify more things that you can learn from.