How to Discuss a Bad Boss in an Interview

A job interview is not the place to badmouth a former boss.

A job interview is not the place to badmouth a former boss.

As your mother used to say, "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all." This is the best approach to job interviews when it comes to discussing former bosses or co-workers. But even if you don't think your former boss has a single redeeming quality, come up with a neutral and creative way to answer the question without badmouthing him. Criticizing a former boss makes you appear unprofessional and might raise questions in the interviewer's mind about how you'd handle yourself with people you don't like in the new job.

Avoid discussing problems, personal issues or personality conflicts from previous jobs during interviews with prospective employers. Keep your answers to interviewer's questions focused on the positive as much as possible, particularly regarding your former boss. Interviewers often use questions about how you got along at your previous jobs to assess whether, or how well, you might fit into their corporate culture and how you interact with those in authority.

Plan your answers to "bad boss" questions before you go to an interview. This will keep you from having to think of something on the spot, which increases the possibility you might slip up and blurt out the wrong thing. Even if your old boss was a cross between Attila the Hun and Glenn Close's character in "The Devil Wears Prada," come up with a neutral-sounding comment about his "dynamic leadership" or his effectiveness at getting high levels of productivity from his employees. You don't have to tell the interviewer he accomplished the latter by screaming threats at the top of his lungs.

Prepare a smooth transition to get the interview back onto less dangerous ground. Offer your prepared, "safe" answer to the bad boss question, then use it as a lead-in to something else. "Yes, my former boss demanded a lot of his employees, but this has prepared me to always give 100 percent to every task I take on at work, something that will serve me well in you new accounts division." Hopefully, this will move the conversation back to the job at hand, with your interviewer respecting your artful handling of the question.

 

About the Author

As a national security analyst for the U.S. government, Molly Thompson wrote extensively for classified USG publications. Thompson established and runs a strategic analysis company, is a professional genealogist and participates in numerous community organizations.Thompson holds degrees from Wellesley and Georgetown in psychology, political science and international relations.

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