In a good economy, we always see an increase in the number of people who decide to, "take this job and shove it." Job seeker confidence is high, in spite of the fact it's actually harder to get a job in a good economy. And, while walking out the door to never deal with a toxic boss or coworkers feels good initially. You eventually have to face the big question, "Why'd you leave your last employer?"

There Are 3 Sides to a Quitting Story. Yours, Theirs, and the Truth.

Early on in my HR career, I was taught to always dig deeper when a job seeker quits without another job lined up. What could have been so bad it merited not having an income or a reference? Historically, there were only a few reasons:

  1. They knew they were about to be fired and quit to avoid the embarrassment.
  2. They were actually fired and lied about it.
  3. They couldn't handle the toxicity of the workplace another day and felt it was severely impacting their health, making quitting feel like the only option.

Now, you might think the third one is easy to explain. I mean, what good employer wouldn't respect the decision to put your health first, right? Well, this is where it gets murky. The problem lies in your definition of a "toxic" workplace. What's unbearable for some is okay for others. The person interviewing is trying to figure out if quitting was truly justified. Or, if you're a high maintenance employee, making you part of the problem. Thus, you need to be extremely prepared to discuss why you quit.

No Accountability for What Happened? Then, You're a Risk.

When explaining why you quit a toxic job, it's very important you own part of what happened. You may not have created the problem, but you allowed it to get to a level of severity that made you quit. Employers don't want to hire people who up and quit unexpectedly. Looking back, you must identify where you should have taken different actions so it didn't get so bad in the first place. If you can't prove you've learned and grown from this negative work experience, how can a new employer feel confident you'll make sure it doesn't happen again? An example might be:

It was a very difficult decision to quit and one I didn't take lightly. I've thought a lot about what happened and I regret not realizing it was a poor fit sooner. There were warning sides, like the time when (insert here), but I didn't feel like looking for work and just hoped it would get better. I own that mistake now. I understand I wasn't doing them or me any favors by staying. The good news is I learned a lot about what kind of environment I work best in. (Insert examples here.) That's why I'm so excited about this opportunity. I miss working and want to put this behind me. More importantly, I want to be able to impress a new employer and prove to them and myself the right fit makes all the difference."

No two explanations will be the same, but they all should follow the same process. Objectively evaluating the situation and discussing what it's taught you proves you aren't a complainer who likes to play the blame game.

P.S. Expect the Interview Process to Be More Thorough Too.

Besides having to explain why you quit, you should expect interviewers will want to dig deeper with some additional behavioral questions. They know you likely have a prepared answer to why you quit, so the extra questions are used to determine if you're being authentic. Knowing how to effectively respond to behavioral questions is an important skill for job seekers today. If you want to put a toxic job behind you, be ready to market yourself properly.

Published on: Apr 9, 2018