Hate Your Former Boss? Handle These Job Interview Questions Carefully

angry face
Photo: Andre Hunter /

It happens in job interviews all the time. People who are unhappy with former employers share all the reasons their last boss was a jerk. While it may be true, this is not an appropriate subject for your interview.

Here are three reasons bad-mouthing a former boss is a bad idea.

1. The employer may assume you will one day speak about him or her the same way.
Since the interviewer does not know you personally, your brief interview will be the only glimpse he or she gets of your personality and character. He may easily assume that if you are willing to speak negatively about a former employer, you will do the same about this company. Make a rule for yourself to never speak negatively about a former employer–even if they were the worst of the worst!

2. It makes you look like a complainer.
Employers don’t want to hire people with negative attitudes. They look for upbeat, optimistic team players who will fit in with the variety of employees and managers already on the team. Don’t give them a reason to easily rule you out! Frame your answers in the most positive way possible. It is okay to acknowledge that people have different management styles and personalities, but they want to know that you can get along with the team regardless of their individual quirks. 

3. It’s a small world!
Your potential employer could know your former boss. This is especially true when you are seeking a job in the same industry. Industry professionals–even competitors–often socialize in the same business circles. If they don’t know your former employer directly, they may be friends with someone who does. You  never want to burn bridges since networking is still the best way to land a job.

Most people don’t approach a job interview with plans to speak negatively about a former boss during an interview. It tends to happen because a question prompts you to think about past work situations.

Here are a few interview questions that can sometimes lead to negative comments about a former employer. For questions like these, try these strategies.

Why did you leave your last position?

If you were fired, or if the reason you left was related to your boss, you should be careful how you answer. Stress that you enjoyed being part of the team, and you usually have been able to please all of your former bosses. However, this one never seemed to be happy with your work. Explain the steps you took to try to rectify the situation (assuming you did). This could include adjusting to his or her management style, asking for more clarification or feedback on tasks you were given, or asking him or her what you could do better and working to improve. Explain that in the end, it just wasn’t a good fit, but it was a good learning experience.

Of course, a better answer is to try to steer clear of the above topics entirely. If you left to pursue a better position, to relocate, or to try out a different career field, elaborate on these while remaining positive about the company and your time there.

Tell me about a time when you didn’t agree with a supervisor. How did you find a resolution?

In this answer, speak about your former supervisor respectfully, and emphasize the steps you took to create a positive outcome. Perhaps you had information about the issue that your boss didn’t have, and once you explained your rationale she determined you were right. Or, maybe your boss made a new policy with which you didn’t agree. Explain your reasoning and how you communicated those to your boss. What was the result? Did you reach a compromise? Did you go along with his decision feeling better because your concerns were heard and addressed? It is okay to acknowledge that everyone will not agree all the time, but you need to stress that you are a team player willing to respectfully work through disagreements.

Tell me about a time when a supervisor was not satisfied with your work. What actions did you take?

The important thing to stress in this answer is what you learned from the experience and how you have put that knowledge into practice since then. Perhaps you misunderstood your supervisor’s expectations, and you learned to ask for clarification when beginning new projects. Perhaps you did not have the resources to complete the task adequately, and you learned to plan more thoroughly and inquire about needed resources earlier in the project timeline. Whatever example you use, be sure to include how it resulted in a positive resolution for your employer and helped you grow in your position.

Whether you enjoyed working for your former employer or not, maintain a positive attitude about your previous positions. Hopefully, working for your next boss will be much more enjoyable!

Published by Career Coach Belinda

I’ve helped job seekers of all ages and career levels develop résumés, craft cover letters, and approach job interviews with confidence.

Leave a Reply