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How much should I say about my previous employer? Add to ...

The question

Last summer I quit a rewarding career in marketing with a telecommunications giant for two main reasons: My role had dramatically changed, and the work environment and leadership did not meet my expectations. Fortunately I was offered, and accepted, a severance package. Now that the package has run out, I want to find a new job but am finding it difficult to explain why I quit. I want to be honest about the poor team culture with my previous employer but fear it will reflect poorly on me.

I have nearly 10 years of experience and getting back into the work force with an eight-month gap is proving challenging to explain. I have spent the time travelling and learning French, so hope I can capitalize on those points. Do you have advice on how to account for the job-gap history and explain the situation with my previous employer?

The answer

You are not alone in leaving a job because of a change in roles and a lack of fit with the company leadership and work environment. The fortuitous factor in your case is that you resigned and you got a package, which is not common in tough economic times. I assume your employer was willing to offer the package because your role had changed significantly.

The fact that you have about 10 years of marketing experience is helpful, but you should realize that you will be competing with people who may have even more experience. This is where you will want to distinguish your experience and skills so that you will stand out from others with similar skills and experience.

I understand your concern about how to explain the eight-month gap in your résumé. Hiring gaps in CVs are not unusual, because it takes time to find a new position, especially the more senior you are in an organization.

If you can show a potential employer that you used your time to take courses or do volunteer work to enhance your skills, or travelled to broaden your knowledge and experience, this may enhance your marketability and exhibit your commitment to learning. If you highlight this in the selection process, you need to explain to hiring managers how these skills and experiences make you a better job candidate.

Be as positive as possible about your previous job and company. Highlight what you accomplished and what you learned in that position. You should never speak negatively about a previous employer, its management or its practices. If you do, prospective employers will think you will do the same when you leave their employ.

But you will need to be upfront when asked why you left your last job. In your case, you can say that you were severed from your position – a not uncommon situation in this economy. If the interviewer does not ask any more questions about it, this is all that you will have to say.

If the interviewer asks if there were any other reasons that you left , you can indicate that even though you appreciated your former employer, your role had changed significantly and you were not the best fit for the company. Your style was different than their work style, perhaps. Do not disparage your previous employer for its hiring practices or leadership.

Be prepared to indicate what you learned from this situation; for example, you could say that you have since learned to do more research about a company to ensure there is a good fit (and be sure you do it!).

Tell those who interview you that you have done your research about their company and the position involved; explain why you feel you are a good match for the company, and stress that you will be able to make a long-term commitment and contribution to the company.

Employers are looking for bright, creative, experienced candidates who are not afraid to learn new things and who are able to make a significant contribution to the company's culture, as well as its bottom line.

When you are being interviewed for a new job, remember to lead with the positives – and keep your comments and judgments about your previous employer in check.

Bruce Sandy is principal of www.brucesandy.com and Pathfinder Coaching & Consulting in Vancouver.

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