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Ask the Headhunter: What should I tell employers about why I quit my last job?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.

Question: I am a paralegal at a prestigious law firm. Our main office is on the East Coast, but I work in our West Coast office, which is in terrible turmoil. We have lost so many of our personnel that I worry about my own job. Even if I get to keep my job, I’m also worried about the piles of extra work I’m being given, as I cover for those who have left.

I think I am someone they want to keep, but they undervalue me. I am ready to leave, because I was referred to a better-run firm. I don’t know what to tell prospective employers when they interview me. I don’t see bad-mouthing the firm or airing the firm’s dirty laundry as constructive. What can I say when asked why I am leaving this firm after only two years?

Nick Corcodilos: Don’t be surprised if other law firms already know what turmoil there is at your current firm. Word gets around, and that may lead those employers to welcome you. But you’re right — you should not air your employer’s dirty laundry in job interviews.

I find that most employers are far more concerned about whether you’ll be a good employee for them than they are about whether your old place of work was a good employer for you.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Should I tell very personal stories in job interviews?

So try to shift the discussion to what really matters. Since you are being referred to the new firm, mention the person who made the recommendation. Here’s a good, honest answer to questions about why you’re leaving your old job.

How to say it

I’m looking for a good place to work that will take advantage of what I can do. So-and-so has told me your firm is one of the shining lights in this city. If you’d be kind enough to outline what problems or challenges you’d need a new hire to handle, I’ll show you how I’d go about doing the work in a profitable way for you.

Try that. If an employer is smart, it will read between the lines, no matter how long you worked at your last firm. Detailed explanations about your old job aren’t useful — and besides, the new employer wants to talk about their firm. Help them do that. Ask about their business and their processes and work flow. Demonstrate that you’re here to address their needs.

If they ask specifically why you’re leaving, leave it at this:

How to say it

I don’t like to criticize anyone I work for. But I also know I do my best work in a firm that is managed well. That’s why I’m here talking with you.

I think any good employer will recognize your professionalism in that statement.

Before you quit your old job, however, please prepare to do it right. See “Quit, Fired, Downsized: Leave on your own terms.”

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Will a company lowball me because I’m out of work?

If you get fired before you find a better employer, please see “How much should I say about getting fired?”

Dear Readers: What do you tell an employer about why you’re leaving your old job? Have you ever said something critical about an old boss that might have cost you a new job?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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