Stay Positive About Former Employers

If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say it at your interview.  So says Julie Zeman, an employment recruiter at GROUP II LLC in Brookfield, Wis.

Many applicants come to Julie’s office with the hopes of finding a job. Inevitably, applicants’ past work experience comes up, and that’s when some of the biggest mistakes are made.

“Saying negative things about your former employer is one of the worst things you can do at an interview,” Julie says. “Most interviews go along great. Unfortunately, some candidates blow the interview by talking down their former employer.”

Julie admits that many applicants’ bitterness is justified, but it’s best worked out with someone else.

“Some people have genuinely bad experiences at their past positions,” Julie says. “As their interviewer, I’m not the person to vent their frustrations to. It’s good to establish rapport with your interviewer, but you’re still here to sell yourself, and you’re not going to do it by running down your past employer.”

How to handle past negative experiences

Negative past experiences are normal for any job seeker. After all, if everything was rosy at your former employer, you’d still be there!

At the interview, your goal is to present a positive, enthusiastic persona that leaves a confident impression. The interview is not the time nor place to express bitterness, resentfulness, or anger. Even if it’s really eating at you; for this one meeting, just let it go.

Adopt an attitude of “Oh, well. Lesson learned.” You went through it, you survived it, and you’re ready for your next challenge. 

Some things you might say about less-than-ideal experiences include:

  • The position grew into something I wasn’t expecting.
  • The atmosphere did not work well with my positive attitude.
  • I was unable to maintain an effective work/life balance.
  • I was not ethically comfortable with some of the things I was asked to do.
  • I was not challenged in my former position.
  • They’re experiencing a lot of turnover.

Conversely, some of the things you definitely want to avoid saying include:

  • I hated it there.
  • My boss/coworker was a jerk.
  • My job sucked.
  • It was terrible.
  • No one likes it there.
  • I always had to work later than I wanted.

Sound obvious? Unfortunately, interviewers hear negative comments like these more than they would like to!

Before the interview, prepare yourself with some talking points about what skills you learned at your former employer, what positive experiences you can bring with you, and at least one thing that you liked about your former employer. The bigger the challenge it is for you do to this, the more important it is that you do it!


Remember, it’s your interview and your chance to sell yourself. Former employer bitterness will not help you make your case. Your positive attitude WILL help you shine as a great prospective employee!