I am currently employed full-time and grateful to have a job. I am in the finance department of a small but unethical company which has no accountability, multiple “hands in the pot,” and uses unethical business practices. My suggestions to improve the department and to comply with GAAP (generally accepted accounting principles) are always met with, “That’s just the way it’s done here.” I can’t live with this. I have an exit strategy and the support of my spouse while I seek employment.
How do I approach the issue in interviews with future potential employers when they ask why I left that job and why I’m not working? Although honesty is the best policy, I most certainly cannot discuss the wrong-doings. Suggestions?
You work with bad apples and want to get away from them. That reflects well on you. You just need to say it the right way.
I worked for an unethical company
You could just come out and say it, but that’s not diplomatic. Saying it like that could raise questions about your tact in general. I don’t mean you should play the game of, “Well, you know what that means…”. But how you say you worked for a bad apple of an employer says a lot about you.
How to Say It
“I want to work for your company because you are one of the shining lights in this industry. I left my previous company because as a small, closely held operation it behaved in ways I was not comfortable with. I realized that I want to be in a more progressive company that is run ethically. Fortunately, my personal finances are solid and I can afford to take time to find the right company and job.”
Move the conversation along
That’s all I’d say. The passing reference to ethics will get the message across without you needing to say anything more but that you wanted out.
Say nothing about this in your resume, only in person or on the phone. A buddy of mine likes to say that your resume can’t defend you. This is a perfect example. You need to be in conversation so you can address any questions, and so you can steer the discussion toward what you can do to make this company more successful.
If an interviewer asks for details about the problems at your old company, just explain that you cannot disclose confidential information about a previous employer. That gives you room to discuss only what you want. Any good employer will respect that — and respect you for it.
Count on your references
To compensate for your silence about the particulars of your unfortunate experience, you must have references that will back up your claims about your abilities. They need not be from your unethical employer. In fact, they could be from other professionals outside that company, people you had business with in the course of doing your job.
Don’t be surprised if one of those references spills the beans that your old employer is an unethical company with unsavory practices.
Always remember: When there’s a void in a job interview — that is, when there’s something you cannot talk about — the best way to fill it is to focus on showing how you’ll do the job profitably. In the end, that’s what every employer is really looking for in a new employee.
I’m guessing other readers have faced similar situations. How much should you say about a past employer that wasn’t on the up and up, leading you to quit?