In the job interview, she whined about her current job. That cost her the new job.

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One of the consistent pieces of job interview advice is to not speak badly about your current job – especially if you go into a victim mentality, or, for that matter, your horrible manager. It is a truism. I believe it is true as well. What few pundits do, however, is talk about why speaking poorly about your current job or manager is such a bad thing in an interview.

I had recently moved to a different company and was interviewing candidates to work in the department. One of the people that applied also worked with me at my former employer. I knew her work ethic. I knew her results. You would think this would be a slam-dunk interview and hire. I’m sure she did.

I didn’t hire her.

The reason is she consistently bashed my former employer (her employer) and management. Most every question I asked eventually turned back to the employer and how bad of a place it was to work there.

You know what? I agreed with what she said. She accurately described the working conditions, the culture and the management team there.

And I still didn’t hire her.

At the time I was interviewing her, I went through this transformation about hiring her. I started off hoping to hire her. Then that moved to a neutral place about hiring her. Then, as the negative answers continued, my whole opinion went to not hiring her. Almost to the point of “no way” am I hiring her.

As I was going through that process, I noticed my feelings as I went through the interview. It was like this…

Understandable tolerance in the job interview for a few bad stories since I left

Hey, I worked with her. A couple stories about how bad things are at the old place — or how it has gotten worse — was, to me understandable. It’s not like I was interviewing someone I didn’t know. You give the person some room just to catch up on what is happening.

This was okay.

Then the job interview questions started getting answered with how bad the place was

This raised the radar – a lot. It’s one thing to share some stories in a quick update on what is happening at my old place. It’s quite another to answer interview questions bashing the old place as answers.

Here’s why: I’m not hiring her to take her away from the old place; I’m hiring someone that I think can help me reach my business goals.

Obsessing over the old place doesn’t tell me how she can help reach my business goals. She offered no examples of how her work at the old place could translate into helping me at the new place.

Finally, the answers just turned me off

After a while, when the answers are all about the old employer rather than the opportunity you are interviewing for, I just started tuning her out.

It’s not just the negative stories. It’s not just that she’s not showing how she can help my business objectives.

It finally gets to this: “This person has such a bad attitude, she could ruin what we have here.”

Why would you hire someone who has that risk? Answer: you don’t.

For me, I viewed it as saving myself a possible huge headache. For her, it was a great opportunity that was missed.

It wasn’t a satisfactory outcome for either of us.

Work through the answers you need to provide in the job interview

That interview has stuck with me until this day. You know when it happened? About 1984. A way long time ago.

It was a big lesson for me: I’m very careful about how I talk about my current employers, managers and ex-managers in a job interview. Yes, I may hate the situation I’m in (and, trust me, I’ve been in a few situations I’ve really hated…), but I’ve always had to divorce myself from that and focus on the opportunity sitting across the table and the person asking the interview questions.

I’m sure she was angry at her company — and I’d say justifiably so as I knew the situation as well. I’m sure she was depressed about the work. I’m sure, somewhere, she wanted revenge for working there — the “take this job and shove it” approach to leaving.

It’s not easy to forego all that, get into a zen moment for an interview, and answer the interview questions in a way that helps you explain how you can help the hiring manager and how you can learn about the new place to see if it is a good fit.

It’s not easy. But it is what Cubicle Warriors do.

Have you ever hated your company and overcame all that for job interviews? What was it like? Let me know in the comments.

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