How do you explain to a prospective employer that you want to leave your present employer because of its smelly ethics?

One of my favourite employment resources, Nick Corcodilos of, recently discussed that question. His post and readers’ responses are found at, ( but I’ll give you the highlights with my comments.

Nick’s answer starts with a warning; “how you say you worked for a bad apple of an employer says a lot about you.” He’s right. That’s why I sometimes agree with his suggestion that you make only a passing allusion to ethics – and only in your interview so you can answer questions – that will look something like this:

“I want to work for your company because you are one of the shining lights in this industry. I left my previous company because . . . 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.”

Now, while there are times when this approach is necessary, I don’t think it should be your default option. Avoiding dinging a former employer is much better if you don’t have to do it. If you have stayed long at two or more employers (five years or more each), why you want to leave your current employer is a question that might not even come up.

And if it does, I agree with the respondent who pointed out that you can usually give another reason for leaving that doesn’t badmouth that company. For example, reasons such as “have worked “the current role as far as possible,” “seeking to grow in a new or different direction,” “uncertainty how the company will fare in the looming recession,” or mentioning reorganization or acquisition rumours will usually be sufficient.

But what if you left that employer during probation or shortly after that? In those situations, Nick’s approach may get the message across without you saying any more than you wanted out. And you can always respond to follow-up questions by saying you can’t “disclose confidential information about a previous employer.” But think hard before you go this route; even if you take this lightest of possible shots, you still risk your interviewer writing you off as a whiner or complainer.

I suggest instead that you say something like, “I quickly found out that the day-to-day reality was not as good a match for me as the job description and interview had led me to expect. And so, I’m doing everyone involved a favour by looking for a new opportunity.” And again, if asked for details, you can decline to disclose confidential information.

Hope this helps.


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