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Blog>Guides>How to Explain Leaving a Negative Work Environment to Future Employers

How to Explain Leaving a Negative Work Environment to Future Employers

Article index


  • Working in a negative work environment can carry over into your personal life if changes are not made

  • Understand why it’s important to explain during an interview the reason you are leaving a negative work environment

  • How to craft your answer when a hiring manager asks why you left your previous job

  • Joblist is here for you if you feel ready to make a career change


A negative work environment can not only impact a person’s work life, but can also carry over into their personal life and affect their mental health, leaving them feeling unmotivated and drained. Whether it is a cultural misalignment, lack of career development, or a toxic workplace, there are many reasons why someone might feel the need to leave a current job. When the time comes, be prepared with answers to explain the situation to prospective employers during your job search.

If you are stuck in a negative work environment or have currently left one, read on. In this article, we discuss how to prepare interview answers that take into consideration this stressful situation. We will also take a look at some sample answers, and explain why this question might carry a lot of weight during the interview process.

How to Explain Why You Left a Negative Work Environment

There are a few points to consider when crafting your response. The following tips will outline how to effectively explain the situation to your interviewer and what to consider when preparing for that question.

Prepare Before a Job Interview

Prepare for any job interview by researching the company and thinking about answers to popular interview questions. Be sure to add this question to your list of possible topics to prepare for. This will help you craft a well-thought-out answer and help to instill confidence if that question does come up.

Never Bad-Mouth Your Previous Employer

Always avoid bad-mouthing your previous employers. Talking badly about a former employer or toxic boss during your interview could be considered unprofessional and signal a red flag for the interviewer or hiring manager. Only discuss the neutral aspects of your previous place of work.

Many hiring managers believe that candidates who talk badly about their past employers are likely to denigrate their present employers as well. They might fear that you will quit and disparage their organization one day too, so it is best to avoid doing so during the hiring process.

Keep Things Positive

Remember, it is not only the hiring manager who is interviewing you to see if you are a good fit for the role. You are also interviewing them to determine whether the position and work culture would be a good fit for you.

Make sure you are not trading one toxic work environment for another. Explain the type of work environment you would prefer to work in, so the hiring manager knows your expectations and whether the current position will align with them. The goal is to leave a bad work environment and turn it into a positive career move.

Briefly Explain Why You Left Your Last Job

When people get nervous, they tend to go off on a tangent and add more detail than necessary. Avoid this. Prepare an answer that is detailed enough to explain why you left, but keep it brief.

The last thing you want to do is start rambling a long explanation and add unnecessary detail that could paint you in a bad light. The hiring manager could pick up on your nerves, and a long answer with lots of digressions might appear as if you're hiding something and potentially raise red flags. Be honest but keep your answers brief and to the point.

Reiterate Why You’re Interested in Their Company

Discuss why you believe the new company and role would be a better fit. Keep the conversation positive or pivot to a more positive note whenever you are asked tough questions or don’t have a good answer ready.

Explain why you are interested in the new job and excited about the company. Do this by familiarizing yourself with the company before the interview. Read about the job description and company culture, research potential projects they have completed, look at their vision and mission, and what company values they have.

When researching these things, it is important to explain why the company and role are not only a good fit for you, but how you are also a good fit for the company and job opportunity.

Sample Answer for Why You Left a Negative Work Environment

“I worked as a marketing specialist at company XMedia for two years. I learned a number of new skills, including design ideation, customer management, and how to build effective campaign strategies. I worked on over 30 projects that yielded top 10% results in the company the first year I was there.

"Even though I learned so much and the company has helped me grow both personally and professionally, the opportunity for advanced career growth is limited. I believe that your company and the role of marketing manager will be a great fit because of the clear opportunities to learn and grow within the business. I am very excited about the opportunity for company-paid education to advance my skill set. I also believe that the experience and education I bring would complement this job description wonderfully.”

Why Is It Helpful to Explain Why You Left a Negative Work Environment to Future Employers?

Many people have experienced working in a toxic job before. The hiring manager will most likely understand that you need to take care of your own well-being. Still, it is important to explain why you are leaving your current company instead of just dancing around the question and letting the hiring manager wonder. The following sections will help you answer this question.

Explain a Gap in Your Work History

Address any gaps in your work history to ensure they don’t affect the hiring manager's impression of you. Don’t try to cover them up on your resume because they will be revealed during a basic employment check. Without addressing them, hiring managers might assume the worst and move on to the next candidate.

Generally, any gap less than six months is okay and can be explained with “job seeking.” Any gaps longer than seven months might need to be explained during the interview, but can easily be addressed with the right wording. Be sure to discuss if you took time off to be more involved in raising your family, to manage a better work-life balance, or for health concerns.

How to Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Previous Job?”

Every employer wants to hire a candidate they believe is the best fit for the available position, and this question can help them shed some light on whether that candidate is you. Be prepared with an answer before any job interview to avoid getting caught off guard. Your answer will likely carry weight in their decision to move forward with your candidacy.

Discuss Your Career Goals and Priorities

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “What are your long-term career goals?” are also common interview questions. Even if these questions don’t get asked, it’s important to bring them up.

Explain your career goals and priorities in the workplace and how those align with this position. Questions highlighting growth provide excellent opportunities to reiterate why you believe you are a great fit for this role, and it will show the hiring manager that you see yourself working there long-term.

Find the Right Career for You With Joblist

People spend a large amount of their time at their job, so they must be at a place where they feel fulfilled and happy. A negative work environment or toxic culture can not only degrade your work life, but that negativity can also start seeping into your personal life.

Job seekers can use Joblist to discover new opportunities and find a new position that is right for them. Use the quiz page to help narrow down opportunities to find the right fit for you.

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