How To Explain Why You Left A Toxic Workplace


I came across this article on Forbes Magazine’s website while doing some research. Many people have been in a workplace where they felt unheard, undervalued and down right miserable. You leave that job and move on. At your next job interview, you are asked why you left your that workplace. Liz Ryan, a Contributor for Forbes Magazine, responded to a readers questions about how to explain just that. Enjoy! Valerie 

Dear Liz,

I don’t know whether I would have quit my job in a soul-sucking, toxic workplace if I hadn’t found your columns, but that’s what happened. I guess everything happens for a reason.

I started to really dislike my job around Memorial Day, and by the middle of September I was getting sick because of the politics and intrigue at my job. I was losing sleep. I had to do something.

My boss was in over way over his head and floundering, our company’s division President was incompetent and very unpopular with the staff, and I was being asked to work almost around the clock for no recognition and very little compensation.

I used my tax refund to finance my exit from my job two weeks ago. Now I’m job-hunting again. There was no way I could have managed a stealth job while I was working in my last job. They noticed whenever I was gone from my desk for 10 minutes!

How do I explain why I quit my job without having another job to go to? I am 39 and I’ve never done that before. I don’t want to bash my last employer, even though they deserve it. What should I say when interviewers ask me “Why did you quit your job?”



Dear Xavier,

Congratulations on getting out of a bad situation! I will give you the words to use in answering the question “Why did you leave your last job without having a new job lined up?” but the words are less important than your demeanor.

When you feel embarrassed or apologetic about your departure from your last job — as though it is something shameful to quit a job without having another job arranged — your face and body will show the interviewer how you feel.

Of course, there is nothing shameful or disreputable about quitting a job that doesn’t suit you. Before you can confidently answer the question “Why did you quit your last job?” you have to get clear on the fact that you did the right thing in leaving. It was time for you to go. That job wasn’t supporting you anymore — it was sucking your mojo away instead of building your mojo.

You are the CEO of your career, and you get to change jobs whenever you feel like it.

Once you understand in your body that leaving your last job was not only the right thing to do but also a courageous act — given that you did not know and still don’t know exactly what you’ll be doing next and that you only have a finite sum (your tax refund) to finance your next move.

You are a hero and a survivor already! Don’t let any interviewer make you feel embarrassed about your triumphant exit from a job that didn’t deserve you.

Here’s how you can answer the question ”Why did you leave your last job?”

Interviewer: So, I see you were working at Acme Explosives until a few weeks ago. You’ve left that job?

You: Yes! I left three weeks ago.

Interviewer: And why did you leave?

You: I learned a lot at Acme and I made some big contributions there, particularly with respect to their supply chain processes and supplier quality. After three years I reached a point where the company wasn’t going to be as focused as they had been on supplier issues anymore — and I understand that from a business perspective. It meant that my job was going to become more of a maintenance role and I’m interested in continuing to grow my skills, so I decided to job-hunt. I was way too busy to be able to job-hunt while I was working at Acme, so I quit my job to focus on my next adventure!


Nobody you will meet on the job-search trail is more powerful than you are. It is your movie — you are director and the star. If an interviewer doesn’t like your explanation for why you left your last job, that’s their privilege.

Who cares how some random interviewer feels about you? You are looking for an organization that is healthy, unlike your last employer, and the interviewers you meet are the early-warning signals of a healthy or unhealthy company.

If an interviewer turns up their nose at you or your story, leave them in the dust. You don’t need them — you are on your path!

All the best,


Liz Ryan is CEO/founder of Human Workplace and author of Reinvention Roadmap.

Follow her on Twitter (@humanworkplace) and read Forbes columns.

Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

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