Best to skirt negative remarks in interview

Dear Amy: I resigned from a well-paying job earlier this year, even though I did not have another job lined up, in order to get away from a boss who was a bully.

When I gave the boss two weeks' notice, she assumed that I had gotten a job somewhere else, and she kept pestering me. I finally made up a story in order to get her off my back. I found it quite exhausting to maintain this false story during my remaining time at that job.

Currently I am living off my savings and am enjoying not working. When I do start interviewing, what reason should I give for leaving my last position? Is it OK to say I left because of the manager?

— Uncomfortable Lying



Dear Uncomfortable: You've hit on one of the most difficult questions asked by interviewers: Why did you leave your last job? This is the classic no-win situation. What you need is something true but not damaging. Never bring up conflict if you can help it. You'll convey, "I can't get along with others."

I have two guidelines for interview questions such as this. The first is to be brief without being abrupt. The longer the answer gets, the more it looks like a cover-up. Worse, the more the situation will stand out later in the an interviewer's mind. Your goal is to give an honest but forgettable answer.

The second guideline can be summed up as "Give the truth, but only part of the truth." If this sounds dishonest, remember that there are at least a dozen true things you could say about any situation.

With that in mind, here is one answer that might have the right balance of honesty and discretion:

"I left that job because, after several years there, I realized that I had run out of opportunities to make a meaningful contribution. I'm looking forward to working with a new team on new challenges."

Good luck!

- Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at alindgren@prototypecaree or at 1071 W. Seventh St., St. Paul, MN 55102.