The 3 Best Ways to Explain Why You Left a Hostile Work Environment in an Interview

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AnnaMarie Houlis4.87k
Journalist & travel blogger
June 12, 2024 at 8:53PM UTC

Can I quit my job because of a hostile work environment? That's a serious question you may be asking yourself if you find yourself in a toxic workplace. Whether you're dealing with a toxic boss, struggling to navigate a toxic culture, getting frustrated with toxic coworkers or feeling unmotivated due to toxic leadership in the company, it's likely that you're thinking about quitting. And we don't blame you!

A hostile work environment can take a serious toll on employee satisfaction, which, of course, can take a toll on your work and, ultimately, your career. Being able to recognize a toxic situation and either correct it or move on from it is an important step in securing your future success. And, once you do make that recognition, you'll probably want to start looking for new jobs.

But how do you tell hiring managers that the reason you're leaving your current job is because you couldn't take it anymore — without risking your chances at new opportunities by coming across as a quitter or someone who refuses to or cannot fit into a company culture?

How do you explain leaving a job because it was toxic?

Here's how to explain that you're leaving a hostile work environment to prospective employers in three simple ways that won't hurt your chances of landing the job. (In fact, they may help you!)

1. Describe the work environment in which you'd prefer to work.

Think about it: How would you describe a hostile work environment? If you find yourself working in one, this should be an easier question to answer. Maybe you have a micromanaging boss, gossipy coworkers or a glass ceiling you keep hitting even after several years with the company. Maybe the company doesn't offer you any of the work-life balance you know you need to perform optimally, or there's no diversity in leadership who can mentor you and advocate for you.

Think about the kind of hostile environment you're working in now, and then think about the kind of environment in which you'd prefer to work. This way, you frame the conversation positively and give your hiring manager a chance to think, "ah, yes, that's this company!" While it may feel important to share why exactly you're leaving the last company, you don't want to spend too much time dwelling on it — after all, your focus is on your future with this new company. So talk about the positives you're seeking instead of the negatives from which you're running.

2. Talk about the positive aspects of your current job that you'd like to have more of.

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in a job interview is badmouthing your past or present employer and/or company. This is because you run the risk of instilling fear in the hiring manager that, at some point down the line, you'll say the same about them. You also don't want to come off as someone who is disloyal, unappreciative of opportunities, unable to get along well with others or, frankly, a gossiper. So that's why you should do your best to steer the conversation in a positive way.

One way to do this is by talking about all the positive aspects about your current job that you really do enjoy and for which you really are grateful. Let your interviewer know that, while your current job may not be working out for you overall, you are now looking for a new job that offers you the kinds of opportunities, coworker relationships, challenges and more positive factors that you've recognized are important to you. Talking about your career in this way shows that you are a forward-thinking professional who knows what you want— and what you want is hopefully aligned with what the hiring manager sees in their company (if it's not, you probably don't want that job, either!).

3. Just be honest, but respectful.

Sometimes, it's super hard to see the silver lining, and it can be difficult to come up with positive ways to talk about your current role (and, simultaneously, why you want to leave that role!). In times like these, it's OK to just simply be direct and to the point without trying too hard with the interviewer. If you were discriminated against or you weren't afforded opportunities you believe you deserved (and have credible reasons to back up why you deserved them) or you didn't agree with the vision of the company (and that's important to you, as it should be!) or the company's values changed and yours no longer aligned, etc., it's OK to just say that. Be honest. Just don't disrespect anyone at your current job by spreading bad words about them. Stick to talking about yourself and leave other people's names out of your mouth.


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of Fairygodboss.

AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist for a gamut of both online and print publications, as well as an adventure aficionado and travel blogger at She covers all things women's empowerment — from navigating the workplace to navigating the world. She writes about everything from gender issues in the workforce to gender issues all across the globe.

What’s your no. 1 piece of advice for explaining why you left a hostile work environment? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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