So, You Quit a Toxic Job Without Another Role Lined Up — Here's How to Explain That in an Interview

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Courtney Dercqu156
Current Social Media Manager/Former Recruiter
April 20, 2024 at 3:30PM UTC

While many people resign from their position because they landed a better career opportunity, some leave due to a toxic work environment. I’ve been on both sides of the fence. I’ve interviewed applicants who over-indulged on the problems they faced at their former company, while also being someone who quit a job without a backup plan due to how toxic the environment I was working in became. 

In years past, leaving a job because you didn’t like your boss would be considered a “silly” reason to leave, but society has changed (for the better) and put an emphasis on the importance of preserving your mental health. Toxic work environments can have physical consequences in the form of over-eating, insomnia, and higher levels of anxiety and depression. In a survey conducted by Dice, 69% of workers in the tech industry believe they are working in a toxic environment. This is just one sector. While the total number of toxic work environments remains inconclusive, one thing is for sure: Sometimes you just need to leave them for the sake of your sanity. 

As a former recruiter, I wouldn’t advise leaving a job without having another one lined up purely so you can avoid going from the frying pan into the fire. In many ways, you’re trading in one stress for another, especially when you’re dealing with dwindling finances. However, it happens.

If you quit your job due to a toxic environment, here’s what you should say in your next interview, based on my experience as a recruiter.

1. Don’t give away too many details.

When recruiters see a lapse in your employment, they tend to think the worst. Their suspicions are confirmed if you provide too many details as to what happened. While they may personally sympathize with you for working with a toxic boss, recruiters understand that there are two sides to every coin - mainly because we’ve been on the receiving end of employee outbursts. 

When you’re asked about the gap in your employment, keep it simple and say something like, “It wasn’t a good fit for me and my career” because that’s the truth; that job wasn't a good fit for you or your career goals. If the recruiter presses for further details, you can expand on it by saying you wanted some time to reflect on the next steps you wanted to take to further your career, or that you had to take time off to care for a sick relative (if applicable). 

While you don’t want to lie, you want to keep your answer as short and sweet as possible without badmouthing your previous employer. Remember, it’s a small world and you don’t want your negative words to influence a hiring manager’s decision. Second, if a recruiter hears you bad mouth your previous boss and/or co-workers, they will feel like you’re likely to do at this company, as well (regardless of whether or not what you’re saying is justified). 

2. Talk about what you’d like to do more of.

People leave toxic jobs because of the culture, not necessarily because of their job responsibilities. In all reality, there were aspects of your job you probably enjoyed before you left, and that’s one way to frame your answer to this question. 

Shift the conversation to focus on the positives and why you’re looking for a company that aligns with your goals and core values. According to Dana Case, a Director of Operations at MyCorporation, “ starting with something positive, you’ll be less inclined to veer toward the more negative reasons you’re moving on.” Plus, this type of deflection can steer the conversation into a more positive light, focusing on other attributes you bring to the company and how this role aligns with your experience. 

3. Be straightforward and honest.

Sometimes, honesty is the best policy. If you were discriminated against or harassed, it’s okay to mention that because it’s a valid reason for leaving - and it is one that most recruiters will agree was a smart decision. However, it’s also fine to note that the company you worked for no longer coincided with your values or afforded opportunities that aligned with your career goals. If you’re taking this route, make sure you have facts and figures to back this claim up. It’s not enough to say that you deserve a raise and/or promotion because you showed up; you have to provide examples as to how an opportunity wasn’t afforded to you that you ultimately deserved. 

Explaining why you left your previous employer doesn’t have to be intimidating. In light of the current environment, recruiters are more sympathetic to the challenges facing employees. If you left a job only a few short months ago, the gap in your employment will most likely not be a big deal. Nevertheless, these tips can help you navigate this tricky question. 


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

What's your no. 1 piece of advice for explaining the reasoning behind leaving a past toxic job in an interview? Share your answer in the comments to help other Fairygodboss members!

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