When I found a position that enabled me to leave my last job, I was incredibly excited. Now I'm interviewing for my next position (due to major life changes, my current commute is no longer manageable), and I'm fielding the question "Why did you leave your last position?"

Here's the true answer: My boss (the CEO of the startup I was working for) was impossible and made my day to day experience nerve-wracking and stressful. He shouted and screamed at employees and customers alike. His expectations were unmanageable and he didn't trust his employees in their areas of expertise. I couldn't explain enough times why maintenance tasks needed attention, he felt that my time should be spent 100% on the creation of new software/features but also insisted that bugs (which were numerous due to massive amounts of untested speed-developed code from the developers before me) be handled immediately. He fired employees for looking at him wrong (not actually for looking at him wrong, but one employee was fired for vacuuming mid-day after we were asked to pitch in with cleaning). I don't dare let a potential employer call him for a reference, despite having left on fairly good terms (as good as I could expect), as I overheard him "give a reference" once where he tore the former employee to shreds, complete with expletives, and explicitly stated "Do not hire him." Additionally, he employed an accountant, who was also his mentor, who felt that it was appropriate to not only shout at employees, but to belittle them in front of each other. 

I have no idea how to phrase this in an interview when I'm asked why I left. I know it's bad form to say bad things about a prior position. I feel I handled leaving that position as professionally as possible, submitting my resignation quietly and in person, giving time to wrap things up, documenting all of my work, and even helping to hire my replacement. But it's continuing to haunt my career!

Solitaire's picture

Don't mention this boss at all or your issues with them.

Your first paragraph mentions that you're interviewing for your next job "due to major life changes, my current commute is no longer manageable". Focus on this instead, it's a perfectly valid reason.

I was made redundant by a similar sounding boss from the company before where I am now. He decided he could replace me with a bunch of automated reports, so in my interview I phrased this to say that I was a victim of my own success because I had developed and embedded processes in the team that enabled the MD to feel that the team would be self-sufficient. And that I'd been brought into a newly created position and the company had had a bad year financially. This was all true to a certain extent, I just didn't mention the bad boss and the very tough relationship I had with him.

You need to make sure that you don't mention the bad relationship at all (not even if the interviewer tries to push you on the subject) and focus on the positives. Any reference to your previous boss must be professional, regardless of how he actually is.

As far as references go, there is a possibility that they won't be followed up anyway, and if anyone was given a similar shouty reference about you (like the one you overheard), the most likely conclusion would to completely ignore it and to draw conclusions only about the bad boss and not about the former employee (you).

Good luck!