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Advice / Job Search / Networking

How to Talk About Your Soul-Sucking Job While You Look for a Better One

You’re looking for a job because your current role crushes your spirit. Maybe the work’s uninspiring. Maybe your boss makes you feel like an idiot. Maybe you practically live there and would like to see sunlight again.

Whatever the specific reason, when you hate your job your feelings are often tinged with a lot of resentment. So, when someone asks you about work, they can expect a sigh, a massive eye roll, and a rant that recounts every draining detail.

And it’s OK to go that go that route with your nearest and dearest. In fact, I suggest you vent to your best friend or significant other. The important thing is to keep it there. If you go on and on about a soul-crushing position to anyone else when you’re job searching, it will hold you back.

Here are three times you’ll be tempted to air your grievances (plus what to say instead).

1. In a Job Interview

The hiring manager asks you point blank why you’re leaving your current job. You want to be clear that it has nothing to do with your performance or abilities, so you think it’s logical to lay out how terrible the culture is and give an example of why you dread going to the office each day.

Unfortunately, this approach will backfire.

Think of it like this: Say you have a horrible boss who never listens. If you say that, it could make the interviewer wonder if the real problem is your manager—or your communication skills.

Anytime you discuss something negative in your current role, it makes the interviewer wonder if it’s the situation or if it’s you. Since it’s her job to manage risk and avoid bringing on someone who won’t do a good job, complaints about a current role come off as a red flag.

Say This

Stay future-focused. Answer the question by saying, “I’m looking for new challenges/opportunities for growth. Specifically, I’d like to [goal].”

2. At a Networking Event

Odds are, you’re meeting new contacts who’ll ask you question like “What do you do?” or “Are you looking for a new job, too?” When you answer, there are two good reasons to avoid the, “My work is the absolute worst” rant.

First, you never know how people might be connected. When you vent about everything that sucks at your company, you run the risk that the new person knows someone—you guessed it—that you work with. (That means your comments could make their way right back to your colleague, your boss, or your CEO.)

Second, it’s hard to make a positive impression when you’re complaining. Even if you’re a bright person in a bad situation, ranting about it will make you look negative.

Say This

Speak generally about what you’d like to do and avoid delving into why exactly you want to make a move. Try, “I’m currently a [position], I work on [kind of project], but I’d like to be a [role] at [at a different organization/in a new field].”

3. When Reaching Out to Your Contacts

This can be the hardest scenario, because, with the people you know, you’re tempted to tell them just how bad it really is. The best thing to do here is remind yourself of your goal is for the conversation. If your #1 goal is to be honest and vent, you can. (Caveat: If you’re communicating over email, remember the golden rule: Never type anything you wouldn’t want your boss to see.)

But if what you really want is for this person to connect you with his network or refer you for a role at his company, then you should focus on putting your best foot forward. If you trash your company while asking for an intro at his, he might fear that if you didn’t like something, you’d speak poorly once again—only this time it’d blow back on him.

Plus, the principles above still apply. If they haven’t worked with you, they could question who’s the real source of the problem. They could also view you as having a negative attitude about work. And neither of those things make people want to refer you.

Say This

You can share a bit about what’s going on, but with a professional, positive spin. Try: “My current role is no longer a great fit for my career goals. I’m looking for [positive attribute like ‘a more collaborative environment to work on advertising campaigns’ or ‘a better work-life balance that’ll allow me to manage operations at a startup.’]”

It can be really frustrating to feel like you have to dance around the truth on your job search. But if your current situation’s ruining your days, the last thing you want is for it to put a damper on your future prospects, too. Save the details for a wine-filled conversation down the road—by then, you may have a new job that’s so good you don’t even feel like recounting them.

Photo of people talking courtesy of John Wildgoose/Getty Images.

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