Remember What Your Mother Taught You

by hiringpartner on March 26, 2010

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Last week, I covered the important lesson of at least appearing to be a positive team player and invested in your workplace, even if you are counting the days until you get the heck out of your hideous firm/organization.

Today I address a related topic:  no badmouthing of your employer/bosses/former colleagues.

After the jump, HP updates the good advice your mother gave you.

You might ask, why is this such a big deal?

Well, there are several reasons.

First of all, badmouthing a firm, organization, or particular individual who works or worked there shows a prospective employer that you lack judgment and discretion.  If I am interviewing you for a job and you are working someplace else, there’s obviously a reason why you are looking to leave.  Have a well thought out reason prepared because people will ask you.

But, generally speaking, saying “ABC Firm is a nasty place” or “Joe Smith who I work with is a terrible lawyer” are not good reasons.  If you talk this way about ABC firm, who is to say you would decide 6 months into your “new” job with us that our firm or organization sucks too, and that you would be saying that all over town?

Or what if I happen to know Joe Smith and think highly of him? Obviously this will put your judgment into play.

By way of example, I had a friend we will call Sam interview with a firm another friend called Bob worked at.  My friend Sam couldn’t keep from talking about how a partner he worked with was getting close to retirement, not really focusing on the practice, not very dynamic anymore etc. Some of the people he met at Bob’s firm were really turned off by this – they knew of the senior partner about whom Sam spoke and had worked with him on matters in the past.  The senior partner was very well known in the field and well thought of.

Now, could all that Sam said be true?  Well, of course it could be.  But the folks who interviewed Sam just thought it was inappropriate, bad judgment, and probably all incorrect.  In their view, Sam was a young whippersnapper who should be showing more deference to a senior member of their bar.

Whether they were right, or wrong, or full of themselves or whatever is irrelevant, since they were the decisionmakers.

Why shoot yourself in the foot by badmouthing?   Sell YOU; to do that, you do not need to disparage others.

Second, aside from the big issue of judgment and discretion, I always say that you never know who knows who.  So, you are interviewing with me and you tell me how your group does unsophisticated work and the partners are nasty.

Well, what if my husband happens to work in that group and is one of the partners?  Or what if my husband is a GC who uses that firm all the time? Or I’ve used them as local counsel?  You just never know.

There are so many better ways to articulate why you are moving that do not involve badthmouthing.

It is better to be safe and have an answer about leaving that isn’t personal.

Something like, “I really want to focus on XYZ and my current firm cannot do that because of the ABC conflict.”  Or, “I need a platform where I can [insert reason] and my current firm cannot do that because [   ].”  Or, “I really want to get more experience in DEF, and your firm has several partners who are experts in that field.”

Or even something showing business development needs:  ”I want to expand the work I do in the XYZ field…I can’t do that at present firm because of [insert reason — our rate strcture; the lack of a practice in ABC – assuming place you are talking to really does ABC, the lack of a west coast presence — something.

See, we’ve presented reasons, but none are disparaging or show a lack of judgment.  Rather, they relate to things outside your control that are neutral rather than personal.

I know it is hard sometimes.  Sure, we all may dislike – ok, strongly dislike — ok, maybe even loathe — some of the people we work with or have worked with.

But the best thing is to bite your tongue.

It’s a smaller world out there than we know and you don’t want to be viewed as one who just criticizes others.

When I have interviewed for a new job, or even when I am asked about my former workplaces, I always say I have liked the places I have worked, but for various reasons, there’s a need for a change.

After all, if I stayed someplace a while, what does that say about me if I claim I hated it and it is a terrible workplace?  That I am a loser who couldn’t move someplace else?

A good statement is something like, “I have really enjoyed the time at Smith, Jones and Clarke.  I’ve had top notch training and have been given a lot of responsibility.  I learned intellectual property law from some great practitioners.   But I’m looking to move to a firm with a platform that will give me further depth in ABC area…or a firm that presents less conflicts than I currently face.”

…or something.

No one will think badly when hearing these explanations.

You will come off as classy and thoughtful.  Stay classy, friends.

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