How do you tiptoe around discussing your previous job in an interview if it was really bad. I worked for a place for about 3.5 months that was unethical, doing illegal things, treating me like crap and ultimately forcing my hand until I had to quit. But since many ask about most recent employment, what’s the best way to address why I was there for such a short period.

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Could frame it as having taken a risk on a new role but it ended up being a cultural and professional mismatch from what you expected based on the interview process.

Separately, you could get that whistleblower $

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It actually was a whole whistleblower thing and they buried it. I was mentally exhausted after working there and just wanted out. It was hard to get proof of the things they were doing, and it’s now clear the company is very experienced in hiding those things.

Mention that it wasn’t a good fit briefly and then spend most of your time explaining how this new job is a better fit, see yourself growing there, etc

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Yes. Say their core values didn’t align and you realized it very early on.

likesmart

IDK if it is the "right" answer or not, but in a similar situation I said...

"I joined the company as a [job title], but after I started the job the responsibilities were different than what was discussed when I was interviewing. That new role is not a good fit for me and so I decided it was best that I find something more in line with my skills and career goals."

In my case, I was hired as a Principal, but the HM just wanted me to be their assistant... implementing their 'vision' rather than contributing my own ideas.

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Why tiptoe sound it. I would just tell it like it is.

With that short term, you leaving is either on their terms or your terms. So before the question is asked, they know it is probably either fit or incompetence.

I start with it wasn't a good fit. I say what attracted me to the job. I talk about specifically about whether there was bait and switch of expectations vs. realities for responsibilities, and then I focus on whether I could have continued to do the work to further my career, or if the culture was an issue. Then 100% I align my previous expectations and experience with the new job and never talk about the prior position in any context.

What you are doing is establishing where you were competent, you are establishing how the duties relate to your career goals, and you are showing how your skills and job duties align to the position you are applying to. You've given them both fit and culture as reasons - and your ability to communicate this and tie it to this new job in as positive a manner as possible rules out your incompetence.

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