how to explain to interviewers why I quit my job without another one lined up

A reader writes:

I recently resigned from my position at my previous employer due to its toxic environment and unsupportive senior management. I was constantly being thrown under the bus. The position didn’t align with my career goals anyway, and I could no longer reconcile the fact that I was in a stressful, low-paying job I didn’t even want.

Now that I’m doing interviews, potential employers are asking me why left, and I don’t want to necessarily badmouth my previous employer. I typically say that it didn’t align with my career goals, but interviewers have been following up with questions like “Well, why didn’t you stay in your position until you found another job?”

Should I be honest? How can I answer the question without saying bad things about my previous employer, but give an answer they’ll accept?

Yeah, this is the problem with quitting with nothing else lined up: because it’s relatively unusual to do, it makes employers think there’s a story there, and it worries them. Were you fired? Forced to leave? Did you leave in a huff because you’re a prima donna? Or did you reasonably choose to get out of a situation that any reasonable person would find horrible? They don’t know. They realize that it could be that last one, but they also realize that it could be one of the others and that makes them nervous.

You can try an answer like “I wanted to to take some time and really focus on finding the right fit for my next move,” but even then most interviewers are going to assume there’s more to it. If you tack on “and I wanted to take a bit of time to help with some family issues” or something like that, it’s likely to resonate more with many people, so that’s another option.

But basically, yeah, this is one of the problems with quitting without another job. It’s not totally logical that people react that way (after all, if you’re able to afford potentially lengthy time off in between jobs, why shouldn’t you?) but it’s definitely A Thing that comes up in interviewing if you do it.

{ 228 comments… read them below }

  1. Paloma Pigeon*

    I left a job without another one lined up for the same reasons. One thing to note: my department had a TON of turnover, with people cycling out quite frequently due to burnout. I wonder if there is a way to work that into the conversation in a way that seems natural and not damning, like ‘I wanted to focus on other areas, as did my colleagues Wakeen and Fergus who also felt that they were interested in learning more about X’. Or is that too heavy-handed?

    1. The IT Manager*

      IMO that’s too heavy handed; mentioning other co-workers in this context during an interview is odd / plus you’re talking about their motives which you may not really know and you’re not saying toxic environment while you’re trying to imply it.

      OTOH I would try to work in a reference to heavy turnover as saying the same thing without naming other people’s names. “I wanted to focus on other areas; that particular office has a lot of turnover so it’s not uncommon.”

      1. Koko*

        Yes, I did this when I was fleeing a toxic job. I cited “high turnover” as one of the reasons I was leaving and “a more stable work environment” as something I was seeking. It seemed to go over well each time I used it.

      2. kansas9839*

        I am doing the same thing. I took a job under the pretense it was something else only to find out four months later that they want someone with a legal background. I am really frustrated because 4 months ago I had other interviews I could have taken if I had not taken this job. Does anyone have any advice on how to get a job in economic development? I have been trying for 3 years since I finished up grad school and if I do get interviews, I am told I don’t have the experience (if they do respond back). Thank you

    2. Steve G*

      Me too. I was about 20 minutes late on a non-busy day at newish OK paying job that did not require a degree or anything or provide any real career path….there was one road there (in the middle of nowhere) and all of a sudden there was a 3 mile long backup of stopped traffic. Once I got to the end I realized that they were transporting boulders over the road via crane, and only letting a few cars through at a time between boulders. I get to work, it’s in a furor. Apparently the nosy young lady who was always gossiping – though she never talked to me besides to say hi – called my vacationing boss to tell him I wasn’t there, who then called the regional director. When I got in I had the two of them making me feel like I was dumb for not calling my boss on a vacation to tell him I was going to be a little late, or for not calling the regional director – another person I never spoke with and whose # I didn’t have. I told them that this was WAY too dramatic for a 20 minute lateness, and I needed to go. The fact that none of my coworkers stepped in and said anything about the boulder-over-the-road thing to the non-local management sealed the deal for me.

      1. Laurel Gray*

        Grrrr does this story really grind my gears! Several of my colleagues take the same road to work. Some have to report at different times. Usually it is the person who has to be in at 7 who witnesses what happened on the road that will make all the people who have to be in at 9 not arrive til 10. I really hate when managers act like this when the incident is very easily verifiable. And not having numbers of anyone in the office- I wonder if NosyYoungLady would have still launched the same gossip rocket had you called the main line and left a message for your department that this construction project’s traffic was going to make you late.

        1. Steve G*

          I was a contractor and she was an actual employee so she wouldn’t have known if I called or not unless she called my boss – who was also a contractor….we didn’t report to the same higher-ups. Which is why I definitely had a WTF moment when I found out she was getting involved.

      2. Another HRPro*

        For me, it does seem odd that you didn’t call anyone. 20 minutes is a good amount to be late. If it were me, I would have at least called the office and told someone in the event anyone was looking for me. To me it is a courtesy thing.

        1. Ad Astra*

          I’m sure it varies by office culture, but I wouldn’t bother calling anyone from the office to let them know I’m running late unless I knew I would be at least 30 minutes late. It would be unusual for my coworkers to be looking for me first thing in the morning; everyone knows that’s breakfast eating/email checking time.

          But why didn’t the coworker call you first to ask where you were instead of bothering someone who’s on vacation and can do literally nothing to fix the problem?

          1. Koko*

            Definitely varies. I was explicitly told by my boss a couple months into my job to stop emailing her when I was going to be late unless I was going to be more than an hour late. (My previous job had been working for a Miranda Priestly type who would chew me out for being 6 minutes late.)

            1. Kelly O*

              Same thing for me; I don’t have to call unless I’m very late. It’s freeing, but still takes a little getting used to. (Who knew? I turned into a responsible adult who can be trusted somewhere along the way.)

          2. KH*

            My workplace is pretty flexible (we all have a ton of work and everyone knows that, and that we all end up working in the evening as well sometimes) and we don’t all always come in to the office anyway. The only time it’s a problem is when there is a meeting/conference call which you are expected to attend. In that case, it’s pretty basic etiquette to call in to say that you’ll be late – BEFORE you actually are late. Not doing so may or may not result in a talking to by a boss, but it most likely will cause feelings of resentment if it happens more than once.

        2. Reflections*

          Me too, I think because at that point you wouldn’t know how late you would actually be.

        3. Steve G*

          I wasn’t going to be that late, but more importantly, this was in the very eastern part of the Hamptons, an area notorious for cops hiding waiting to give speeding tickets for going 30 in a 20MPH zone and for talking on the phone It would have been risky to start picking up a phone and looking for #s and talking even if we were going really slow and stopped at times. Talking while driving tickets are expensive here and points on your license.

          1. Anyonymous*

            I hear you. A former boss in a retail job wanted us to call if we were going to be even one minute late. He gave an example of picking up the cell phone and saying, “The interstate is a parking lot– I’m going to be late.”

            Never mind that this was 2004, so not everybody had cell phones yet, and talking while driving is dangerous.

          2. Lady Bug*

            I’m surprised everyone isn’t late all summer long considering there’s one main road out there!

        4. YandO*

          Unless I was late for a meeting or client or a deadline, why would I notify my boss (especially on vacation) that I am stuck in traffic three miles away? Tell them what exactly? I’ll be there when I’ll be there?

          Yes, I know, this is normal for many places and I will deal with it when I have to, but it really irritates the crap out of me. Unless somebody or something depends on my presence, I do not understand the need for strict punctuality like that. So I came in 20 minutes late, I will either get my work done anyways or leave late.

          I think it is ridiculous that employers still measure exempt employee’s performance in hours instead of output. If that’s the case, then they should make those employees hourly and have zero expectation of unpaid overtime.

      3. sunny-dee*

        I had a friend on a team with me who lived outside San Francisco and the easiest way to get to the office in Mountain View was over the 101 bridge. He called me at noon (central) time because he had already been stuck on the bridge for 2 hours and was going to miss a meeting he had to run, and he wanted me to call some key people for him to let them know that he would be late because of the accident …. and also to let them know that (possibly) two other coworkers who took the same bridge would likely be delayed.

        That is such a normal thing to have happen, it floors me that people would act hysterical about it. It’s one thing to not leave early enough when there’s rain or snow — something predictable. But how can you know that 15 minutes ahead of you will be an accident that blocks the highway for six hours? Um, you can’t. It happens.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          I agree but I just want to add something about the rain and snow – you can leave early to account for the bad roads (I do it every year) but all it takes is a road closure due to ice or flooding or an accident and you may still end up late – but obviously earlier than if you left at the normal time you leave in good weather.

    3. Rebekkah*

      I came really close recently fortunately just before I was about to quit I got an interview that turned into a job. The place I worked also had ridiculous turnover in the ten months I worked there we had over fifty people quit and only two fired. The place is poorly run. Like most of the management is nice enough under the right circumstances but they can’t do their jobs well and they don’t manage people well. Also under the wrong circumstances they can be down right awful. I’ve heard a manager cuss someone out over seeming nothing because they had a bad day. But the worst was that my Male manager had a huge issue with me using the bathroom. He would time me and ask invasive personal question even though when I started I told them I had a medical condition which included frequent bathroom use. Even so I still only would go to the restroom once or twice during a five-seven hour shift. I finally got so sick of it I pulled a female manager aside and blatantly stated that it needed to stop because it was way out of line and I was done dealing with it. Turns out I wasn’t the first female employee to say he was being invasive or restricting bathroom use. The other managers basically stated that it shouldn’t have ever been an issue and told me just to continue using the bathroom as needed but still it has continued until I resigned. He wouldn’t stop me but he would make me clock out to use the bathroom so I would lose work time if I went to the bathroom.

      I’m glad its over I’m currently finishing out my last week there.

    4. Barbara*

      Wow, I could’ve wrote this too. I left for the same reason too in fact I began to act like the b’s
      As my husband couldn’t take me complaining everyday. It was no surprise the turnover was terrible with lots of fraud waste and abuse. I learned a lot about myself during that nightmare time but I didn’t want to be around the toxic environment anymore. One of the best desicions I ever made.
      Thankfully, I am in a field that is in need of the services I’m trained in.

  2. Not Today Satan*

    I don’t have much advice to give, but this is one of the many injustices against workers IMO. Everyone knows people in totally toxic work situations, but people are so suspicious about people who quit jobs without another one lined up anyway. Even if someone is totally prudent and has a ton of money saved up for the time off.

    I quit my last job without another one lined up, but it was in a sin industry and I explained that I wanted to get out of that industry (which was true, but only part of the story–that place was a goat rodeo and I just couldn’t take it anymore).

    1. Not Today Satan*

      And PS–I have ZERO regret about quitting, even though it took me five months to find a new job (which I’m really happy with!) Sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. (Plus, my time off let me volunteer and gain experience in my new field.)

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Well, if you think about it from the hiring manager side, it’s (maybe) more understandable. Hiring managers have very, very limited data about candidates, and need to minimize the risk of making a bad hire. They know that they’re only seeing a small sliver of who that person is, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still all they have to base their decision on. When something could indicate a red flag, it looms much larger in the whole, because they know they’re working with such limited data. Ultimately their job isn’t to give you a perfectly fair shake; it’s to make a good hire (which often means selecting from many good candidates) while minimizing the risk of a bad hire.

      1. Not Today Satan*

        In my experience though, when someone is super dramatic or has trouble getting along with with people, an hour or two with them will almost always indicate that something’s off. And if they are poor performers, references will tell you. If someone seems normal and professional and I like their answers, and they have good references, I wouldn’t hold quitting a job against them.

        1. fposte*

          It’s not as simple as “holding it against them,” though; it’s about whether they’re competing with other candidates who don’t have a possibility of their playing a role in a previous job’s problems.

          I don’t think it’s a dealbreaker either, but for hiring it’s never about considering a candidate in isolation; it’s about what the information does to their standing among the pool.

            1. theajayieffect*

              In states where employment is ‘at will,’ such as NY, if you’re in a toxic environment, it’s almost like you’re playing quick draw – you want to get them first.
              I was in a role that was stable but pay and opportunity lacked for 2 years. In June I got another role which looked great on paper. I was abused DAILY from week one. I worked hard, stayed late and tried to be positive. At night, I would search for roles.
              The toxic job laid me off on Tuesday and, oddly, the bullying is continuing! Add to that, now if I listed the job and get asked what happened, I’d have to create a story.
              Employers don’t always get it right and things don’t always happen neatly.

          1. Kelly O*

            Totally agree with you; candidates don’t exist in vacuums. Each one has pros and cons to be weighed against the others.

            As candidates I think we forget that sometimes. It’s not just about me and how I present.

        2. Darcy*

          I have to respectfully disagree that you can nearly always tell in an interview if someone is going to be dramatic and difficult to get along with. Some of my most difficult co-workers in the past were people who interviewed really well. It’s pretty easy to hide the more negative aspects of one’s personality for the length of an interview.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I’ve always wondered how piece-of-work people always seem tho interview so well! It seems like most of my coworkers who ended up being giant pains in the ass were very dynamic and impressive in their interviews. Maybe drama llamas are more skillful at being charming? Maybe interviewers should quit being so swayed by personal charm?

            1. Blurgle*

              It’s fairly common among people on the narcissistic continuum, actually. They often seem like the nicest persons on Earth – until you cross them, or become conveniently available as a scapegoat.

      2. Richard*

        Also, if you look at it from a non-pragmatic point of view (assume that hiring managers should be making an emotional, rather than rational, point of view), then our sympathy is going to be far more with the person who can’t afford to quite the crappy job rather than sticking it out, or who was laid off against their will, than someone who apparently doesn’t need to work.

        1. Not Today Satan*

          Who said the hiring manager should be emotional/sympathetic? Understanding that sometimes leaving a job without a job lined up is a rational, wise choice is not feeling “sympathetic” towards the candidate.

        2. ReanaZ*

          It’s a pretty big leap from “able to swing leaving a toxic situation” in order to immediately job search to “someone who apparently doesn’t need to work”.

          I need to work. I have no family I can fall back on, no partner to support me, and as an immigrant I’m not eligible for government support programs in my home country or my current country. If I wasn’t able to support myself, I would be homeless. But this is why I have an emergency fund. So when the crappy consultancy I was working for stopped paying me consistently but still expected me to work 60+ weeks for a verbally abusive client while I was having a total meltdown of a chronic health problem caused by the stress/overwork, yeah, I quit without something else lined up (after giving appropriate notice). That doesn’t mean I “apparently don’t need to work”, it means sometimes people make decisions based on the priorities and realities of their own lives, not whatever judgy perception you have of them (for being financially responsible in the past? I don’t really know where this criticism is coming from.)

          For the record, it took less than 2 weeks to sign a contract on a new job, with two other offers in the wings. According to this site, my experience is not normal, but it has never been a problem for me to quit before something else is lined up.

          1. ReanaZ*

            Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever still be working the previous job when applying for a new one. Some of these were end-of-fellowship/time-limited-contract situations, but I also quit with nothing lined up to move twice now (once to a new state and once to a new country). It’s never been a problem.

      3. Dan*

        And that’s the rub… throwing some made up numbers on it… Assume 9/10 people applying for a job have one. Of those that quit their jobs first, assume 9/10 of THOSE people in fact are nuts and quit in a huff. That means for every 100 applicants, you’ve got 90 who don’t raise immediate red flags, and a whopping 1 who raised a false red flag. How much time are you going to waste on those 10, trying to find the one that wasn’t full of it? You’ve got 90 others to pick from who don’t raise those particular concerns.

        Even if you work with numbers that are a bit more balanced (say 7/10 applicants currently have a job, and 1/2 applicants who quit their job left a toxic environment), for every person who raised a flag, you’ve got two who don’t.

        1. Coppertina*

          That would be perfectly reasonable….if there were data to back up such assumptions. Problem is, there are not*, so confirmation bias can flourish unabated. If the job-quitting candidates are all eliminated early on, you’ll never have the chance to develop actual data-driven stats.

          * I’m unaware of any reliable statistics collected on new hire success vs. employment status during candidacy. I’d love to learn more if anyone has any citations to share.

        2. KH*

          Leaving a job before lining up another is a potential risk and that candidate would have to be pretty good to overlook that. Given two candidates who are fairly similar strength, I would hire the one who didn’t leave before lining up the next job. It’s just the way it is. They might be fine, but hiring is very expensive and time consuming. The last thing I need is to buy someone else’s problems.

          Think of it like buying a used car. You have very little information about the car. How it looks, how it drives, if you’re lucky there may be some maintenance records. You can take it to a mechanic to maybe get some additional information (reference/background check).

          Give two similar cars, one of which has thrown even a single potential red flag, you would have to be stupid to buy the one with the red flag. You see a spot of oil on the engine. It could be an expensive leak or just someone spilled oil during the last oil change. Until I can verify, it’s very unlikely I would buy that car.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      This is indeed an injustice and along the same lines of employers who only consider candidates that are currently working or only been unemployed for a couple months or less, cause you know, there must be something wrong with you for getting laid off

      1. fposte*

        I think framing it as an injustice means being really blind to the hiring side, though. My job in hiring isn’t to bring justice but to hire for my team. It would be stupid to say nobody who leaves a job without another lined up is worth hiring. It would also be foolish, though, to ignore the fact that some people who leave that way, and in my experience a higher percentage than those who leave with another job lined up, have some challenges in either dealing with people or in emotional regulation. And it’s important for me to have an idea if that’s the case in the applicant before me, because there are a lot of people who are going to have to suffer from horrible co-workers and horrible management if so.

    4. pop tart*

      I was in a similar situation a few years ago… I had worked for a company for 7 years and put up with years of abusive situations, but finally reached my breaking point when my boss screamed at me in front of others that I was too “f-ing stupid” to work for him when a misunderstanding turned out to be that I did not read another supervisor’s mind – obviously the story is much longer, but these people have a history of sociopathic behavior and at that point I was no longer going to put up with it. I had a terrible time finding a job after I left – the “why did you leave your last employer” really screwed me over. I forget exactly what I said and I know I never said anything negative, but still, it was terrible. But I really could not work there another minute and still have PTSD from that job and had to see a therapist, after 7 years of loyalty.

      1. Rich*

        I left a job under similar circumstances involving two individuals. It took 10 months to find a new job but I am a lot better situation and I plan on being with this job until I retire. However, I still retain a lot of resentment towards those individuals and that place for fostering such a nasty atmosphere.

  3. Red Rose*

    Any hiring manager who reads this column regularly should know that there are a multitude of freakishly awful workplaces where getting out while you are still sane is the only option. We just have to get more of them to read it.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Any hiring manager also knows that the employee is the source of the problem sometimes. I recently had someone who left here SUPER angry because he had a great sense of injustice or frustration with not being able to do whatever he wanted (vs. what his job was, etc.) – which he interpreted as a power and control issue on the part of his supervisor. He called me a year later to ask if he could come back and to tell me that he realized that this was actually a great place to work, and that he was struggling with adjusting to work vs. college. It wasn’t us – it was him. But he sure did think he was right at the time!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yep. And when you’re interviewing people, it can be hard to tell if the person was the problem or their manager was. I can think of a handful of people I fired who I’m sure are out there telling interviewers that I was the problem. I wasn’t.

        1. BRR*

          Random thought, it would be so interesting if someone wrote in and it was about you (super unlikely especially now).

          1. GOG11*

            “My manager has standards and is holding me to them! When I didn’t do my job, she had a frank conversation with me about benchmarks that I need to meet and the timeline for doing so. She also offered strategies and support for improving my performance. Ugh. HALP!”

            (This has nothing to do with OP. I’m just being silly in regard to what someone might write to Alison about Alison).

            1. Blurgle*

              I’m imagining comments like “jealous”, “incompetent”, “bossy”, and that all-time favourite, “bitter”.

        2. BethRA*

          Well I can hardly imagine someone admitting in an interview that they were fired for being a great big pinhead.

  4. Nancy*

    “Or did you reasonably choose to get out of a situation that any reasonable person would find horrible?”

    I guess there’s no good way to express this without badmouthing a former employer, which is a huge no-no? Even in cases of obvious abuse, toxicity, or even being told to do illegal or unethical things? If this really is the reason for leaving, a vague answer about career direction or family issues seems disingenuous.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Factual, objective stuff is fine: “They weren’t able to pay us reliably.” “The plant had unresolved safety issues.”

      Subjective stuff is where you run into trouble, because the hiring manager doesn’t know you well enough to judge if “my manager was abusive” is really accurate or if you’re difficult/have bad judgment/performed terribly.

      1. The IT Manager*

        I think Alison has in the past suggested verbiage to say that you quit because you were asked to do something illegal/unethical.

        The problem with the “my boss was a crazy bully” reason is that is open to interpretation and it is possible you only think that and you’re the one being unreasonable. (see Ashley the Nonprofit Exec’s comment above)

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          If that actually happened, and you are really sure that you are objectively correct, sure. I just phone-screened someone who would not tell me anything about why left his last THREE employers or allow me to call them for a reference because “there is litigation pending”. That’s you, dude. Or you are the most unlucky person ever, and you aren’t good at assessing an employer before staring to work for them.

          1. The IT Manager*

            Oh yeah! If all your bosses “have it out for you” there’s a good chance it’s not their problem.

            1. KH*

              Oh yea… I once had an employee who left because he felt the workplace was toxic, he called it the “anti-Mike crowd” (his name was Mike). Anyone who talked to him for more than a 15 minutes knew he had unrealistic expectations and reacted badly when other people had realistic expectations… :-) Not a people person… I think he ended up becoming an independent writer or something…

      2. E*

        Could you not just be generic and say that the previous job was not working out, to the point that staying while job searching wasn’t an option? Surely most folks have had the “bad job” experience or heard horror stories and could relate. Plus, being willing to give no details would speak well to the candidate’s trustworthiness, I’d think.

          1. sunny-dee*

            Would it be acceptable to say that due to other departures your workload was high enough that it was impacting your family?

            I ask because there have been some departures in my department and I have suspicious about two more people. My work week is currently only about 65 hours long, but if I get assigned these other projects, it’ll be approaching 90. (And this has happened to me before at this company; I switched positions because my last position, I was working over 100 hours a week.)

              1. Windchime*

                Yeah. My kids are grown and gone and the only person who lives with me is not a person, he’s a cat. I couldn’t even do 65 hours more than once in a blue moon; never mind 90.

            1. Jill 2*

              ONLY 65?? Wow. My weeks at 65 hours have impacted my home life substantially. I had one 80 hour week this past month and I thought I’d die.

              I don’t think I’m cut out for the modern workplace.

            2. Sammie*

              Do we work for the same company? I average 65 M-F and am starting to have to put in weekend hours too!

      3. MaryMary*

        I think objective facts and specifics make a huge difference. “The workload was excessive” leaves a lot of open questions around what you feel is excessive. “My department has been working 14 hour days and weekends for the last six months” answers many of those questions. “They pulled a bait and switch” is different from “when I was hired I was told I would have a 8-4 schedule, but then I was moved to the 12-8am shift.”

        Just be careful not to give TOO many details. Going on a rant, even if the situation was unreasonable, is not going to impress hiring managers.

      4. Charly*

        Okay, but I did that in a recent interview and it worked against me. I was interviewing for a teaching position in a private school, and they asked why I left my job before the school year ended. Our school was an awful place to work, with management frequently threatening to fire employees for “racism” and “insubordination”. Teachers left due to situations that are too horrifying to detail.

        The school was actually investigated by the state board of education for fabricating credits so students could graduate, rather than making the students take the classes they should have. The story was all over the news, with the district blaming some teachers and counselors for the “mistake.” This and many other reasons caused me to cut and run.

        I told the interviewer that I was sure she was aware of the investigation of the school, (she was) and that I had the opportunity to do other education-related freelance work that interested me, so I felt it was best to move on to a better situation (all true). She nodded, told me I was the most qualified candidate she’d interviewed, and even asked if I would be interested in another position at the school that she felt I was uniquely qualified for, which I was. Two days later she said she didn’t feel I was a “good fit” and that the school was going in another direction. The jobs are still posted, and I heard through the grapevine that they’re still looking.

        So yeah, it hurt me. I’m wondering if I should just take the job off my resume and say I took a year off. I have freelance work that I’m doing now, so I’m fine, but eventually I’ll need a job again.

        1. KH*

          It could be your story, or something totally different. There’s really no way to know. When all the managers got together, they might have identified some required skills or traits that you didn’t have.

      5. Connie-Lynne*

        Yep, this. I totally quit a job because they got bought by a spam house, and because they moved their offices to 35 miles (and 2 hours) away, and because both the current and acquiring CEOs were dickheads (I’d worked with the acquiring CEO in another company, oh, tech, you are such a tiny world).

        In interviews, I’d mention the move as my primary reason, and occasionally, if I thought it would reflect well on my integrity, the spam house. I never mentioned the dickhead CEOs, because as sure as I am of the truth of that evaluation, it’s ultimately subjective.

    2. GOG11*

      This piques my curiosity about what someone in a situation like yesterday’s highly-allergic letter write would do. If you quit because you and your employer couldn’t work out a reasonable accommodation, but you didn’t have another job lined up, how would someone handle that? I wouldn’t want to bring up medical info/disability/accommodations that early in the interview stage, but I also wouldn’t want to be evasive and possibly leave the interviewer thinking I was too risky too hire.

      1. Jesse*

        The dog thing is so crazy to me, though! I wouldn’t think twice about saying “I didn’t expect my dog allergy would be such an issue in an office,” assuming the place you are interviewing is not also full of dogs!

  5. Kat*

    First time commenter here – I did this in October, quit a toxic job without anything lined up. I made sure to find some freelance work, so that I could say in interviews that I decided to take a step back and see what my options were, talk about those projects, and use language like Allison suggested.

    One thing I will say from doing it: I was unemployed/making it work with freelance for five months, and it was the best decision of my life. I’m in a much healthier work environment now, and was able to land a job once I got out of the toxic stew and could really prioritize what I was looking for.

    1. Not Today Satan*

      “I was able to land a job once I got out of the toxic stew and could really prioritize what I was looking for.” Exactly! I felt so beaten down by the end of my tenure at old job that I basically quit looking, because I was so depressed and tired after a day/week at work. I know many advise against it, but if you have the financial capability (several months’ worth of money saved, and/or a family that can support you), I think quitting without a job lined up can often be worth it. A job can degrade your mental and physical health to the point that it’s really not worth it to stay just because some hiring managers might hold it against you.

      1. Ro*

        Omg- this is me and my situation right now exactly! If I’m ever in a situation in the future to be a hiring manager, I will certainly give someone else the benefit of the doubt but then do my due diligence in other ways (probing references, etc.) to get reassurance they are a good candidate. I think people are taking the easier path to only hire the currently employed, especially since we all know sometimes it’s not that person’s fault.

        Some days I am SO beaten down and tired (from an abusive boss/toxic environment) that even just quitting feels like too much effort. Part of that is facing all the extra work I’d need to do to not leave my co-workers and clients in a lurch, but mostly it’s that I’ve been in this environment for years now. I think you may be doing some of these candidates a diservice by dismissing them out of hand. You might see things differently if you’d ever been where I am.

        1. LeighTX*

          It’s admirable that you feel obligated to “not leave co-workers and clients in a lurch,” but you should absolutely do what is best for YOURSELF, and if means leaving things undone then so be it. One thing that I had to get over while preparing to leave my last job was that I was NOT irreplaceable, and the world would keep turning without me there; the work would get done one way or another. Take care of yourself; I can guarantee you that the relief you will feel in a new job will far, far, far outweigh any guilt you may feel over leaving some items undone.

          1. Windchime*

            I agree with this 100%. I left my former workplace a mere two months after an enormous, complicated implementation went live. I was offered a position at a different organization that I just couldn’t turn down, so I left despite feeling really, really guilty. It was wasted guilt, because the person who took my place is actually better (and better suited) to the position than I ever was.

    2. Leaving Toxic Workplaces*

      So nice to hear a little encouragement on this side of things. I left a while ago, and well, it’s been a tough job search, so I’ve recently started second-guessing myself. It’s nice to know it really can work out once you have time to detox.

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      It’s always a good thing if you can show you’ve been doing something productive while job searching, such as this or volunteering or in my bf’s case , he was able to do some product testing for a friend with a small startuo who wasn’t in a position to actually hire him

    4. abby*

      This is really nice to read. I am not in a toxic workplace, but I have been and I remember feeling beaten down and hopeless. My sister is currently in a toxic workplace and she is in the hospital now with a problem brought on by the toxic workplace. I think she needs to leave, even though she has nothing lined up. I plan on sharing this entire thread with her once she’s out of the hospital and able to think about her situation; it might give her some ideas for how to handle the inevitable questions, as well as some hope.

  6. Anonymous Educator*

    Maybe I’m in the minority, but I’ve been involved in hiring or been the hiring manager before, and I’ve never thought less of a candidate who admitted she was leaving a toxic environment.

    Where I will get judgey is if she’s unnecessarily detailed and vindicative in her recounting of what was wrong there. If she can relay factual events without getting visibly angry or spiteful or without airing confidential dirty laundry from her former employer, I hold no judgments. Also, if she has a strong work history, her most recent gig not working out would not seem to be part of a trend.

    For example, if she had no gaps in her résumé and had a series of jobs she worked 3-5 years at and only the most recent job she left before having something lined up, I’d be inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes exactly. Love your attitude wish more people were as reasonable as you .

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

      Here’s the thing, though – “toxic environment” is subjective. I have certainly had people (under 5%) work for me who thought this was a very toxic environment. I’ve had way more people tell me that they stay here because it’s easy to overlook what you don’t like when you love the way that people interact with teach other, you love the way you are treated, and you appreciate having the chance to learn and grow. Those people who saw this as toxic were probably uncomfortable with our culture and didn’t fit well – we give direct feedback to each other regardless of hierarchy, we have high expectations, and we expect to be able to have really, really upfront and transparent conversations about problems. We also use good manners all the time, period. If you reject those things, you’re not going to like it here.

      The problem is they often carry whatever their concerns and sensitivities into their next job – which could be working for you. In a lot of cases, they keep looking through the same lens regardless of their environment until they mature/learn something/grow, etc.

      There are obviously workplaces out there that are objectively toxic. Like Alison was saying, though, it is really hard to determine if the person came from one of those, or if it’s just their way of looking at things.

    3. Suzanne*

      Good for you!
      I was in this position a few years ago. The non-profit I had worked at for almost 15 years closed up as it lost funding in the 2008 economic meltdown. I took the first job I was offered. It was a chaotic mess of patrimony (I was obviously hired to do things the men didn’t care to), lack of training or accountability, and an ego-fest the likes of which I’ve never seen. I quit after almost a year with nothing lined up, my spirit drained, ego bruised, and with a new appreciation for a decent workplace.
      It came up more than once in interviews. I explained that the commute was too long (45 min each way), that I left to pursue other options, etc. but I could feel the judgment most of the time. I understand from the employer’s viewpoint, but I figure most of them have not been in that situation. At some point, you have to leave or you’ll truly go insane. I would never have believed how bad it can be if I hadn’t been in that situation.

  7. A Non*

    Is it really that bad to say “it was a toxic environment” and then move on with the conversation? I wouldn’t consider that badmouthing an employer – it’s when the interviewee goes on to whine about how they were mean and unfair that it becomes a major turnoff. (Yes, I’ve actually seen people do that. Don’t do that.)

    1. fposte*

      It’s not just the badmouthing problem, which isn’t that big a deal there; it’s that “toxic environment” is a subjective phrase at best and, IMHO, a little buzzwordy as a result, so it can cover anything from “my manager repeatedly threatened us all with knives” to “I cry when I’m told to do work.” And as a hiring manager, I don’t have a lot of information to know what it does cover.

        1. Steve G*

          +1. Because the environment isn’t always toxic for everyone. For example, at the job I walked off of described above, I worked with someone who had been there for a few years (long for that job) and was very happy in it and exceeded his sales goals. Management stayed off of his back. My view of the place was totally different, partially because I was competing with him, Mr. Perfect (for that job).

        2. Dynamic Beige*

          Right. But was it your most recent ex who was “crazy” or were all of them? Because in that case, the only common denominator is you.

        3. Ad Astra*

          Exactly. Some jobs really are toxic and some exes really are crazy, but those particular words red flags for me. It makes me think the problem is actually you, not the job or the girlfriend. If you say, “My ex poisoned my fish and stabbed me with a fork” or “My job required us to work 80 hours a week and docked our pay for every typo we made,” I’m far more likely to believe you got out of a bad situation.

      1. Myrin*

        In the case of the knife-wielding manager, would it be okay to come right out and say that? It seems like something that’s very hard to argue about, on the other hand it seems almost too dramatic so I’d fear some people wouldn’t believe the candidate – or would even something like that fall under the “badmouthing” umbrella?

        1. GOG11*

          I would say something like, “there were some conditions regarding workplace health and safety that the employer wasn’t able to adequately address.” I’ve never been in that situation, so I can’t say if it would be sufficient or not, though.

        2. Mephyle*

          “There were some conditions regarding workplace health and safety that the employer wasn’t able to adequately address.”
          It goes back to the same problem – without context how is the interviewer to know whether the problem was with the employer endangering their employees or the employee making unreasonable demands.

          1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            Yep. Were you mad there wasn’t filtered water available or were you constantly in fear of improperly secured equipment falling on your head? I would ask you to explain this.

          2. KH*

            I would think the professional verbiage and the attempt to view the situation objectively would be enough to head off all but the most inquisitive interviewers. Lead with this but be prepared to give an example, or a category/type of issue under the guise of confidentiality.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        While I agree “toxic environment” is subjective, I’d be less inclined to think someone would quit without something else lined up just because he cries when told to do work, unless the rest of the résumé shows gaps between every job.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          Agree. I would think there was a backstory and would want to know more and pay attention to how the candidate relayed the details.

      3. Dan*

        This is a very accurate parallel. I actually have a crazy ex, but I can’t go around telling people that. One reason I can’t do that is way too many guys overuse that line, so it reflects poorly on them way more than it ever could be used to accurately describe said ex.

        If I want to get my point across, I stick to facts, or at least anecdotes.

        The same is true here — calling a work place toxic does absolutely nothing for the candidate’s credibility. If the place is really toxic, share some factual stories. You’ll make your point without having too many questions raised about yourself.

        1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Yes. I had a super crazy boss one time, but I would never bring that up in an interview. He threw things, asked women questions about their tampon brand preferences, and overtly asked an intern to have sex with him in the conference room. Fortunately, he got fired and I’ll never need to explain.

      4. Stranger than fiction*

        It’s suggestive so that’s why one needs to be very explicit and specific about the situation. It also helps of course if the rest of your track record is stellar, ie, only one “crazy ex”

    2. YandO*

      Except, the next question will be “how so?”

      They will be looking for specific examples and how you handled it and so on. Most of the time toxic environment is a pattern of behavior, not one Big Thing. Trying to explain this to potential employer is a minefield. Because of the additional follow up question that will pop up.

      1. UKAnon*

        Perhaps the more diplomatic answer is ‘I found that the culture was a bad fit’. You don’t need to say that that’s because you react badly to being threatened with knives, but if they ask a follow up you can frame it in the positive: “I prefer a team who is open to dialogue and providing solutions”, not saying “rather than threatening violence until whatever the problem was is resolved or otherwise goes away”.

        1. fposte*

          Which is fine if you’re looking while you’re still employed. The bar goes up considerably if you left without an open option.

          Basically, people don’t like to spend time without a paycheck; leaving a job and going paycheckless is usually a sign of something going really, really wrong. You need to either note that going without a job was not the usual problem because you were taking care of family, traveling, whatever, and/or give a reason for leaving that meets that higher bar.

          1. GOG11*

            “leaving a job and going paycheckless is usually a sign of something going really, really wrong.”

            This. And it’s your task then to show the employer that what went really, really wrong wasn’t you (due to poor work ethic, a tendency to job hop, unreasonable/unfulfillable expectations, etc.).

        2. OriginalYup*

          I agree that it’s a diplomatic answer, but it doesn’t always get you off the hook, though.

          I quit the most toxic workplace I’ve ever experienced as soon as I had a line on a possible new job which fell through. In the very next interview I had, I used the “culture was a bad fit” line to explain why I’d left a job after a short time without a replacement, and the interviewers asked, “In what way?” I replied, “They had a very competitive, aggressive culture and I prefer a more civil, collaborative environment,” thinking that I was walking the line pretty well. But the interviews still kept at it — “What sort of competitiveness? Was the aggressiveness constant?” — until I finally just cracked and said, “Managers cursed at you during staff meetings, and I witnessed an executive bullying an employee with a disability *about* their disability.”

          I did not get the job. (Can’t attribute this to the comment per se, but I’ve received an offer from every interview I’ve done except that one.)

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            See I think that is fine and probably had nothing to do with your answers unless of course they also liked to yell there in which case you dodged a bulled

            1. OriginalYup*

              Your reply made me chuckle because I instantly the pictured the interviewers having a debrief together: “Well, we’re @ssholes too, so she definitely won’t fit in here…”

              1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                Haha. We specifically screen for things that some people hate and we know are true of us. We ask a ton of questions about what worked and didn’t in previous work environments. Our way works for us, but not for everyone! For example, people have to meet pretty ambitious goals, not just do their best. Many nonprofits don’t see things that way. We also provide services according to specific, evidence based models, and some people want more room to do things their own way. All that is fine, but they will not like working here.

  8. Jubilance*

    Alison, I’m surprised you didn’t suggest that the OP say something like “I’m looking for an environment/company that’s a better fit”. It doesn’t badmouth the company and it is true information. Would a statement like that possibly cause red flags?

    1. MLT*

      I like this wording. It frames the truth in as positive a way as possible. Of course, the interviewer is likely to ask what was wrong about the fit, and you would need to be prepared with an answer for that… perhaps statements about what you look for in a workplace?

    2. fposte*

      I think the challenge is that usually people who do that are looking while still employed. So what made you leave and go paycheckless for such a modestly phrased gain?

        1. AvonLady Barksdale*

          At my old company, my boss interviewed one guy who stood out for his short stint at another company. He had worked at one place for several years and then another for five months before he quit. I wasn’t in the interview, but apparently the answer was simply, “It wasn’t a good fit,” and honestly, it made us really skeptical. Why did he just quit? Why didn’t he stay and at least work while looking elsewhere? And, yes, why didn’t he try harder to make it work?

          He was an ok candidate, not stellar, but those questions we had tipped the scales in a negative way. It may not be completely fair, but yeah, we felt like he was hiding something pretty big and it wasn’t good.

          1. Stranger than fiction*

            That’s why you really need a more detailed follow up answer and shouldn’t rely on the stock, vague bad fit thing

            1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

              He’s a risk for a bad hire. If you have another candidate who does not present this risk, it’s reasonable to choose the other person.

      1. Adam*

        I guess I would say try to come across as relaxed as possible in the interview. If you don’t look desperate it may be easier to convey the notion that you leaving the previous job wasn’t a dramatic thing even if it was. Also when describing the environment you’re looking for it’s probably better to phrase it in a positive way of what you’d like to find: “I’m looking for a collaborative environment with dedicated teammates” vs. “My previous boss was so over the moon he was sailing past Jupiter.”

    3. Chriama*

      I think it’s just too vague. ‘Looking for a better fit’ doesn’t necessitate quitting without anything else lined up. Were you asked to resign in lieu of getting fired? Were you *actually* fired? The vague answer doesn’t really give the manager anything better to work with, and using that as a response to a follow-up question makes it obvious you’re avoiding the subject.

    4. sam*

      I think the issue is that this is a vague enough answer that it doesn’t really answer the secondary question of why did the OP leave before he/she had something else lined up.

      I had a similar, but different situation. I got laid off for “mystery, non-performance” reasons right at the beginning of the financial crisis. Trying to explain why I left my job, when I didn’t actually know why I left my job was an incredible exercise in coming up with vague, meaningless euphemisms.

      Several years later, when my former firm collapsed in a spectacular heap of bankruptcy and fraud, my layoff suddenly became a LOT easier to explain. It turned out that I, and other associates who got laid off, were the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. If you read the indictments (which we did), you can actually tie the dates of our mass layoffs to specific dates that they needed to shuffle money around to claim they were meeting debt covenants.

      1. fposte*

        That might be even more challenging than the OP’s question, in fact, because being laid off it wasn’t your choice, so it’s hard to avoid seeming like you’re covering up a performance-related termination.

        1. Amtelope*

          Yes, but being laid off is an explanation for leaving a job that doesn’t (to me) raise the same red flags as either being fired or quitting without another job lined up. “My company was going through layoffs, and unfortunately my position was eliminated” is pretty common and not the employee’s fault. (Of course, this may vary by industry: in mine, “Let’s hire like crazy! Oops, let’s lay everyone off!” is a common cycle, and employees who get laid off by one company in our small field tend to be very competitive for jobs at other companies. We all understand that it’s about cyclical contracts, not employee performance.)

          1. MaryMary*

            Unfortunately, I think there is still some stigma around being laid off. Unless an entire location or division closes, some people assume that lower performers were let go first. Personally, I’ve seen layoffs targeted at lower performers, layoffs done as “last in first out,” and experienced, highly compensated employees laid off to save the most on payroll. I wouldn’t hold it against someone, but other people would.

            1. Stranger than fiction*

              And the people who would are shortsighted and you probably don’t want to work for them anyhow or you end up in Op’s predicament

          2. sam*

            right, but the firm was trying to keep everything under the radar at the time, so the “layoffs” as the were were happening in drips and drabs, so it wasn’t clear until after the fact that they were actually pretty massive.

            Add to the fact that they did them about a week before performance reviews started, so that everyone else in the industry simply assumed they were performance-related, even though we were assured they weren’t. It didn’t matter. people still wanted to know why, if I was so freaking awesome, I got laid off as opposed to some other associate who wasn’t?

            Anything I said just sounded like an excuse, especially because the real reason (the firm management had handed out secret payment guarantees to a select group of partners that put the firm significantly underwater when the economy tanked, causing the entire firm to enter a vicious cycle whereby partners who didn’t have guarantees started leaving and taking their clients with them, causing the firm to lose even more money, etc., etc., etc., which then resulted in “shenanigans” to cover up the losses when the firm had to certify that it was meeting its debt covenants for its creditors…) was obviously hidden from everyone until it blew up in everyone’s face.

        2. Ad Astra*

          Being laid off sucks, but I was fortunate (in a way) to be laid off in a field known for its constant, massive layoffs (newspapers). A lot of journalists who were far more talented than I have been laid off in the last 8-10 years, so people tended to give me the benefit of the doubt.

          1. some1*

            Ditto for me when I was laid off from a book publisher – it’s pretty universally known that the industry as a whole isn’t do as well it used to.

      2. Biff*

        When something similar happened to me, I was actually very up front with future employers — I was fired, told that if I went quietly they’d write me an excellent reference, and when I pushed for reasons, I was giving a document that listed all the possible reasons someone in my department might be let go, with the caveat that I might have done something else. Most of them move along after that.

      3. Dan*

        You know, it’s funny. I had been laid off from a government contractor, and had a couple of different interviews, one doing more contracting work and another in the private sector.

        One person interviewing for the contracting job looked at me and said, “You know, the nice thing about getting laid off is you don’t have to answer awkward questions about why you don’t have a job or are otherwise looking to leave.”

        At the private sector gig, this guy kept grilling me about why I got laid off, as if I actually knew why and was holding it back. DUDE, there’s a difference between “fired” and “laid off.” Fired = you probably knew you screwed up, laid off = “business reasons.” While it’s true companies will lay off poor performers first, it’s not necessarily true that employees know why they were laid off.

        Besides, if you’re that concerned, and so much as bothered to call my former managers, they’d tell you that the layoff was above their heads, they had nothing to do with it, and they’re pissed. It’s not like you’re stuck taking my word on the circumstances surrounding my departure.

        1. Rachel*

          Yeah, I’ve had this experience too. I was laid off and some people grill me with questions about it during interviews. When I was laid off, I was told my company was going to outsource my responsibilities. When I tell interviewers this, they are like, “Where were they going to outsource them?” And when I told them I don’t know, they’re like, “What? You’re not in touch with anyone from your company anymore? Why don’t you know?” And it’s like, “Well, I’m moving on and focusing on new opportunities.” Everything can be twisted around if someone is skeptical.

          Recently, one interviewer actually told me that if I was more entrepreneurial, I may not have been laid off and that I should pursue higher level work, which was like… um, you know nothing about my situation but thanks for the unsolicited advice, d*ckhead.

          It’s hard because lay offs can come as a total shock, and you don’t always have a lot of information about why your company made that decision.

          This has been the most arduous job search I’ve ever had, and I think part of it is due to the stigma that comes with being unemployed/laid off. It’s definitely not fun.

      4. Former Usher*

        Thanks for sharing your story and the link. I hope you were able to move onto a better job.

        1. sam*

          Yeah – it took a while, including two years of unemployment and doing legal contractor work for an “alternative” legal services firm, but I landed on my feet. I work in-house now. I don’t make as much money, and I don’t have an emotional connection to my job the way I did at the firm, but I like it, and I like the people I work with, and that’s enough, and probably a lot healthier in the long run.

          I had drinks a few months ago with one of the senior partners I used to work with – actually the partner who had to tell me I was getting laid off back in the day (he was clearly just the messenger, so I never held it against him). He asked me if I loved my job now. I said no, but the last job I truly loved was at the firm, and look what that got me. When I got laid off, it wasn’t just a financial/ego hit, it was emotionally devastating and it took a while to recover from that and really get some perspective.

          There was a lot of schadenfreude when the news finally came out about the mess that was really going on.

          1. Rachel*

            I hear you. Being laid off is emotionally devastating, especially if you care a lot about the work you do and put a lot into it. Your story is pretty incredible. I’m glad you are doing well now!

      5. Connie-Lynne*

        Whoa. That has got to be kind of .. vindicating? … to discover, if not for the horrible life impact at the time.

    5. KH*

      This is great wording, because it leads the interviewers to ask what you are looking for, not what you are running from.

  9. Can-Do*

    I also left a job (not a toxic environment but a thoroughly unpleasant manager) without another one lined up. The company was undertaking a huge redesign of their product at the time and my role would be to increase customer adoption of the new features. I told interviewers that since I knew I wanted to pursue new challenges outside the company anyways, I felt it would be best to leave early in the redesign process. That way my replacement could ensure their vision and goals are account for when critical decisions are being made early on.

    1. Connie-Lynne*

      Oh, what a wonderful answer! It shows that you’re invested in yourself but also that you take the company’s needs into consideration.

  10. ID10T Detector*

    I quit a toxic job last year without something new lined up. When asked this question, I said something along the lines of because I’d been at my previous position for so long, I recognized that if I truly wanted to move into new opportunities, that I needed to make a clean break because I would do justice to neither my current job nor my job search if I was splitting my energy and attention between the two. I would mention too that I also realized how very fortunate I was to be in a place in my life where I could do that, and I felt like I needed to take advantage of being in such a place. I think one interviewer pressed for more detail, and I just said that while the company did amazing things in the world and I was very proud of the work I had done there, the internal culture of the company had evolved into something that I no longer felt comfortable working in.

    It definitely is

    1. fposte*

      I think you hit good notes there–you made it clear that you didn’t have to be driven by horribleness to leave, since you were able to be okay without a paycheck for a while, and that also it was a situation that changed but a job you still valued.

      It makes me think that middle-term durations are the hardest to negotiate in this situation. The job where you find out after a week it’s horrible and you flee doesn’t get put on the resume; if you’ve had 5-10 years there you have a trajectory to discuss. It’s the 1-2 year stuff that’s particularly challenging.

      1. NJ Anon*

        I’m there now. Left a job of 11 years because it got toxic and I needed a change. Have been in new job about 9 months and am not happy. I have an interview with a recruiter next week and will have to try to explain my unhappiness that doesn’t make me sound like a flake!

    2. T*

      I was in your situation and did a phone interview with Amazon. The interviewer latched onto why I resigned and wouldn’t let it go. Every question would somehow turn back into that topic. It was my absolute worst case scenario after resigning without another job. And it was early in the job hunt so I feared every interview would be that way but nobody else pushed it too much. Don’t get me wrong, it definitely turned off some other interviewers but they moved onto other questions.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        My bf also had a bad time interviewing with a local Amazon location and later heard it was a nightmare place to work ( this particular division )

      2. KH*

        Interviewing with Amazon is hell because Amazon probably spends more training managers how to hire people than any other company. They all ask the toughest questions.
        Oh, and working there is not for everyone. They push their employees hard.

    3. Adam*

      The seems like a very diplomatic way to answer the question. It puts the onus all on you as you are seeking a new direction in your career life and wanted to focus on it totally. Some people likely would be curious still (because these days how many people can actually afford to do this?), but if you continue to make it about you and not your former employer it may diffuse that curiosity.

      1. sunny-dee*

        It may be a little easier if you’re married — you can explain that one income is enough to get you through at least the short term and it can be an overall worthy investment to change careers.

        (That’s actually a deal my husband and I have, as we’ve both been going through bouts of work stress. We have a casual backup-budget and everything. It’s nice to dream about when dealing with certain people, just knowing that I *could* walk away and my SO has my back.)

        1. Adam*

          That’s awesome. Sounds like a great relationship and not something an employer would balk at.

    4. seisy*

      That is an amazing way of putting it. And really helps me think about how to phrase the job I left (a job so bad that I decided to quit because it seemed like a healthier thing than all the fantasies about driving into center dividers or jumping off the overpass that my coworkers and I all indulged in, but my timing was partially so that it would be less disruptive to the people and teams I’d been working with) in such a way that emphasizes the timing and the luxury of being able to really explore new options etc.

  11. MashaKasha*

    My 22yo son quit his job a month ago without a new one lined up. The job was in IT, at a tech startup, and he left to take a couple of years off to work on his personal project. Apparently, it’s a pretty ordinary thing that people do where he lives and works. (Believe me, I asked around because I was worried out of my mind for him when he first told me he was going to quit!) Also apparently, if things don’t pan out with that personal project of his, i.e. if what he makes does not sell well enough to provide for a living, all he needs to do is add his personal-project experience to his resume, prepare a demo of it, and get back to interviewing. I was told that this personal project might actually weigh more in an interviewer’s eyes than if he’d spent the same two years doing low-key office work. Would it maybe be okay for the OP to go down that same path in their responses: “I needed to take a few months off work to bring my professional skills up to date, since at OldJob all we did was move teapots around all day long, and we worked 70 hour weeks, which left no room for professional improvement”? Would that be acceptable to an interviewer?

    1. The IT Manager*

      I’d say no. It sounds like your son is an entrepreneur/tech developer who is trying to get his own start-up started. That’s doing something that requires certain skills. It’s not professional improvement; it’s work. If the LW isn’t doing the same thing, that answer is not going to fly. I’d look funny at anyone who says they quite work to learn skills that one usually learns on the job because this is a lie to cover the truth. You need to figure out how to soften the truth/pretty up the truth so it’s not bad-mouthing or he said/she said without resorting to lies.

      1. TemporarilyAnon*

        ” I’d look funny at anyone who says they quite work to learn skills that one usually learns on the job”

        But what if they aren’t skills you’d learn on that job?

        1. The IT Manager*

          If someone quit to go the college or a trade school full time – totally normal.

          If someone quits to earn a certificate that most people earn while also working a full time, I’d suspect a lie to hide their real reason for leaving their old job. And if they are going to lie about it, then I’d also suspect that the real reason would reflect negatively on them.

    2. Adam*

      I think this would really depend on the industry. If we were talking your more garden variety office job I think interviewers would wonder why he had to quit his job to work on his personal goals, as in why couldn’t he do both? This is especially true if he wasn’t leaving to do something more formal like attend school full-time. These days, fair or (probably) not, I believe the old adage that the most employable people are those that are already employed is very true.

      But tech industries definitely march to their own beat. Since it’s always changing and so many of those who work on it have their own ideas they want to pursue I could see this as being seen as a normal thing to do in their world.

    3. TemporarilyAnon*

      “I needed to take a few months off work to bring my professional skills up to date”

      This! Many moons ago I got canned from a job. The first thing I did was go to a temp agency to put food on the table and the second thing I did was look around for educational opportunities… and once there, if there was any short term job I could do for my professors, I did.

      In 18 months, my resume and my interviews didn’t mention the temp agency, but they did address the multi-month gap between Previous Job and Several Projects as “I was unhappy with the direction of my career, so I assessed my situation, decided to retrain, took the earliest opportunity to join Continuing Ed School and obtained both Certificate X and experiences Y and Z sub-contracting on short-term projects, all of which makes me fit this job because…”

      Or, in short, Get Thee To A School ASAP. A semester, a certificate, continuing ed, even structured online courses – anything you can claim as education “to aid my career change.” But preferably a brick-and-morter school, though, because then you can shrug and say that in a choice between staying in old job and starting to retrain at the earliest possible semester, retraining won.

  12. Stranger than fiction*

    Op, my boyfriend went through this very same thing. He would give a scripted answer about better fit/different challenge or whatever and then they would push for more. So then he would explain he felt bait and switched because his role changed significantly after the first two months – they literally had him doing two full time jobs (with no increase in pay) which necessitated him working 80 hours a week; he’d state it calmly and professionally, and make a comment that he hadn’t seen daylight all summer, and add there was no way possible to be job searching while still employed there and that he was financially conservative and therefore could take a couple weeks to decompress…and then would finish by saying he wanted to get back into focusing on product management where his strength are and he hadn’t been able to do that there. Sometimes he would say something about different management styles than his boss (but that could open up a can of worms if they ask why, his managed by screaming and intimidation and expected yiu to read his mind) and if the interviewers were smart they could read between the lines through all this. The important thing is to stay factual and not get emotional. This place also had a lot of turnover and eventually some of the recruiters he spoke with would say they heard about that so no problem they understood.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Oh and stay consistent simetimes they would ask more then once or more than one person would ask at different stages to see if he’d trip up

    2. MashaKasha*

      Re bait and switch, I once started looking for a job three months after starting at a new place – which is almost as bad job search-wise as leaving with no new job lined up. Of course the interviewers were suspicious – I would be too! But they all became very understanding when I explained to them that I’d been hired to work at a place 20 miles from my home as a web developer (late 90s), on the promise that I’d gain experience with them that would help me greatly in the future; and that, on my first day in the office, I was told that my job responsibilities were actually to work on-site at a client’s office that had a 65 mile commute, to maintain that client’s outdated legacy application. I was initially told that it would be a part-time, temporary assignment, and then, three months in, my boss said that it was actually full-time and permanent and that was when I started looking. Everyone I’ve told this story to, understood perfectly and proceeded with the rest of the interview. They do know that bait and switch is NOT a good thing.

      1. K.*

        WHAT? 65 miles? That makes total sense – that’s the kind of commute that can affect your bottom line (gas isn’t free!), not to mention your sanity.

        1. MashaKasha*

          Most days I also had to stop by the main office as well. Or come to the main office, work for a bit, drive to the client’s, work there for a few hours, come back to main office for the rest of the day. Main office was downtown and I had to pay for parking both when I came there in the morning and when I returned there in the afternoon. Fun times.

    3. Susan*

      “The important thing is to stay factual and not get emotional.”

      Yeah, I agree with this. And I mean, part of an interview is to just check that you have a certain level of emotional maturity/can handle stressful situations and maintain your composure. So if you are able to say all of what your boyfriend said, in a way that feels calm and measured–if they’re reading confidence on you and not insecurity–I think you might be just fine.

  13. YandO*

    Can you say this?

    “I knew I did not have growth potential in that position due to X (reasonable neutral things here), but with the hours I worked and commitment my job demanded, I knew I could not really take the time to find the right company and the position. I am in a fortunate position to be able to take time off and really look for a company where I can stay for many years to come”

    That last bit worked REALLY well during my interviews. I was employed while looking, but I was escaping a toxic environment shortly after starting there and telling them “I am in a fortunate position to take my time” + “I am looking to stay for years” really tipped the scales in my favor at least a few times (I think).

  14. Allison*

    Unfortunately, “my last job was toxic” has become the interview equivalent of “my last girlfriend was crazy.” Sure, it’s true sometimes, but it seems like most of the people who say it turn out to be the bad guy, and they’ve ruined it for everyone.

  15. T*

    I did this once and it’s the last time I’ll ever do it. Getting another job after voluntarily resigning is tough because either nobody believes you (forced to resign?) or they think you’re an idiot for not getting another job first. Plus, the sense of panic quickly sets in as the weeks tick by and you realize you’re not getting paid anymore. That doesn’t usually put you in the right state of mind to job hunt and interview. If a friend asked my opinion on this, I would say stick it out and start looking. But I also know people often make poor decisions when they’re in a toxic workplace. Now that I’m older and have more experience, I would be much quicker to leave a job. I wouldn’t let it get to the point where I dread going in every day.

    1. Ribiko*

      I completely agree. I’m about to start a new job, leaving behind a very bad situation (thank goodness!). In fact, when I received the offer for the new job, I had already planning to hand my notice in even without anything lined up – I was that unhappy, every day, and it was also making it difficult to keep perspective and be effective in evaluating new opportunities.

      That said, I’m very fortunate in that things worked out very much in my favor and I was recruited into a new position just as I was about to quit. I relocated to an extremely high cost-of-living city for the job I’m leaving, and quitting without anything lined up is financially suicidal (likewise, not so easy to job search remotely if one returns home instead).

      I certainly learned a lot from the experience – as you say, never again would I stay that long in such a situation, or let it get to that point. It’s a valuable but hard-won lesson for me as someone less than five years out of college.

    2. Oranges*

      And that is why I am grateful that my toxic work place fired me. And they were documenting stuff for four months. Interestingly enough right after I told them that I was signing up for benefits.

      They also tried to deny unemployment. That got shot down in a heart beat.

      My favorite story is when my boss brought his hand gun into work. This is in a metropolis where around 4% of people have guns. That made me feel super safe.

      1. Oranges*

        Oh. Just to clarify, the documentation was never shared with me and my favorite line was “teapot-maker came in with a wrist splint, said she slept on it wrong.

        Also that I was grateful since I was in no shape to job hunt so this way I could get unemployment and retraining.

  16. CrazyCatLady*

    I haven’t left a job without another one lined up, but I’ve definitely contemplated it. It’s really hard to devote yourself to finding another job while working a full-time job (especially if that full-time job is toxic and drains the life out of you). I understand why it can be a red flag for hiring managers, but I wish it were more acceptable for people to do this, as long as they can afford to do so.

  17. Amber Rose*

    Wouldn’t it be plausible to say you wanted time off while searching for health reasons? Toxic workplaces really mess with you after all.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      I think it would depend. It may raise other questions like whether or not the health issues are likely to recur.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Alison’s go-to phrase – “some health challenges, since resolved” – might work here, but even so that might not be as reassuring as some of the suggestions further up-thread that don’t pull in health concerns at all.

  18. Anamou*

    I too left a job early in my career (after only 3 months of working there) without another job lined up. I was very worried about how that would come across, being a new grad at the time on top of that, but I knew my current situation was an unusual and terrible circumstance. My role was at a software company and it was very small (5 employees) and the owners wanted to shut down the office and have us work out of our homes. They were very, very intrusive and had no boundaries and I knew I was going to feel like a prisoner in my home, so the Friday before the week I was supposed to transition fully out of the office and remain at home I was filled with so much dread that I felt like a prisoner in my home. My boss threatened to drive by whenever he wanted (he had already sent an employee to my home to see if my home was “acceptable”), asked me if I planned to do laundry while at home (he did not ask my male counterpart this, I confirmed) and other eyebrow raising things that made me feel like I just.couldn’ It was risky but I never spoke poorly of the situation later, but I did offer a very objective explanation to my next employer who completely understood. And in fact, the employee who I’d been hired to replace had quit cold turkey (a single mother at that), and then I did, and I was told the next employee did also (3 women). In hindsight there were signs, such as asking me if I planned to have kids, docking my pay as an exempt employee when I had to go to court for three hours about a traffic ticket and then a week later worked 20 hours of overtime…it was bad. I don’t regret leaving but I recognize it was risky.

  19. MaryMary*

    I quit a job without having anything lined up. The environment wasn’t toxic, exactly, but we were chronically understaffed. I told interviewers that I was burned out from working in a demanding environment where 60 hour weeks were “normal” and 70-80 weeks were not unusual. I said that I was getting to the point where the burn out was impacting my attitude and how I interacted with clients and coworkers, and that I didn’t want to hang on to a position where I couldn’t do my best work and made everyone, including myself, miserable. I acknowledged that it was a risky decision, but talked about why I took that calculated risk. I was
    fortunate enough to be in the financial position where I could take a little break, decompress, and decide what direction I really wanted my career to take (and of course, a career with Chocolate Teapots, Inc was exactly the kind of opportunity I was looking for).

    I’m sure it cost my some positions, but in general, interviewers seemed to respond really well. My current job, in particular, seemed to appreciate that I was a “risk taker” (I think the word “ballsy” was also used). I think it helped that I was specific about my workload and most people agreed that it was excessive. I also think that showing it wasn’t an implusive decision that I made lightly went a long way as well.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Yes, you do need to be specific when talking about being overworked so they don’t think you’re afraid of a little hard work.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      I’m not a hiring manager but I think this sounds perfectly reasonable with specifics. You aren’t going to run away at the first time asked to work overtime but realize that you can’t work 70-80 hour workweeks regularly either. Sounds reasonable to quit without another job in that circumstance.

  20. Bekx*

    I’m trying to remember what I said in my interview. I was still at my old job, but my current boss said she could tell that I was in a bad environment by reading between the lines of what I was saying. She said I handled it very professionally.

    I think I said something like “I’m interested in getting into a role that’s much more blended with Web and Graphic Design. Right now, I do a lot in Design, Development, Trade Shows, Production, Filing, Administrative work…so I’d like to focus on my real passion which is web. I’d say at the moment my job entails maybe 10% of that.”

    She said something like “Wow, sounds like you’re holding a lot of different hats.”

    And I said “Yes, well, it’s a very small company. We have 10 employees and about three months into working there the Graphic Designer left, and since I have experience in that, and enjoy it, I was given his job in addition to my web design job. Then the administrative assistant left about 4 months ago, so I took up a lot of his tasks such as collating, filing and booking flights. We did about 3 conferences a month, so I had to do a lot of printing, organizing and event management there.”

    I think she then made a comment about how she used to work for a small business and she thought it would be this great flexible company that was super family oriented and she hated it. I just smiled and said “I’ve known a few people in those situations before. It’s really unfortunate.”

    But of course, it really all depends on your individual situation. And unfortunately I still was at my old job, but I think you can still come up with a way to swing it. My original plan was to leave if I didn’t get a new job within 6 months, and I think I was going to say something along the lines of “I had a minor medical issue that has since been resolved.” I was getting panic attacks going to work, so it’s not a total lie.

  21. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    I think this is one of those things that is easier the more comfortable you are with it.

    I recently left a job under less-than-ideal circumstances – I didn’t leave before I had another job lined up, but my reasons for leaving were about a bad fit/culture/values/etc., and I wanted to be upfront about that because I didn’t want to wind up in another situation that didn’t feel right. Being able to talk openly and without rancor about this feels like a benefit of being older, more secure in myself (and, frankly, more financially secure – we could have survived on my husband’s salary had I shot myself in the foot). I said something like “I’m looking for an organization whose values better align with mine. While I strongly believe in the mission of my current employer, my operating style and values just don’t align with theirs.”

    So in this case, I think I’d be open and trust that the openness would allay most concerns. “The culture of my last employer just wasn’t a good fit for me, and I was lucky enough to have the resources to leave that role and take the time I need to find something that is a better fit. I was successful in that work but I knew I didn’t want to be there long-term. It’s important to me that my next role be XYZ.”

    1. fposte*

      Totally agreed, especially on the finances or perception of finances; that’s another reason why this is a tougher question for younger workers, who haven’t had as much time to save up for big financial cushions. I think that’s why MashaKasha’s tech startup also works as an outlier–that’s a field where you can make enough money to coast without income for a while even when you’re young.

      1. YandO*

        Well, I think it is nobody’s business how I am staying afloat financially, if I choose to quit my job. Even if I am young and single, I might have inheritance, trust fund, or supportive parents. Or I am super frugal, share a bedroom with a roommate, or live at my supportive parents’ basement.

        Whatever the situation is, the most important this is to not seem desperate and emphasize that the choice was well thought through. I made this decision because I was looking forward to something vs running away from something.

        1. Laurel Gray*

          +1. Since salary offers are based on experience and market rate and not my living expenses and debt, I don’t think it is a potential employer’s business to know my financial business. If they want to start considering my electric bill and student loan payments into salary offers then we can discuss.

        2. fposte*

          Remember, this is what’s about the applicant’s advantage, not the hiring manager’s. You can insist it’s nobody’s business all you want, but if you quit a job after six months at 25 and didn’t do anything worth talking about for the four months before applying to my job and won’t give me context for why the departure wasn’t the desperate exit it would appear, it’s going to hurt you.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      When I left a toxic job, I tried to hee-haw around the question. But then I did what you suggested, I was very honest and gave examples of what was going on, how I tried to work around it, and how nothing was working. I said I wanted to be honest about the situation because I don’t want to work for another violent and abusive manager. And I was offered the first job that I said that.
      But…when the interviewer called me back, she said she was really on the fence, but she walked through the scenario I explained and realized she would have done the exact same steps and would have ended up in the same place (unemployed). I was lucky to have such a thoughtful interviewer.
      It also helped that I got with a staffing firm and had a contract gig to put on my resume and great references. Some of my references were from the toxic company, and I said how they could talk about the quality of my work and also about the work environment.

  22. JoAnna*

    I did this once – horrible work environment and I just couldn’t stand it anymore (I’d been there a year, and I was one of the longest-lasting employees at that point). Thankfully I found a new job less than two months later. I ended up working at a company that had hired a few of my former co-workers from Horrible Job, so the interviewer was actually already aware of what a wretched place it was to work and didn’t ask me why I’d quit.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      Ah, that reminds me, regarding my bf’s story above, he was able to secure a job in just under four months, so it can be done Op!

  23. Eric*

    I did this in March, but I had a great reason–I was moving across the country. No one really questions that!

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      But why were you moving across country, what were you running from? Hehe jk

    2. AggrAV8ed Tech*

      This is what I’ll be doing myself in a little over a year (not quite across the country, but a few states away). I’m hoping interviewers don’t see that as a questionable reason for leaving my current job.

      1. MR*

        Start job searching a few months before you actually move. Alison has said many times on here how to approach that situation.

  24. Brandy*

    I’ve been toying with quitting (really more of a daydream), but I have the easy out of a young kid and another one on the way at some point in the next 1-2 years. We don’t *need* my income; we could do belt tightening and i could be a SAHM.

    My thinking is if it every came to it, I’d quit, do the SAHM thing while doing a little consulting and casually job shopping and if New Jop Opp >> SAHM’dom I’d investgate. Nobody questions “wanted to stay home with the kids….turns out it wasn’t for me.”

    1. Brandy*

      Another flavor would be “health issues” (unspoken: mental health). Just make sure they have since resolved.

      1. TFS*

        I did this–quit a job that had become quite unpleasant simply because I didn’t want to work there anymore, and used my young child as a reason. I didn’t have a burning desire to be a SAHM and immediately picked up some freelancing work, but it was a handy reason (though it does perhaps raise the question of whether you’re likely to do this again if you have more children). I went with something like “the job and culture changed significantly since I started, so it felt like a good opportunity to spend some time at home with my child.” I was fortunate to later be hired by a coworker at old-job who had left the same time I did.

  25. AnnieNonymous*

    I know it’s a faux pas, but I’ve never had a problem saying something like, “I loved the work itself and I got a lot of great experience there, but it was becoming a toxic environment, and I’m hoping to use my skills in a more positive way.” If you phrase it in a neutral way and generally make sure that you come across genially, interviewers will feel confident in thinking that your assessment of your prior workplace is reasonable.

    1. fposte*

      I agree with the broader context but not the specific statement. “Toxic environment” is just too vague and blamey–it’s not a HEPA filter failure, it’s about how you dealt with the people at your workplace.

      1. Workfromhome*

        Yes I agree. Although everyone knows you are sugar coating it its better to say “the culture changed and was unsuitable or that the environment no longer presented a good fit to allow me to be as productive as I knew i could be. everyone knows you are saying “it became/was a crap place to work” but you juts have to spin it to reflect that it was about you not being able to help the company because of poor fit rather than blaming the company for sucking.

  26. Mel in HR*

    I tend to be slightly more lenient about people who quit without another job lined up as I have been in those miserable jobs. I have a similar gap in my employment do to quitting when I thought I had another job lined up and once I left, the other job fell through (aka was HORRIBLE!!!). I tried to go back to the position I had quit, but they decided that one of their salaried, exempt employees could do the job and they could save money by doing it that way. In my case, I was able to share about the next job falling through (although I don’t put it on my resume due to the short time frame) and blame it on being young (I was in my early 20s). Most interviewers relate to making dumb mistakes at that age and it didn’t hurt me.
    Sadly, there’s not always an easy way to explain leaving without another job lined up. I would try to explain that you decided that you wanted to go another direction.

  27. kristinyc*

    I left a job after 6 months without lining up a new one last year. When I was interviewing, I tried to be candid in a tactful way. I found that most people who interviewed me could read between the lines – everyone’s had terrible jobs. I pretty much said things like “It wasn’t the best cultural fit. After the first month, I actually knew the job itself and lack of work/life balance weren’t going to work for me, but I tried to stick it out. Three months in, I was able to hire someone to help alleviate the workload, but ultimately it just wasn’t what I wanted to do. Since we were quickly approaching a busy season, I offered to stay through the busy season, train my report enough to do my job, and help with hiring someone to be HER report (since it really was a two person job).” (Sidenote: the report I trained also ended up leaving after 6 months, as did the person who had the role before me…hmmm).

    I ended up doing exactly that, so even though I left after only 6 months, without something lined up, the company I was leaving was really pleased with how I handled it. As a bonus – when I was interviewing, it made it easier for me to clarify exactly what I wanted in terms of workload/balance (ie, leaving by 5 or 5:30 instead of 9/not having to be on call all night). In interviews, I said that I left because I needed more work life balance. Companies that knew they wouldn’t/couldn’t offer that were quickly out of the running.

    I ended up freelancing for a few months and casually looking, and wound up in a job I absolutely love at a nonprofit – making 45% MORE than I was at the startup! I was only “funemployed” for 3 months, but that was largely because the interview process for my current job took 2 months. I would 100% do it all over again.

  28. That Marketing Chick*

    I’m curious that if OP’s company had bad reviews from past employees on Glassdoor, what Allison would think if OP somehow worked that into the response – something like “It wasn’t a good fit; if you were to read the reviews on Glassdoor, that would shed some light on why I chose to leave?”

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think so; it verges on the coy (why wouldn’t you shed light on it yourself?) and asks the hiring manager to do additional work. Plus Glassdoor is kind of a bathroom wall reporting device and I’d hate to pull it out in an interview as if it were objective and gospel.

  29. Maxwell Edison*

    I resigned last year and have been getting steady freelance work ever since. I have no plans to go to traditional full-time employment, but if I have to, I can point to the freelance work and satisfied clients/customers.

  30. Workfromhome*

    If I left because the environment was toxic I’d rather deal with the fallout of them judging me for leaving a toxic environment than let them just make up their own story in their head as to why i left if i gave some vague answer.

    As long as its phrased correctly and not a rant against the previous employer one of two things will happen:
    1.The interviewer will empathize with you that it was a very bad environment, and since the new job is not a bad environment that would cause you issues will feel fine about hiring somone who can work well in their “good environment”

    2. The new company also has a toxic environment and you obviously wouldn’t want to out up with it so they won’t hire you. but hey you wouldn’t want to work there anyways.

    I’ve been there. I worked for a company that made ridiculous demands in terms of travel driving 1000s of Km a month on my own car to try to cover in a month what normally would take 3 months. Asking employees to do borderline illegal things. Being unable to do the job of visiting store managers because the company did not pay their bills to stores and therefore BANNING anyone from my company.

    I had a number of interviews where I explained what happened as delicately as possible but emphasizing that I left because I refused to do business in an unethical manner and that my reputation was at risk from being with that company. I never got a negative reaction. After all what could they say? “we don’t want to hire ethical people like you?”

  31. Limes*

    I went to the doctor last month. About 14 months ago my doctor had been concerned because I had high blood pressure — high enough to warrant medication, which you don’t necessarily want to see in a 25 year old.

    This time around? Blood pressure perfectly normal. I hadn’t lost weight (I’d actually gained 4 pounds) or changed any other factor in my life … except quitting the awful, dysfunctional job that I had (without another one lined up which was also stressful but it took 2 months to get a new position, thankfully). My blood pressure literally dropped 20 points from not dealing with the stress of a toxic work place. So the fact that I conceivably couldn’t or shouldn’t explain that in an interview is sad. Understandable (I guess) but sad.

  32. AE*

    “I needed to be free to look for an organization that was a better fit for my abilities and interests. It was hard to take time off without leaving them in the lurch, so I did what I thought was best for both me and my former employer.”

  33. Anna*

    Vaguely-related question: if there’s a gap between positions because the job came to what I suppose you’d call a “natural end” (student positions that end when you graduate, internships that are a set amount of time, etc.) and a new employer, or if you’re still actually in that gap, how does that generally look to the hiring manager? My stepdaughter put together some savings and took the summer off after graduating to spend time with her family after only getting to visit three times in four years, and while she’s done several interviews it sounds like people are looking at her with some trepidation because she quit without something else lined up. I’ve done hiring before (I don’t now), and back when I did I would have seen it as totally reasonable, but I’m wondering if times have changed.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      You should put something like “(temporary job)” or “(student job)” on your resume after the title of the job that ended. My resume consists mostly of these, and it seems to work…at least for getting other temporary jobs.

    2. ReanaZ*

      I’ve never had a problem with this personally, on the applicant side. “It was a seasonal position” or “the position ended at graduation” or “my contract concluded in June; I took a few weeks off to visit family and friends before starting my job search” are all quite reasonable things and have never seem to have been a reg flag of any sort in my job searches.

  34. Anonymousterical*

    I quit an awful retail management position without anything lined up in April, and it was the best thing I’ve done for myself in a long time. I was hired within two months, with a three-week gap between the offer and the start date. When interviewers asked about why I left, I said, “I’ve been working 60-80 hours for five years, and I decided to take a step back, before the long hours began to affect my work and productivity.” This didn’t work for everyone (especially other retailers–oh, well, wonder why…), but at the wonderful university I’m incredibly happy at now (been there almost a month!)? The four-person interview panel erupted into “OMG 70-80 HOURS?! OF COURSE YOU QUIT! And what incredible foresight and responsibility!” and they called me four days later with an offer.

    FWIW, I’m still turning down job offers and a ton of interview requests (yay, orgs that take two months to screen initial apps!). This was the easiest job search I’ve EVER had. Without a job. Good luck, OP–but don’t regret or be ashamed about leaving without something else lined up. It’s an incredibly liberating experience that really helps put your self-worth into perspective. :)

  35. Retailed Out*

    Following this question closely, as I very much want to quit my retail job this fall, even if I can’t land anything by then. What I hope to be able to tell my boss is “I would like to more seriously pursue Creative Endeavor and need the time.” I really do want to focus on that, but wouldn’t mind if I found a different part-time position with better hours and vacation policy. But I haven’t quite figured out how to tell interviewers something better than “There was no way in h*ll I was doing another Christmas season and it seemed kinder to leave when they had time to find and train a replacement.” This retail gig was supposed to be a stopgap after a nonprofit role fell through, not the start of a career. Any ideas?

    1. A*

      In this situation would just say that I wanted to pursue Creative Endeavor more seriously, and was fortunate enough to be able to take time to lay the groundwork to make that happen. That would lead into a statement saying that I am now in a position where I have a solid foundation for that and can comfortably balance part-time work with Creative Endeavor, so I’m seeking a position with [insert characteristics here].

  36. DPJ*

    Do you think that relocating for a spouse is a reasonable explanation in this type of scenario? My spouse is starting a job in a new state and I have not had luck finding a job, so I was planning to move with him and work in part-time jobs NOT in my field until I can find a job in the new city that IS in my field. I work in a pretty toxic work environment and definitely have enough saved up to do this for a little while, but my hesitation is exactly this – that it looks bad to leave a job without an offer lined up.

  37. Laurie*

    I did leave a job voluntarily, for the same reasons as OP. I then started my own business doing IT work for small businesses and restaurants, while teaching part time at the local college. I did this for a year and a half, but it just wasn’t financially feasible, so back to the job market I went. It was helpful to not have that gap in my resume, and if it came up in an interview why I left my last “real” company; I was able to say “I’d always wanted to start a business and teach college, and since the company was between projects, this was a good opportunity to pursue that”.

    Employers liked this, and we moved on to the next question. Maybe something similar could work for you? Good luck

  38. AnotherTeacher*

    All of the advice here is great, especially the analogy that “toxic environment” is akin to “crazy ex.” I left a “toxic” workplace without another job lined up. From the inside, it was indisputably “toxic” – high turnover, verbal abuse, an incompetent department head, etc. These indicators were well known in the organization.

    Until I could reframe the situation in my own mind, though, all of my negative feelings about that workplace came through in interviews, no matter my actual words. As others have cautioned, even hints at “toxic” comments or content can be viewed as negative reflections on you.

  39. Erin*

    I was recently in the same situation. At the end of May, I decided enough was enough and left my position for several reasons. My manager was inexperienced. I was being asked to do things that are illegal, and I was working 65+ hours a week, including weekends and vacation days. It was just too much.

    I went on several interviews, and initially I told prospective employers that I left because I was being asked to do things that are illegal, but I found that this just led to more questions. Because of the nature of the industry that I was working in, it was often difficult for others to understand. When I started explaining that I left because I was working 65+ hours a week and traveling a lot, this left an opportunity for prospective employers to talk about how they would offer a better work/life balance.

  40. aCPAw*

    I quit a job b/c of the toxic environment… I told prospective employers that this past employer ” I felt a lot of loyalty to because they gave me my first job out of college and so I did not want to job hunt while still working there” – and while I really expected them to say BS to this… It worked like a charm. They ate it up.

  41. GTW*

    i am in difficult and different situation. i had joined a job without quitting my earlier job..overlap of 2 days..
    I had to quit my job due to this..what to says..people tell you always be truthful and employers want you to be truthful..
    but then will someone understand that my previous company made things tough for me

  42. sally*

    I’m about to jump into this void. I’ve got my resignation all ready to give to my supervisor Monday morning, but no other job lined up. I’m not escaping a toxic work environment, but I am escaping a toxic commute that leaves me too drained to do a thorough job search in my free time. (I’ve got young kids, too, and that doesn’t help!) So even though I know it doesn’t look ideal, I have to take the risk and hope for the best. The potential long-term consequences are scary, but there’s lots of great advice here.

    I have been on the hiring manager side of things in my career, and I never held gaps against people. Two of my fondest-remembered hires had substantial gaps in their resumes, in fact. That said, I don’t think I’d ever, as a hiring manager, ask flat out why someone didn’t get another job first. If that person is smart and savvy enough to answer the question “why did you leave your last job?” with a diplomatic, professional response that does not whine about or bash the previous employer, that tells me what I need to know. I don’t need my hires to demonstrate they have lived a life utterly free of flaws and mistakes, just that they know how to move on appropriately when those mistakes happen. Frankly, if anything the latter is a more valuable skill.

  43. Bea*

    I’m not sure how to answer questions about why I left my last job. I worked at Target for a grand total of three months a year and a half ago (which looks so bad on a resume, I know. For the curious, in my period of unemployment I’ve been volunteering and taking online classes). My last few weeks there were really hard, not so much because of the work itself but because I had lost a few friends/coworkers from an internship shortly before starting at Target. I thought I could keep myself from getting depressed by working and just not thinking about it, but it caught up with me and just got really hard to have customers getting angry at me for things outside my control while I was trying to process the deaths of my friends. That, plus my manager would always throw me under the bus even when customers would scream at me over things I couldn’t control (which I would never say in an interview because I don’t think it would sound good to complain about a former employer, even if it’s justified)… and also, I was a totally competent cashier but sales is NOT my thing and I wasn’t getting a lot of people to sign up for Target REDcards.

    So. My question: is it okay to cite personal reasons? Or is a better response that I’m not cut out for sales* (and also what’s a more professional way to word that?)

    *I’m actually much better at selling people on things I believe in. I had an internship that required me to try to get people to donate money to a cause, but because I was pretty passionate about the cause it was a lot easier (and I had more success) than “Would you like to sign up for a Target card?”

  44. Moto*

    Honestly gaps and not being employed at time of interview really that doesn’t matter as much. Employers are just looking for any reason not to make you an offer so there loss. Managers automatically think the employee was at fault for leaving a previous job when it was really the last employer, the employee just can’t win.

  45. Sandra*

    I just quit my job. Actually.. I walked out after I got fed up of everything.
    I have a bachelors and a post graduate diploma in business management and human resources but because of the economy, I thought well I may as well work in a clothing store where I know they are always hiring. It is comission based and a very aggressive sales environment.
    I worked there for 9 solid months and it was HELL. My boss was rude to employees and even customers. Because of his attitude, he encouraged his assistants (assistant managers) to be just as rude to customers. Several times I would try to step in when I saw the way a customer was being disrespected but because I had little or no power, I would bite my tongue.
    The reason I lasted 9 months at this job was because I had to grow thick skin to survive all the bullying and because I had not gotten a new job.
    One time, I wanted to quit my job and I walked to my boss and told him I would be beinging in my resignation letter the next day; I was trying my best to be professional. Usually people would quit without giving any notice as there was a very high turnover rate at the store. He said OK, and a couple hours later he calls me and says this “I know you had asked me for a part time position earlier and I refused, I want you to go home and get me a part time schedule and if it benefits my business, I would offer you a part time position”. Now one would think he would have said something like “you’re an asset to the company and we would hate to see you go.. were you still interested in the part time position”? Or something relating to that. This was the kind of man I had to deal with for 9 months- this is actually a tip of the iceberg compared to the way he mistreated and disrespected his employees. Some of my coworkers referred to him as Frank Underwood of “House of Cards”.
    Anyway on this faithful day, couple of days after I submitted my resignation letter, I was disrespected at the store. From the moment I walked in at 9am, till noon after I got back from my break (long story).
    I looked around and I asked myself a simple question: WHY AM I STAYING IN SUCH A TOXIC ENVIRONMENT? I didn’t have an answer to this question. Coming to work everyday and trying to stay happy and trying hard to be as professional as possible with little or no regard from the management, I walked to the computer, clocked out, took my bag, did the needful and I walked out. Other co workers who were in my shoes just kept staring at me. Those other girls would leave if they had some form of savings but they couldn’t because they all had individual financial struggles that a few of them had shared with me.
    I guess my question is: I want to take some time off as I want to make sure I do not end up in the wrong work environment anymore. How do I let my new employers know that I do not want them to contact my former employers and how do I handle the question of why I left my job!
    Pardon my lengthy message.

  46. Sandra*

    I just quit my job. Actually.. I walked out after I got fed up of everything.
    I have a bachelors and a post graduate diploma in business management and human resources but because of the economy, I thought well I may as well work in a clothing store where I know they are always hiring. It is comission based and a very aggressive sales environment.
    I worked there for 9 solid months and it was HELL. My boss was rude to employees and even customers. Because of his attitude, he encouraged his assistants (assistant managers) to be just as rude to customers. Several times I would try to step in when I see the way a customer was being disrespected but because I had little or no power, I would bite my tongue.
    The reason I lasted 9 months at this job was because I had to grow thick skin to survive all the bullying and because I had not gotten a new job.
    One time, I wanted to quit my job and I walked to my boss and told him I would be beinging in my resignation letter the next day; I was trying my best to be professional. Usually people quit without giving any notice as there was a very high turnover rate at the store. He said OK, and a couple hours later he calls me and says this “I know you had asked me for a part time position earlier and I refused, I want you to go home and get me a part time schedule and if it benefits my business, I would offer you a part time position”. Now one would think he would have said something like “you’re an asset to the company and we would hate to see you go.. we’re you still interested in the part time position”? Or something relating to that. This was the kind of man I had to deal with for 9 months- this is actually a tip of the iceberg compared to the way he mistreated and disrespected his employees. Some of my coworkers referred to him as Frank Underwood of “House of Cards”.
    Anyway on this faithful day, couple of days after I submitted my resignation letter, I was disrespected at the store. From the moment I walked in at 9am, till noon after I got back from my break (long story).
    I looked around and I asked myself a simple question: WHY AM I STAYING IN SUCH A TOXIC ENVIRONMENT? I didn’t have an answer to this question. Coming to work everyday and trying to stay happy and trying hard to be as professional as possible with little or no regard from the management, I walked to the computer and I just walked out. Other co workers who were in my shoes just kept staring at me. Those other girls would leave if they had some form of savings but they couldn’t because they all had individual financial struggles.
    I guess my question is: I want to take some time off as I want to make sure I do not end up in the wrong work environment anymore. How do I let my new employers know that I do not want them to contact my former employers and how do I handle the question of why I left my job!
    Pardon my lengthy message.

  47. Jack*

    Great source of info! I switched roles internally 6 months ago. My new boss speaks down to all of us, berates us in public and overall demeaning attitude. The team raised this to her supervisor in the past with no change. I have to wait atleast 6 months to move internally. The daily stress/anxiety makes me sick. I have job interviews lined up but taking time to sneak away with a demanding workload and boss like this prevents me from interviewing 100%. How bad is it to potential employers if I give 2 weeks and look for jobs right away? I have 4 months of savings but my intent would be to get something suitable asap. I would explain there have been talks of moving jobs overseas( happened to my old team) and some functions for this job are actually being migrated. Wondering how negatively a potential employer would look at me quitting few weeks ago to get ahead of possible job loss but actively searching? Thanks

  48. tom6195*

    Hello guys I’m wondering if you can tell me your thoughts on my current situation.

    I’m a 28 year old male, with a BSc in computer science and I’ve been working ever since I graduated in 2012. Twelve months ago I joined a new company with really high hopes for furthering my career as a software tester after four successful and constructive years working as a graduate test consultant. Unfortunately things haven’t turned out my way and I have learned absolutely nothing in the last year and in many ways feel like I’ve actually regressed.
    I will be 29 this year and want to see as much of the world as possible. I’m now in the comfortable position where I have saved enough money to quit my job and travel for up to 3 months (most likely 1-2 due to other upcoming commitments) but I want to know how difficult it will be for me to find work when I return and how recruiters and potential will look at my profile with 1-3 month break in employment. When asked about why I left what should I say?

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