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Navigating Difficult Interview Conversations

Posted June 27, 2024

Hana Jacover, Leadership, Executive, and Performance Coach, joins our host, Camela Thompson, Go-To-Market Thought Leader, and B2B Insights Expert, in this episode of the Revenue Marketing Report. Hana talks about the dreaded question, “Why did you leave your last company,” and what needs to happen before you should answer it.

Hana, welcome back. This is going to be another interesting one. It’s one I have heard a lot of people struggle with. I am so excited to talk about it. Exactly how do you have that conversation in the interview about why you left and maybe when you haven’t.

“This one is a tough one too because there are so many different scenarios that could play into the reason why you left an organization. My personal approach and opinion is that you should always be honest and authentic to yourself and your experience in whatever way that honors you. So you have to first identify what that means to you. What does it mean for me to be authentic about this experience? To really process that and have that documented for yourself since it creates boundaries around the topic. Here’s what I am willing to say. Here’s what I’m not willing to say. Here’s what I’m willing to divulge. Here’s what I’m not. It might mean I am not willing to share much at all about this experience vs. you know what? I can open up a little bit about this and be honest and talk through what happened to me or how things went down. And, I’m able to have a talk track about that. 

“Prior to doing that you’ll need to process the experience in itself. I’ve had hundreds of these conversations through coaching and the trauma that exists in the workplace is not acknowledged at a level we need to acknowledge it. If that is the reason why you did leave, if there was a toxic situation, something that led to you experiencing trauma in the workplace, you need to process that on your own. If you cannot process that, you won’t tell the story you want to tell. You’ll be telling the story that your brain is using to protect you, to keep you safe so you don’t hurt again.

“Oftentimes, that story isn’t one that can actually serve us. Our brain thinks it’s serving and protecting us. Our brain thinks it’s protecting us because we’re activated around that. However, in reality, we know we have tunnel vision and we’re hyperfocused on it in that one experience vs. what it could look like, all the infinite future possibilities. I think that it becomes easy to tell your story once you’ve come to terms with it. I think even before, it’s a prerequisite, essentially, to process whatever that experience was and find a way to honor that experience. That could look like a lot of things. 

It could be forgiveness for yourself. It could look like forgiveness for others. It could look like letting go. It could look like some sort of release. But you have to process and honor that experience. You have to release any negative emotion around that. Then, you can start to tell a story that’s impactful and helpful to you and isn’t wrapped up in emotion and triggers. That way, you’re not just going to be projecting your negative experience.”

I am so glad you went there. I almost jumped in telling your truth. Yes, giving yourself time to know what that truth is since I think as marketers, we understand better than anyone, that the closer you are to something, the harder time you’ve describing it in a way other people get it. That could apply to a product or a work experience. If you know this has been hard for you, what are some strategies? I’ve talked to mentors and got their advice, but what are some strategies perhaps people can use that are similar to work through? Is this something I should say or how does this strike you?

“I think that in your preparation for your interviews, start coming up with some scenarios and practice your answer out loud and see how it feels. One thing we don’t like to do is feel, but our emotions and how they show up in our bodies are huge indicators of the way that we should move about. So say it out loud. If it doesn’t feel good, then ask yourself why. If it feels okay, if you feel, okay I can feel strong and confident in all the ways that I want to show up with this answer, then you can roll with it.

“Yet, it’s really about how does this statement feel? Does it align with who I want to be? Does it align with how I want to show up? If that doesn’t ring true in your body, then it is something to evaluate. It is something that maybe you need to work on a little bit more before you start talking about it, before you start sharing about that experience because you aren’t at the end of it quite yet. You’ve got to push through to the end before you can begin articulating in a way that puts the best version of yourself in the driver’s seat during that conversation.”

I’m thinking through different scenarios, some of which may be harder for the individual who’s going to walk into the interview than may be warranted. I don’t want to negate anyone’s experience, but a ton of people have been laid off. I don’t think there’s as much stigma right now around, well, they were trimming the fat in air quotes is the term that used to be used. I think there are scenarios that aren’t a red flag to the person who is interviewing, but I think you’re going to get more questions when you were only somewhere for a few months, five months, or six months. Then, I’ve run into many questions when I’ve been somewhere less than two years, just barely.

“Wow!”

Yes, this was years ago. I think the standards have changed.

“Definitely!”

However, it’s always been interesting to have those conversations when a workplace has some pretty toxic traits. It just didn’t work with your personality. It’s hard to frame that in a way that people can hear. But some advice I’ve received that I loved was that the wrong people won’t hire you. If you’ve space to process everything and, let’s say just as an example, I’ve worked in lots of companies and in this particular company, the cultural norm was screaming at each other in the meeting rooms. That doesn’t work for me.

“It doesn’t work for many people, surprisingly.”

Nevertheless, if you’ve got the context of I was at a lot of different companies for a long period of time and that shows up because of this reason. Most will say, yeah, I wouldn’t want to do that either.

“Yes. I find this conversation so interesting. Even in coaching, people will go on these huge journeys to craft a message and over-explain and over-justify. I say, what if you asked for what you want? That direct ask or that direct, here’s what happened, can feel super intimidating to people. I think as a society and just through social norms and almost, if we look at the way that a neurotypical brain operates when we’re direct and telling the truth, we are often activated by that. I’ll say lots of neurotypical populations are activated by that just because of social norms, because of the way that we have been socialized. 

“We’ve a tendency to think that people are never always telling the truth. It’s fascinating to me. I think it’s a social phenomenon. It can feel scary when you show up and tell the truth. It can feel unsafe. So you’ve to protect yourself. You’ve to ensure you’re in the right environment. To Camela’s point, if you show up and you tell the truth and somebody says, well, I don’t like that. Well, do you really want to work with them anyway?”

“Right. Is that then a safe environment for you to be in if you can’t speak your truth at all? In general, in the early beginnings of the relationship? I think that that’s something to think about, what would happen or what could be the reaction if I told the truth or if I was direct about this situation? Even if you don’t dive into the details, but you talk about how this environment wasn’t a safe place for me, and here’s perhaps what I do value. You can think forward momentum there. Here’s what I’m looking for that I didn’t get in that situation. Here’s what I value that I wasn’t getting.”

This applies to both proactively leaving and being asked to leave. But maybe we dig a little bit more into the scenario where you’re fired. I’ve hired people who have been very honest and said, hey, I was let go and it’s because I don’t like working remotely and I cannot do it. I need to be around people and can’t focus the way I can so my priorities weren’t aligned. I understand why they did it and now I’m looking for a job where I can be in-house. I’m glad you know that about yourself. You’ve a great track record other than that one blip that happened during the pandemic. Let’s talk about it.

“Yes. I think there are so many different situations that can go into that and in many situations, you can be totally pushed out of your role as well. I think if you come at it from a learning experience and what the unmet need was, then it can be a beneficial conversation to have. I think that at the same time, if you were let go since you were not performing, that’s something that you need to explore what’s going on for you there and what was your unmet need? What was the deal? What’s up with that? That is literally one of my favorite questions to ask. What’s up with that?”
I love it.

“Just explore that and again, focus on the lessons that you learned, the learning experience, and be forward-looking. Here’s what the experience taught me in terms of what I need.”

And it’s a good opportunity to say, am I just burned out and checked out? Do I need to explore something else? Is this not working for me anymore? There’s a lot that can go into that.

“Yes.”

What I’m hearing is if you can give yourself time to process, do. If you can’t, maybe bounce it off lots of people that you trust.

“Yes, and everyone has time. You are sitting down watching a show on Netflix, you’ve got fifteen, everybody has ten minutes. If you don’t, you’re lying to yourself. You are in full control of your time. What we often don’t put a lot of thought into is our energy. If you can flip, ditch time for a second. If you can focus on your energy and decide, do I need to put energy into this processing? Or where do I need to put energy right now? 

“Then you can say, alright, I’ve got all this time and now I’m going to direct my energy in a more effective manner. Am I going to direct my energy and watch Netflix when I know that I need to process some trauma? No, because I know that dissociation at this moment isn’t going to help me. It’s about looking at your energy and directing it in the best way that’s going to be more efficient for you and the use of your time. I don’t have time. It is an interesting excuse to me since we are all in control of our time and you’re in control of your energy as well. While it might take some time to massage all of that in a way that works for you, you can make it work. You do have to put your energy into it, though.”

That is an excellent point and very difficult for a culture that values shoving your feelings in a box.

“Absolutely! Yes, it requires the untangling of lots of social norms, lots of beliefs that we have been taught, a lot of things around productivity, that are driven by the underpinnings of capitalism and we’ve been operating in all of that for literally our entire lives. It does require a dismantling of that, but it leads to some liberation and the ability to show up in the way that you want.”

For more content on B2B marketing trends, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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