— Q: I'm wondering how I ought to answer questions about why I want to leave the job I've held for 11 years. The truth is that it's a soul-sucking place that takes every advantage of its employees. Work-life balance is a myth. People are getting fired left and right. The finances (which I'm privy to) are dire because of mismanagement. My supervisor gossips about confidential stuff. I'm doing the work of someone a level or three up the ladder, but hinted-at raises and promotions never materialize. I have anxiety and depression during the workday that magically disappear when I'm off.
Obviously, I can't say that in an interview. But do I really have to tell some vague lie about new opportunities and growth? I'm worried that if I'm untruthful, I might come across as dishonest, but if I'm even a little bit truthful, I might come across as a high-maintenance whiner.
I'm sure it sounds as if my attitude is the source of my woes, but I'm actually cheerful, hardworking, smart, well-liked and trusted by peers and management.
A: Ever been on a first date with someone who can't stop talking about a bad ex? As the ranting continues into the second bottle of wine, you start to wonder how reliable the narrator is and why he or she is even out with you.
Your job in an interview is to show what makes you a great catch. There's nothing to be gained by complaining; the hiring manager is not interested in rescuing you.
Find a way to express your desire to move on in words that don't feel like a lie: "After 11 years, I'm looking to shift gears and take on new challenges. I believe my [insert relevant skills here] make me a good fit for your position." Don't mention that "shift gears" is a euphemism for "squeal and peel like a bat out of hell."
If the hiring manager brings up rumors about your current employer's woes — word gets around in a small industry — don't lie, but stick to the high road. The interviewer may be testing your diplomatic skills. And a good interviewer can read between the lines.
Another reason to focus on the positive: You don't want to be so invested in escaping your current employer that you fly blindly into an even worse situation.
You're cheerful, hardworking, smart, well-liked and, I might add, good with words. Those traits, not hints about your soul-sucking job, are what will get you a follow-up call that could be the start of a beautiful new relationship — one where you can trade bad-ex stories at happy hour as you toast your future together.
Karla L. Miller writes an advice column on navigating the modern workplace. Each week she will answer one or two questions from readers. Miller has written for and edited tax publications for 16 years, most recently for the accounting firm KPMG's Washington National Tax office. You can find her on Twitter, @KarlaAtWork.