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“Badmouthing” Your Company — Should’s, Shouldnt’s and How To’s

Posted on the 17 January 2012 by Ncrimaldi @MsCareerGirl
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Badmouthing your company is never ok. At least in my opinion. But then again, I tend to work in smaller companies with fairly high-profile leaders, meaning my word — and anyone else’s — will more than likely make its way back to someone who matters.  I’m sure that isn’t the case for everyone. Regardless of size though, you never know who you’re talking to.

Not all companies are perfect. That’s for sure. So, what do you do when you’re put in a position where defending yourself may mean having to share negative company characteristics, its bad decisions or poor management setup?

Recently, a friend of mine left his company because of poor management. He’d only been with them for about 9 months, so we knew they’d be particularly interested in why he left. The question was — how would he explain his departure without badmouthing his company? Should he or should he not, and how?

On Badmouthing Your Company

Sometimes you have to protect your Reputation.  There will be times — I know — when company structures are so poor that it makes it impossible to work there. If you’ve decided to leave and find something better for yourself it makes sense to frame your departure as a strategic move for you and your future.

Drawback: Nobody likes a “fair-weather fan” or employee.

Should you decide to share that your company departure was based on poor company characteristics be sure not to frame yourself as a “fair-weather employee” that runs from the slightest hint of discomfort or challenge. How?

Solution: Point out any attempts you made at correcting the problem, or whatever obstacle that kept you from doing so. Did you not have the authority to make the necessary changes, was there a shortage in finance that management didn’t care about, is there a company policy or culture that is just too deeply embedded for you to change this early in your career?

Conclusion: Employers will understand that you’re young and therefore your clout may not always be strong enough to influence the company problems that you’re running from. But they will respect your ability to recognize them, acknowledge changes that could have solved them and walk away from them when they pose a threat to your professional advancement.

Why You Shouldn’t Badmouth Your Company

It may damage your image.  Badmouthing your company, when done the right way, is not really badmouthing. It’s justifying an action. You are justifying your departure, so when sharing negative information only share the information that was directly related to your decision to leave. If you’re careless and begin “trash-talking” your previous company, your potential employer will probably drop you.

Remember you’re still being reviewed.  Everything you do here serves as a sneak peek of how they can expect you to treat them as an employer.

You may burn bridges.  Regardless of what the situation was, my view is that you should always do your absolute best to maintain civil and positive relationships with previous employers.

That being said, speaking poorly of a company could get back to your previous employer or company owner.  This may sound weird — but this is why you have to do your research before sharing your opinions.

Get on LinkedIn, Facebook and read through online newspapers and magazines to find out what kind of connections your past and future employers may have with one another. It’s extremely likely that employers within the same industry will have professional ties, partnerships or personal relationships.

If you have to say something negative about your former or current company, here are a few tips:

Practice, Practice, Practice.  Let’s start with the basics — practice makes perfect. So Rehearse, Rehearse and Rehearse!!  Have everything you’re going to say planned out to avoid letting emotional spurts creep into the conversation.

Stay Strategic and Neutral.  Badmouthing a company can definitely be framed as simply analyzing and critiquing the company if you keep your conversation focused on strategy, benefits, drawbacks, etc. Focus on dollars made or lost, time spent or wasted, inefficiency based on management choices and structure, hard not soft topics. Always steer the focus away from you — how you felt, what you believed, how you were treated, why you were annoyed — and focus on the company as a whole.

We all know companies have downsides. Some ridiculously further down than others. And sometimes the better choice will be to desert them — rather than stick around and fight the not-so-good fight. But at the end of the day — you have the ability to frame your decision however you want to. And unfortunately (and uncomfortably) badmouthing your company may be a part of that process. So frame your strategic decision as such — a move you made to further your career that could not have been avoided and that you applaud yourself for.

Have you had to deal with a situation where you were asked about a company you had a bad experience with?  How did you handle it?  

Do you think it’s ever OK to “badmouth” a company?


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