A boss who makes you keep your Zoom on all day to make sure you're actually working. A coworker who constantly passes her work along to you and takes all the credit for its completion. A supervisor who gives you zero direction for a project and screams bloody murder at you when you turn in something slightly different from what they imagined.
These are examples of toxic workplaces. And unfortunately, they are endemic in Hollywood.
Though The Hollywood Commission recently reported that a majority of survey respondents have seen less abusive workplace behavior in recent years, instances of abuse are still troublingly common. There are a ton of problems associated with working in a bad environment, but one that's especially concerning is the fear of how to describe your job when you're finally able to leave its clutches. If toxic jobs and job interviews weren't tough on their own, they can be even more stressful when you put them together! But have no fear: We're here for you with some tried and true experience and answers to the three most common questions we get from job candidates seeking freedom:
How do you respond to an interviewer who asks you why you left your last job without badmouthing your boss and/or turning your interview into a therapy session?
Even if your boss is known to have a difficult personality, or your company has the reputation of being a hot mess, you want to come off as even-keeled and professional in your interview. Instead of focusing on the negative and the past, tell the interviewer why you're excited for the opportunity they're presenting. In general, the best interview tactic is to reiterate why you'd be great for the role at hand. Whether you acknowledge that you left (or are planning on leaving) because the previous role "wasn't a fit" or refer to the company's dissolution, make sure the bulk of your answer focuses on what excites you most about the job you're applying for and why you've applied. If your interviewer pushes you to gossip, resist, and consider whether this new job may also be a little toxic.
When asked about challenges you faced at work or a time you had to resolve a conflict at work, how can you answer honestly without disclosing too much about your awful colleagues?
It's super hard to think clearly about difficulties at work when the majority of your time at work was difficult! You're going to need to practice answers to this question before your interview, so your emotions don't get the best of you. If you can, pick a challenge or conflict from a previous role that wasn't toxic -- the point of the question isn't to understand your immediate work history, but rather to get a sense of how you've handled problems throughout your career. If the toxic job is your first or most relevant job, find an innocuous example that isn't going to lead you down the path of badmouthing. For instance, if your micromanaging boss had an anger problem, you can say something like, "My last boss had very specific preferences for how he wanted work turned in, and that meant I often had to redo tasks, especially early on. I learned to get more detailed instructions before starting the project, and when that wasn't an option, I made sure to turn a draft in early so that any revisions wouldn't stop us from meeting a deadline." Inside, you might be seething about that one time he berated you in front of the entire office for using Calibri instead of Helvetica and called you Calibri Cathy for a month, but by practicing a polished, surface-level answer to the question, you'll be able to keep your calm in an interview.
*We highly recommend sharing your actual stories with trusted friends and/or mental health professionals to get the emotional support and validation you need -- that'll also help you control what you say "publicly."
If your current boss would freak out if they knew you were interviewing, do you have to ask your interviewer to keep it on the DL?
Some toxic bosses understand that you are not obligated to suffer under their thumb for the rest of your life. But many will absolutely lose it if you try to leave. They may attempt to sabotage your potential (or even firm!) job offer, threaten to blacklist you if you don't stay until they're ready for you to leave (even if that's beyond an appropriate 2-week notice), fire you on the spot if they hear you've been interviewing, or force you to resign unless you sign a contract that you won't go on any more interviews. None of this is acceptable, and some of it may not be entirely legal, either. But that doesn't make it any less scary! If this happens to you, remember that this kind of behavior is exactly why you need a new job. Do not let your boss's scare tactics intimidate you. It's not really necessary to mention anything to your interviewer, and it could teeter into awkward territory. Instead, know that most hiring managers won't call a reference that isn't listed on your reference list, and it's not a huge red flag if your current boss isn't on there -- in fact, it's a quiet signal that you may not have told your boss you're looking.
But the most important thing here is to focus on getting the new job and not about the repercussions from your terrible boss. You do not need to stay at a job that is so abusive you're afraid to leave it. If possible, try to save up a bit of money so you'll be okay if you don't get the job you're interviewing for and your boss does fire you. If saving isn't an option, commit to yourself that you come first, and you'll find a way to make ends meet with a temp job if you need to. Don't let yourself be held back by an abuser any longer. And if you did get the offer, know that 2-week notice is a courtesy, not a rule, and if your boss tries to sabotage your offer, leave. They will never be helpful to you in the future anyway, and the relationship is not worth preserving; there are good people in Hollywood whose referrals and respect means something, but your boss is not among them.
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan