Is it ever OK to bad-mouth a colleague?

Be honest or keep quiet? Image via StreetFly JZ.

Criticising a colleague or ex-colleague during an interview has always been considered a massive no-no in the recruitment world. However, this year has seen the rule being broken numerous times on quite a public scale. From Greg Smith’s infamous resignation letter in the New York Times to the latest resignation letter to go viral in which the author accuses his boss of inappropriate behaviour, bad-mouthing colleagues seems to be the latest fad. But are there circumstances where criticising a professional counterpart is acceptable or should we continue to keep schtum?

From the recruiter’s point of view, the general consensus is no. Bad-mouthing a boss or co-worker in front of a prospective employer gives the impression that you’re not a team player and lack professionalism. Regardless of professional differences, you both work (or have worked) for the same company and a public criticism puts both the company’s and your reputation on the line. Additionally, employing someone who has openly criticised their former boss or colleague means that the employer runs the risk of the same happening again. Criticising a co-worker also has the potential to backfire as your ‘idiot’ boss or ‘incompetent’ co-worker could count your prospective employer as part of their professional network.

However, Jay Goltz (a regular business blogger for the New York Times) argues that an honest answer about a negative job experience allows the recruiter to have a more profound insight of the candidate. If a prospective employee is dissatisfied with their current job, it is important that the recruiter knows why. Should a candidate demonstrate appropriately why they are unhappy with their current professional situation, the recruiter is left with a better idea of what the candidate expects from the job and how the candidate would fit in the company’s work culture.  Nevertheless, there is a fine line between having a legitimate concern and complaining.  Recruiters are looking for people who will find solutions not people who will bring up problems so a response needs to show how a candidate tried to resolve the issue rather than complain.

Whilst Mr. Goltz brings up a valid point, the real problem is the fact that the criticism has taken place in public. It is essential that the resolution to the problem is considered thoroughly and without doubt, it must be done in private on a one-to-one basis. Although it is natural to have professional clashes, making accusations public is too much of a risk. So, as tempting as it may be at times, making a dramatic exit is not the wisest move!

How do you show a negative job experience in a positive light during an interview?

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