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How to answer, ‘Why are you looking’?

Q. I am a midlevel manager with an unusual problem. I am being bullied. From the swearing to the taunting, there is no mistaking it. The corporate culture where I am enables the behavior. I have decided to move on, and will do so with great references. My problem is answering, “Why are you looking?” How do I convey what’s going on without sounding like a complainer?

A. Many times employees will move on because bullying and harassment take a toll on energy, spirit, and self-esteem. What is most concerning to me is that it seems that the culture supports this. It is hard to determine based on what you have shared, but some or all of this behavior could cross over into illegal behavior. Of course, it is easy for me to ask you to consider confronting this behavior since I am not working in this toxic environment.

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There is a way to address the “Why are you looking?” question without appearing like a malcontent. First explain that you enjoy your current role. Give examples of responsibilities or tasks that are particular strengths. Also describe relationships with colleagues or vendors that are positive.

Then after emphasizing the positives, mention that the corporate culture is a bit rougher than others in which you have thrived. If you are asked for an example, you can point to excessive swearing or the less than professional treatment of employees. Try to end with a positive during your response, such as “I really enjoy my role and my colleagues quite a bit.”

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I would avoid using the terms like bullying and harassment. The interviewer could assume that you have taken legal action against your employer, which would make many interviewers nervous, although they may not admit it.

Lastly, pay attention to your tone when describing other jobs in your career. You want any interviewer to understand that your concerns about your company’s culture are outliers and your norm is not to complain, but instead to be part of a positive environment.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.
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