A national outdoor equipment retailer had an ad campaign for hunters and fishermen, telling them to be prepared with proper equipment, showing funny examples of people that are not prepared. Their tagline is:
"Don't be THAT guy!"
Then recently, I went to a Minnesota Wild NHL game where, whenever a player was sent to the penalty box, they would put a picture of him on the screen with the caption underneath (sponsored by the same retailer) saying:
"Don't be that guy!"
Both examples are funny. However, I interviewed someone recently that wasn't so funny. After the interview, all I could think of was:
"Don't be that guy!"
It was a very frustrating experience for me because on paper, it looked like he was a great fit for a position I've been trying to fill for one of my clients for several weeks. He had great technical experience, and his salary range was right in line with the opening.
Unfortunately, the more he talked, the more I realized I could never present him to my client. He was currently unemployed, having left his last position within the last couple of weeks. When I asked him about the reason for leaving, he let me know he was fired. That's never a "deal breaker" for me by itself, it always depends on the reasons. The way he described his termination though raised many red flags.
He said that his manager "didn't know what he was doing", that the company "had no one that knew how to run anything", that the project was "screwed up from the beginning", and that "no one would listen to me". Certainly this candidate had never heard the advice to never bash a former employer in an interview.
However, I really wanted him to be a viable candidate since I was having such a difficult time finding people with solid skills for the role. I thought, maybe he really did just fall into a bad situation in that last job. So we moved on to his previous position.
He was in that job for a somewhat longer time, however, as he began talking about his experience there, it sounded very similar. He was "the only one that knew how to get projects done around there", the company was on a "wrong track", his manager "never knew what to do", and so on.
To no surprise at this point, his previous jobs all had similar "problems".
I'm always willing to believe that someone may have landed in a bad situation where there truly are problems, or a culture mismatch that leads to a bad experience. However, when job after job has the same "problems" it becomes obvious that the real problem is the employee, and not the employer.
Clearly this was an extreme example of someone bashing previous employers. However, it's not uncommon for people to express similar sentiments in subtler ways.
If your experience is characterized by one bad situation after another, it's important to do some self-reflection and then figure out how to express yourself positively in your interviews.
This candidate is likely to still find a job because he truly does have highly marketable technical skills. However, it's also likely his next job will be short-lived and he will have yet another story to tell the next potential employer about how "bad" that work environment was. His attitude and apparent blind spots are keeping him from getting good opportunities, as it did in this case with the opening I was trying to fill. And in the long run it will have an even greater negative effect on his career.
Think about your own experience and how you portray it to others. Then always remember:
Don't be that guy!