Advice column: what should I tell potential employers when harassment forced me to leave my previous post?

Dear Ash

I endured a sustained period of bullying and harassment in my last post following a period of ill health. My line manger was the main instigator of the daily abuse and I felt unable to have my grievance resolved because he was a close friend with the head of department. I had no choice but to resign and to raise a claim. Although the matter has now been resolved and I was vindicated, when applying for new jobs I am concerned about how to address questions about my reason for leaving. I do not want to reveal the details as I do not want it to be held against me.

Ash replies

I am sorry that you had to endure such a stressful experience, especially during a period of ill health. However, it is pleasing to know that you have not let this experience drag you down and are trying to keep positive by looking to get back into the workplace. Please be assured that you are not alone in having to deal with such issues, and I strongly suggest that, as well as actively seeking new job opportunities, you also seek professional support for the emotional distress you have endured. This could be in the form of counselling, and I suggest that you consider contacting LawCare also. It is worth noting that you are able to speak to LawCare anonymously.

With regard to confirming your reasons for leaving, I can appreciate your concerns, and I suggest that you keep reference to this point as brief and as generic as possible. Remember that you want at all times to come across as professional and, unfortunately, there is nothing more offputting than a former employee criticising the former employer during the recruitment process. For one, you will not have adequate time to put across the context of the whole situation and, more importantly, you should want the focus of any application to be about your key qualities and skills rather than about your bad experience.

I suggest you perhaps confirm that you left your former post in order to explore new opportunities. In an interview you could follow this up by confirming that you were looking for a new direction in your career. Keep positive and try not to let this one bad experience taint your future career. It is clichéd, but true, that such negative experiences do make us stronger individuals in the long run.

Send your queries to Ash

“Ash” is a solicitor who is willing to answer work-related queries from solicitors and trainees, which can be put to her via the editor: peter@connectcommunications.co.uk, or mail to Studio 2001, Mile End, Paisley PA1 1JS.

Confidence will be respected and any advice published will be anonymised.

Please note that letters to Ash are not received at the Law Society of Scotland. The Society offers a support service for trainees through its Registrar’s Department. For one-to-one advice contact Katie Wood, manager in the Registrar’s Department on 0131 476 8105/8200, or katiewood@lawscot.org.uk

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