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This post, how do I tell interviewers why I’m leaving my job without badmouthing my employer? , was written by Alison Green and published on Ask a Manager.

A reader writes:

Is it badmouthing an employer if it is the truth?

I have worked at my current job for almost 15 years. My boss is an attorney in a solo practice. He is planning to retire at the end of this year. In the past five years, he has gone from five employees to one as the practice winds down. I was planning to stay with him until the end, transitioning to part-time and using that as a step down toward early retirement or a type of sabbatical before returning to full-time work. He pushed to have me go down to four days after Thanksgiving, even though the workload was not quite ready for that. Since I was now part-time, there was no Christmas bonus and I was not going to accrue anymore PTO. I told him I was fine with that as long as I could use my accrued vacation time and sick days. I have four weeks of accrued PTO and figured I would not use all of it before the firm shut down anyway. He has now revoked my accrued PTO and expects me to work with no vacation or sick days at all.

I am currently job hunting. I don’t want to walk out because I don’t want him to be able to use that against me in a reference. The last paralegal/office manager left over a year ago, and he has done nothing but badmouth her even though she was a very good employee and had been with him for over 20 years. I have been here for so long that the attorneys and office manager I worked for at my previous job are retired. I think I could win a labor board dispute even though I live in a very employer-friendly state. But I don’t want to fight, I just want out.

I know you are not supposed to badmouth an employer in job interviews, but what if the fact is that he stole from me? Can I say calmly that he revoked my accrued PTO and I decided to look for another job?

You could, but there’s no need to when you have a much less dramatic explanation for why you’re leaving: your boss is winding down the firm so he can retire.

As a general rule when interviewers ask why you’re leaving your current job, it’s better to avoid answers about disagreements or drama, even when you’re not the source of them. There’s always a chance that they’re going to wonder if there’s more to the story or if you’re interpreting it in the most inflammatory way. But even when it’s clear that’s not the case, you want them to remember you as the candidate with the impressive skills in X, not the one who was screwed over by an incredible jerk of a boss.

In your particular case, the answer you proposed — that your boss took back your accrued PTO — isn’t all that far toward the drama end of the spectrum. You could cite it if you had to. But there’s no point in using it when you have such an easy, bland, utterly unremarkable answer right there for the taking. You’ve been there 15 years, he’s closing down the firm, done.

In fact, whenever you’ve been at your current job for at least a few years, you can just cite that — “I’ve been here X years and I’ve enjoyed the work, but now I’m ready to take on something new.” That’s almost always preferable to explaining that your employer sucks, even if they do. Bland and easy is just always a better choice for this question, as long as it’s plausible.

There are times when it won’t be plausible, though. For example, if you’ve only been in the job for five months, you can’t say you’re ready to take on something new (at least not without looking extremely flighty). In cases like that, look for the most neutral, low-drama way to explain the situation. “They brought me on to do X but it turns out they really need Y” is fine to say when it’s true. So is “We’ve had a lot of turnover and I’m looking for somewhere more stable” or “My team regularly works 60-hour weeks” or “I’m looking for something with more predictable hours” or “Budget cuts have me concerned about the stability of my department.”

You mentioned you were worried about badmouthing your old employer, but that convention is more about subjective assertions — like “my boss was a nightmare,” “the leadership was in chaos,” “the culture was toxic,” etc. Since your interviewer doesn’t know you well, they won’t know if your assessment is reliable or if you’re just difficult/dramatic/have bad judgment. But that doesn’t mean you can’t share a quick, objective fact to explain why you left/are looking.

Also, often a good answer can be, “I’m not actively looking, but I saw this job and was really interested because of X.” So you’re talking about what’s drawing you toward the new job rather than away from the old one.

But go for bland and unmemorable whenever you can (just don’t be vague to the point of meaningless).