In my faculty job, I was bullied for a long time by a chair of the department (at a US state university on the West Coast). This included:

  • Giving me bad schedules and classrooms
  • His secretary telling students to avoid my classes
  • Denying me operational information
  • Excluding me from department committees
  • Falsifying university documents
  • Stealing my course materials and giving it to his supporters
  • Filing bogus charges against me that I never saw in writing

I understand it's hard to judge who was in the wrong, but I really had neither motive nor means to fight with the department chair. Worse, he eventually got many of the other department members on his side.

After being bullied and harassed and my working environment sabotaged for very long time I resigned. Now I am looking for a teaching position at a different university in the USA. I know the number one rule in an interview is “Do not say anything bad about your former employer”. But, under the circumstances, I'm not sure how to answer the question “Why did you leave the position where you achieved a high rank?” What would be a a good way to answer this question?

  • 1
    I suggest that you also take a look at the questions The Workplace; they have a lot of good advice when it comes to interviews. For instance, with a quick search I could find workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/4056 and workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/106519 . Nov 24, 2018 at 9:05
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    I think some cultural context would help here - in what part of the world are you applying for jobs? My experience in the US is that "why are you leaving" is a question that is not usually asked. On the flip side, letters of recommendation are also important here, and it is pretty common for recommenders to address reasons why the applicant is on the market; coming from a more "neutral" third party, it can be more credible. Nov 24, 2018 at 16:44
  • I would be a little more specific, but approach the answer from the standpoint that the environment made it difficult to achieve success.
    – Stuart
    Nov 24, 2018 at 19:58
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    I request that this question is reopened. This question is extremely important to me and seems like some people do have some knowledge on this issue that I would like to hear. I have clarified some of the issues that were raised about my question. I added information based on the comments asking for more information. I clarified some issues that I felt were misunderstood. I had no weapons to be jerk and to attack the chair, or to deny him information (information flows from the top), or to steal his classes, or to exclude him from a committee or to steal his course materials. Nov 25, 2018 at 1:12
  • Yeah, I think your edits made it much more academic-oriented. Voting to reopen; I also modified your post a bit to make it more readable; feel free to edit if I messed anything up.
    – cag51
    Nov 25, 2018 at 8:28

3 Answers 3


You can honestly say that the former position was "a bad fit" personally and professionally and that you seek a "more compatible" environment. I've been in enough strange situations that I suspect people are aware that they exist. There are enough similar questions here to indicate that academia isn't utopia.

You needn't speak ill of the former head. But if the "environment has become less conducive to personal and professional growth" it is likely a fair assessment.

Also, just having been promoted is an excellent time to "look for other, more challenging, opportunities."

  • 4
    The danger is that "bad fit" is also just what somebody would say as a euphemism for "I pissed everyone off and left." Nov 24, 2018 at 17:05
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    @DavidRicherby Any good reply to this question also gets adopted by people who pissed everyone off and left. You can say something that implies there was personal conflict, but there's nothing you can say that communicates "oh, by the way, I was right and the people there were jerks" as opposed to "I was a jerk" because most jerks are not self-aware and self-aware jerks can lie.
    – user92734
    Nov 24, 2018 at 18:53
  • There is no good reply that addresses the truth in this situation. One needs to lie in a way that eliminates doubt of the problem existing again. Nov 24, 2018 at 19:58
  • @ASimpleAlgorithm, I disagree that you need to lie. You just don't need to get into things that aren't relevant to your new position. Leaving some things unsaid isn't the same as telling untruths. You don't need to say you were bullied - nor is it productive to do so.
    – Buffy
    Nov 24, 2018 at 20:02
  • @Buffy Whether a strategic omissions of facts reaches the level of a lie or not is a semantic argument. The point is if the explanation conveys any of the important facts-the person quit impulsively (spitefully?) over drama with the administration--this will be very bad. People will always wonder if there's another side to the story and view it as a risk. But I would go further; a non-explanation ("I needed a change") may also be viewed suspiciously. The best answer is an alternative explanation that eliminates such doubts. Nov 24, 2018 at 20:19

“Looking for further or different opportunities” is one

“A change in personal circumstances” is another...

Often, in a given situation, there are multiple strands and actions are completed based on the cumulative effect.

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    I don't think these are good ways to answer that question. First of all, they are a lie, and secondly they raise more questions instead of providing answers. I would be very suspicious of such vague answers. The answer probably depends on the culture or person assessing the candidate (voting to close), but personally I would be perfectly happy with an honest answer, even if it breaks the "number one rule" (No idea who made that rule, but I disagree).
    – Louic
    Nov 24, 2018 at 8:56
  • And of the linked answers from the workplace, one is “it was obvious I would not reach my full potential” so that meets your criteria then??
    – Solar Mike
    Nov 24, 2018 at 9:31
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    I am the OP. First, everyone thanks for your response. Unfortunately “Looking for further or different opportunities” or “It was obvious I would not reach my full potential” is hard to explain since I reached a full professor rank just before the chair got unhinged. But I could not take the bullying that lasted very long time. And he created a whole gang to do the dirty job. Nov 24, 2018 at 10:26
  • @louic I am not sure how to ask for this question to be taken off hold. I am asking you because your name is up there. I am not sure how I can contact you for that directly so I am asking here. How do I ask to make this question active again? I tried to address some of the issues people raised. Nov 25, 2018 at 1:45
  • @user2712329 Once you edited your question the moderators will look at it and if it has enough votes (within 5 days) to re-open it will be re-opened. This is also how questions get closed: it needs quite a few close votes before it gets closed.
    – Louic
    Nov 25, 2018 at 8:37

Last year was a particularly stressful period for my family, so despite a successful career in blah… blah… and an optimal rapport with colleagues, [if they weren't at all involved in the mobbing] it was just the right time for me to look further afield and begin a new chapter in my life.

The stressful period you suffered also affected your family, so that is telling the truth and explains why a change was necessary.

  • He might have read the paper on mobbing by Heinz Leymann because he used almost all the attacks on the list. So yes, I was victim of mobbing the way Heinz Leymann defined it. Nov 25, 2018 at 1:33

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