Interview question: How to answer 'Why did you leave your last job?'
Variations of this question:
- If you’re currently employed: Why are you looking for a new job now?
- If you’re unemployed: Why did you leave your most recent job?
This question is guaranteed to come up in your interview.
Why is this question asked?
The reasons why you left your job are very relevant to any potential employer. This question will determine the level of risk involved in taking you on as an employee. Here’s what the interviewer is looking for from asking this question:
- Did you have a valid reason for leaving? The interviewer wants to determine the nature of your departure. For example, if you left your job out of the blue the hiring manager may have concerns about loyalty, trust and responsibility.
- Did you decide to leave on your own? If you were let go - the interviewer wants to discover if there were performance-related issues that caused your departure.
- Did you leave on good terms with the company? The ideal scenario from the interviewer’s perspective is that you are still in touch or on good terms with your previous manager. Having them as a reference demonstrates to the interviewer that you were a solid employee with great relationship skills.
What to say:
Pick your reason
What is the main reason you left your job, or plan to leave your current job? Reasons could include:
• Better career prospects
• Change your career direction/Looking for a new challenge
• Your values do not align with the company mission
• You were made redundant and the company closed
• Greater work-life balance
• Your company was restructured
Questions to ask yourself to be clear on why you’re leaving
• What are your career goals?
• Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
• What industry do you want to work in?
• What do you want from your job?
• What do you like and dislike about your job?
• How do you feel about the company's values and mission?
Plan what details you will share
Keep your answer honest and direct, while avoiding any details that would compromise you or your employer/former employer. This shows the interviewer a high level of respect and professional courtesy that will be appreciated. A good rule of thumb is to stick to the facts and leave out any opinions. The exact details which you do share entirely depend on your own situation.
Let’s keep it positive and goal orientated
Within your answer, it's important to shift the focus on the job which you’re applying for and detail why the opportunity is a great match for your experience, skillset, and career objectives. Regardless of your situation, focus on what you have accomplished in your past or current job, and always mention your goals for the position you are applying for.
Keep it short and sweet
The longer your answer, the more likely potential questions will pop up about any sensitive topics. A complicated version of events may create doubt in the mind of the interviewer. Aim for a simple answer in 4 sentences or less.
Check with your references
If your former employer is a reference it’s important that you both have similar explanations about why you were let go or why you left the company. If you are on agreeable terms with your previous employer check in with them you find out what you can expect.
In the scenario that you were laid off or let go, it’s completely natural to feel awkward about discussing the details. Preparing your answer and practicing out loud will reduce any emotional responses, and you will avoid coming across as defensive - even if there is nothing to hide! The solution - practice, practice, practice!
What not to say
Avoid any negativity about past or present employers.
Never speak badly about managers, the company or your colleagues. You never know how the interviewer may be connected to current or previous colleagues. Instead, speak in a broad sense by mentioning the company objectives or vision for the future did not align with your own goals, or that you didn't agree with the direction the business was going.
Is your job unfulfilling, boring, and you’re just sick of it? Do you/did you feel underappreciated or underpaid? The interview is not the time to speak about these details. Sharing personal feelings to justify your departure must be avoided. Keep your answer professional and focus on your career objectives instead. Stay emotion-free and stoic.
Example Answers (Full Script Included)
We will answer this question in its 4 most common forms:
1. If you're currently employed
2. If you're currently unemployed
3. If you've been laid off
4. If you've been fired
1. Currently employed
How to structure your answer
Give some background and context about your role and discuss any accomplishments. This shows the interviewer that you have conquered challenges in the past and are ready for a new challenge.
Next, share a reason for why you want to leave/why you left. It’s important not to half-arse this - saying you’re looking for a new challenge and leaving it at that is generic and does not convince the interviewer. Instead, find some challenges about the job that gets you excited.
Example answer: ‘I need a new challenge’
"I have been at my current job for 2 years now and I have learned so much working with some really high-level sales executives. I found my feet right away and was given a number of additional responsibilities outside of my original job scope, which included management and process improvement. With that being said, I feel like I need a new challenge."
"This job appeals to me and I'm excited again, especially given the opportunity to manage a bigger team and sell a product I actually believe in!"
2. Currently unemployed
How to structure your answer
Being between jobs is completely normal so do not feel unsure of yourself. There is an opportunity in every situation, even in unemployment.
If you've been unemployed for a few months then prepare to demonstrate during the interview that you've used your time off productively to learn a new skill, volunteer or network.
If you left your job due to a personal matter there is no need to give every detail. Keep it simple and reiterate that the issue is now resolved.
Again, the reasons for leaving will be unique to you so explain your situation while being discrete, and finish by suggesting why the job you’re applying for is the perfect opportunity for your return to the workforce.
Note: If you’re currently unemployed you must be proactive. Explore working in voluntary positions or join a course to develop a new skill. The objective here is to demonstrate to a future employer that you’re making the most of your time out of work.
Example Answer: 'Left your job due to a family Issue'
“I resigned from my previous role to take care of a family issue. Thankfully, the issue has been resolved so I am now ready to return to the workforce.”
Example Answer: 'Left your job to pursue a new role or change industry'
"I thoroughly enjoyed my time at COMPANY NAME. I received extensive training in managing high ticket clients while managing process improvements from within the company. However, I wanted to pursue a consultancy role and step out of the position of process improvement."
"It came to fruition that this type of opportunity was non-existent from within COMPANY NAME. I was also aware that the business was heading into the busy season. I didn't feel it was fair for me to make myself available, then leave my position the moment I found a new job. So I made the decision to leave before that happened."
3. Laid off
How to structure your answer
Make the reason for your layoff very clear and within your answer emphasise your achievements and contributions to the business.
Example Answer: 'Laid off due to company restructuring'
"After COMPANY NAME was acquired by COMPANY NAME, I was unfortunately affected by the restructuring that took place. The new board decided to relocate all of their sales staff to a new headquarters and those who didn't want to make the move were laid off. I made the decision to look for a new opportunity closer to home, and one that could take advantage of my 5 years of sales experience at COMPANY NAME."
Example Answer: 'Laid off due to downsizing'
"Unfortunately COMPANY NAME’s biggest customer closed for business in July and it had a major effect on revenue. This resulted in a number of jobs being eliminated. I was among the 3 people most recently hired, so we were all let go. Although the experience was short-lived, I’m very proud of the work that I did while at the company, and my previous manager is one of my references."
How to structure your answer
Remember that getting fired can happen to anyone. People get let go for a whole host of reasons. A lot of the time it can relate back to performance issues and a failure to meet the expectations of management.
We don’t need to mention all the ugly details. Give some information about the circumstances without putting the blame on anyone else - it’s important that you own your part of what happened.
An example of this could be that the expectations or your duties changed AFTER you were hired - this could have been due to changes in management, strategy or budget cuts. Other times, the job, team, or your manager just weren't the right fit for you.
Another approach is to explain what actions you’ve taken to improve since being let go. This will help eliminate any concerns regarding your termination. For example, if there was a breakdown working in a team dynamic, mentioning that you took a course in communications to help sharpen your people skills demonstrates to the hiring manager that you are aware of your shortcomings and are determined to self improve and become the best version of yourself.
Whatever the reason, remember that you can ALWAYS bounce back from being let go - as it can be chalked off as a learning experience, and not a failure. During the interview find a way to highlight the lessons that you learned from the entire experience. Remember that the interviewer is looking out for any red flags. The objective here is to reassure the hiring manager that whatever happened is an isolated incident and that there is no risk in hiring you.
Example Answer 1 if you were fired:
"After a major reorganisation in the company, there was a merging of contrasting ideas, along with changes in how the business was going to be run. With many changes happening within a very short period of time, the new management had different expectations for my job that did not relate to my skillset. Not long after, the company chose to hire someone with more sales experience and I was let go. The entire situation taught me that my core strength is in customer service - so I decided to double down."
"While I immediately began applying for jobs, I enrolled in an online customer service management course that lasted 3 months. I learned the key elements of unique experiences to increase customer satisfaction which I can discuss later. Being let go was a wonderful learning experience and I feel now I am ready to put it behind me and strive forward with my career with a new perspective. I know with my newfound knowledge I can be a major asset to your company in the role of Customer Service Supervisor."
Example Answer 2 if you were fired:
"After a series of changes in management, it became evidently clear that the new manager had different expectations for my role that didn't mesh with my own strengths. In the end, he chose to bring in someone with far more sales experience from his previous company. The entire experience showed me that my biggest strength lies in customer service, and I know I would be a major asset in this position at COMPANY NAME, which purely focuses on providing the ultimate customer experience."
Example Answer 3 if you were fired:
"There was a major reorganisation in the company and the merging of different ideas and cultures caused a shift in the way things were done. With this change, there were some differences of opinions between my new manager and me."
"After 2 months I was let go. I take full responsibility for my role in how everything turned out. I learned so much from the experience and in retrospect, I would have handled things differently. However, I am now ready to move on, put it behind me, and strive forward with an entirely new perspective."
Best of luck with your interview!
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