Explaining why you left you last job is a delicate balancing act. Your response needs to somehow stay positive while also providing a cogent explanation for why you want to move on.
Before we get into how to answer “Why did you leave your last job?”, it’s helpful to consider why interviewers ask the question.
To read more articles on our interview preparing series, you can check them out below :-
Read our interview article on describing your work ethics here
Read our interview article on how to talk about yourself here
Read our interview article on how to follow up through an email here
Read our interview article on what makes you unique here
Read our interview article on why you are the best person for the job here
Read our interview article on what you can contribute to the company here
Read our interview article on crafting a winning resume using the STAR framework here
1. Why Does an Interviewer Ask “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
The first thing an interviewer wants to know when asking this question is whether or not you left voluntarily or were forced out due to disciplinary or performance issues. If you were asked to leave due to cost-cutting measures or restructuring, that doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on your abilities, but if you were asked to leave because you couldn’t achieve a role’s objectives, you’ll need to be able to explain this in a constructive light.
The second thing an interviewer wants to know when asking this question is that you have a legitimate, thoughtful reason for changing jobs. If you can’t explain your motivations in a considered manner, you may come across as unreliable or a risky hire for a business.
Finally, an interviewer will want to assure themselves that you left a previous role on good terms. This tends to suggest that, regardless of the reason for your departure, you have a degree of professionalism that allows you to move forward with decorum and propriety.
2. How to Answer the Question ‘’Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?’’
Now that we’ve discussed the three main reasons hiring people ask, “why did you leave your job?”, here are some example answers to give a potential employer that fit with different circumstances.
2.1 Lack of opportunities to build a career portfolio
Wanting to develop your career beyond the limits of a previous company is a fairly simple reason to give for leaving – and one that any new employer will readily understand.
“I really enjoyed the type of work I was doing previously and wanted to take on more responsibilities. However, there just weren’t any available opportunities to do so at my last company.”
2.2 Employee burnout due to excess workload
A slightly trickier situation, it’s often best not to directly refer to burnout, but to frame the situation in a manner that makes clear (in the most positive way possible) that too much was being demanded.
“I found myself becoming more and more involved in tasks that pulled me in different directions, and ultimately, I felt that I could deliver a better result if I was given a bit more time to form a cohesive strategy to meet the higher-level objectives.”
2.3 Continuous micromanaging
It’s always tempting to go on a rant about a former bad line manager, but it won’t do you any favors in an interview. Instead, if you are trying to escape a micromanaging boss, for instance, emphasize why you need greater independence.
“I’m someone who’s very organized and self-reliant, and I’m really looking for a role that will give me the chance to employ those skills more deeply.”
Don’t be dishonest about being fired. Do phrase being fired in a way that appears as emotionless and matter of fact as possible.
“The role just wasn’t really a good fit with my experience and qualifications. Ultimately, my boss and I agreed it made sense for me to seek out roles that were more suited to my skill set.”
2.5 Laid off
If you were forced to leave a company because it shuttered certain departments or closed down entirely, it’s unlikely to reflect badly on you, so just state the facts plainly, perhaps adding in a fond comment to show there are no hard feelings.
“My last company had to shut down due to the challenging economic climate. It was a really great experience, though, and I’m still in touch with my former manager.”
2.6 Family responsibilities
Another totally understandable reason to leave a job is family responsibilities. This may mean you spent some time out of the workforce or are looking for opportunities that take into consideration your familial needs.
“I wanted to devote more time to raising my young family and being more present in their lives. My last job helped me grow a lot, but what attracted me about the opportunity with your company is that I’ve heard good things about your flexible work program, which would enable me to attain a better work-life balance.”
2.7 Lack of flexibility
You don’t want to make it seem like you left your last job because you just wanted to work from home. Instead, get across how flexible hours can benefit both the company and you.
“During the pandemic, I realized that I’m more productive when I can spend more hours on deep work, rather than on commuting. The hybrid working that your company offers seems really in tune with the research regarding the greater productivity seen with remote workers.”
2.8 Want higher pay in the market
Coming right out and saying “show me the money” may have worked for Jerry Maguire, but you don’t want to appear openly mercenary when it comes to seeking a bigger paycheck. Indirectly implying it is often the safer option.
“I’ve been looking for chances to take on a bigger leadership role that will allow me to achieve my long-term career goals.”
2.9 Your goals don't align with company values
Perhaps you want to work for a company that prioritizes certain values, be they diversity or eco-consciousness. Rather than criticizing your last employer, praise your potential new employer.
“It’s become really important to me that I work for an organization that is making visible efforts towards reducing its carbon footprint, and I know your company has a clearly stated plan of action for reaching net zero.”
2.10 Lack of empathy from previous employers
As with some of the other points above, the key focus should be on making a productive change rather than wallowing in negativity.
“While I really enjoyed the fast-paced environment at my last company, I want to start working somewhere that places a high value on human interaction and corporate empathy.”
3. Some Important Tips While Answering ‘’Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?’’
No matter how to you reply to the query, “why did you leave your last job?”, there are a few universal pointers to bear in mind when formulating your answer.
3.1 Be honest
The best answer for reason for job change in an interview will always come from honesty. Yes, you should frame your reply in a constructive way (as shown above), but that isn’t the same as ducking the question or lying about your motivations.
3.2 Keep it concise
None of the answers above are longer than a sentence or two for good reason. Keep your answer short and to the point.
3.3 Practice well ahead of the interview
“Why did you leave your last job” is a common question, so take the time to prep your answer. Practice will help you refine your response and make you sound more confident.
3.4 Don’t bad mouth about your previous employers
It’s tempting to go on a rant about a previous employer, especially if you parted on bad terms. However, the reality is that you will almost always come off poorly if you choose to denounce a former company, no matter how justified your criticism.
3.5 Display a positive attitude
It’s something that’s been mentioned several times already, but being positive and future focused is the cornerstone of a good answer to “why did you leave your last job.” Even if you want to explain that your last company couldn’t offer you some particular benefit, try to mention something constructive as well.
3.6 Be prepared for the follow-up questions
As part of your pre-interview practice, consider what follow-up questions an interviewer might ask. For instance, while simply mentioning that a role wasn’t a good fit for you may be enough for some hiring people, others might want to know precisely why. If you were only with a company for a short time, you might get asked: “why did you leave your last job so early?”, or “why did you leave your last job after 3 months?” Don’t get blind-sided into losing your concision or your positivity.
4. Why Did You Leave Your Last Job? Answer Templates
If you’re still struggling to formulate a response that’s particular to your situation, here are a few general templates for the most common situations.
Example 1: When You Don't Like Your Company
“While I learned a lot about [Insert Topic] at [Insert Company Name], I’m really looking for opportunities in companies that have a more fully developed approach to [Insert Reason, e.g., corporate social responsibility].”
Example 2: When You Are Changing Your Job for a Higher Salary
“I wanted to move on with the next stage in my career and take on a more senior role in the [Insert Industry] field.
Example 3: When You Do Not Like the Job Profile
“It’s been a real pleasure working at [Insert Company] for the last few years, but over the past few months I’ve come to the realization that I want to use my skills in [Insert Skills] in a different type of role, where I believe they would be of greater utility.”
Example 4: When You Don't Have Work Flexibility
“My previous company and I had some discussions around work from home, but they weren’t yet in a position to enact a change of policy. I’ve seen a lot of research about how it can benefit both a company and its employees and believe it would bring a positive change to my work-life balance.
- Why did you leave your last job answer?
If you take away just one thing from this article, remember to stay positive, turning a question that is about the past into one that looks towards the future.
- What is a good reason for leaving a job?
There are many legitimate reasons for leaving a job, from a change in your family situation, to wanting to earn a better salary, to desiring a change of role. The important thing is to express your reason in a concise and lucid manner.