“Why did you leave your last job?” is one of the most straightforward interview questions you’ll receive. However, that doesn’t mean you should answer it without being prepared!
This guide will teach you how to answer this question as well as provide some of the best example answers to help you brainstorm.
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Why Interviewers Ask This Question
It’s a good idea to think about why interviewers ask “Why did you leave your last job?” before you practice how to answer it. Despite how it sounds, the hiring manager doesn’t want to hear you badmouth a previous boss or tell them how awful your former company is. In fact, going down that path will do more harm than good!
There are a few reasons you hear this common interview question.
Primarily, interviewers genuinely just want to know why you left (it isn’t a trick question). People seek new jobs all the time. If that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t be in your current situation. But your reason for leaving your last job is a pretty crucial detail.
Did you leave on your own volition, or were you terminated? That’s a significant detail that hiring managers want to know. Being fired doesn’t necessarily hurt your chances of landing your next big opportunity, but it can change the discussion and give the interviewer more questions.
Ultimately, the goal is to determine if you left on good terms with your previous company and whether the departure was for valid reasons. That last part can be a little confusing to job-seekers. It might seem subjective, but hiring managers are perfectly within their right to decide if they deem your departure reasonable.
What would an interviewer think if you stated that you were bored, tired of the job, or simply hated the people you worked with? While those reasons might be valid for you, it doesn’t put you in the best light.
Asking you why you left your last job helps the employer understand you – your motivation, how you handle challenging situations, and your goals. They are looking for any red flags that may eliminate you such as reoccurring issues with bosses.
Sometimes, they want to know what motivated you to leave or look for a new job.
Companies want to hire people they can rely on, and having someone leave due to seemingly arbitrary reasons isn’t ideal.
“Why did you leave your last job?” is a question that can unveil many things about who you are, what type of worker you can be, and what you have to bring to the table. It also gives insight into your past work history and how you might perform in this position. It’s a multi-layered question, so putting careful thought into your response is a must.
Remember, at the end of the day, an interviewer is assessing what kind of employee you will be, if you can do the job and if you have the will to do the job.
How to Answer, “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
This question can be tricky to answer. Your current situation will dictate the angle you take, but the primary goal is to show maturity and professionalism while providing all the information the interviewer wants.
Follow these tips, and you should have no problem developing an answer to “Why did you leave your last job? that impresses.
1. Stay Positive
If a poor experience at your last job is your reason for leaving, it’s incredibly tempting to badmouth your previous employer. The urge is even greater if you don’t leave on good terms. But it’s vital to remember that it’s not your responsibility to disclose negative details about your old job. If you do, it’ll likely come back and reflect poorly on you!
Do your best to keep things positive. It doesn’t matter how awful things were at your previous job or what kinds of experiences you had. Keep it light and try to find some of the good you took from that stage in your career.
There’s always a positive you can pull from that experience. It might take some reflection, and you may have to dig deep. But find those positive things to say. Maybe you learned something about yourself (like what motivates you), or you gained a new skill. Whatever the case may be, bring it up!
Discuss the good that came from that job. Even if you were terminated, you need to lean on positivity rather than dip into the less-than-flattering parts of your experience.
2. Be Honest But Don’t Overshare
Here’s a big one: Don’t lie! One of the biggest mistakes you can make is being dishonest. It doesn’t matter how awful things were or the situation surrounding your departure. Resist the urge to lie.
Lying when explaining why you left your last job will only make things worse. Hiring managers will do their due diligence before extending a job offer. If you lied, they could easily find out. There’s no quicker way to get yourself out of the running than to lie to a potential employer!
Be honest, and don’t paint your old job as something it wasn’t. This question can be difficult to answer if you don’t leave on the best terms. Some interviewers will also press for more details than you initially provide, making it feel like pouring salt into a wound.
Don’t let that deter you. Be honest and factual. The easiest way to avoid lying is to eliminate opinions from your response. Focus on the facts and remove your emotions from your answer.
All that said, you should also avoid oversharing. Going too much into the finer details can hurt your chances just as much as lying. Let’s face it: There could be less-than-flattering aspects of your previous job experience that paint you negatively.
There’s no need to get into those details if the interviewer doesn’t ask! They might press for more information. But keep it brief and straightforward unless they do so.
3. Connect It To the Job You’re Currently Interested In
One great way to answer this question is to connect it to the job you’re currently trying to land. There are a few ways to do this. The best is to talk about how you left your job for greener pastures.
Say, for example, that you weren’t happy with your work in your old job. Maybe it wasn’t enough of a challenge, or the job didn’t make you happy. There’s nothing wrong with leaving in search of something new.
But if you decide to bring that up, take the opportunity to connect the dots and illustrate why you’re in that interview room. For example, you can link your response to the job description and show the interviewer why this job is a better fit for your life and career goals.
Going this route has its perks. For one, it doesn’t bad mouth anyone or mention anything negative about your old company. Secondly, it highlights the fact that you took charge and decided to make a change. Interviewers respect that because it shows how you resolved the issue.
Finally, a response like this tells the interviewer exactly why you’re there. It lets them know you’re serious about the new job prospect and want to land this position.
4. Rehearse Your Answer
Our final tip is to rehearse as much as you can.
That doesn’t mean you should have your answer memorized verbatim or create a script. However, you should feel reasonably confident providing a suitable response.
“Why did you leave your last job?” isn’t an interview question that should scare you. People quit multiple jobs throughout their life and career. There’s nothing wrong with seeking greener pastures.
The key here is to be confident and prepare a good response. This isn’t a question you want to think about on the spot. Put thought into it early and be confident in your words.
5. Believe In Your Answer
To sound convincing your answer needs to convey confidence. This is easier to do if you have practiced your answer out loud and tested it on someone you respect. Sit up straight, look the interviewer straight in the eyes and confidently provide your answer.
What You Shouldn’t Say
A question like this doesn’t have a universally right or wrong response. How you answer it depends entirely on your personal work experience.
That said, the tips above can help you formulate an answer that works in your favor. On the opposite side of the coin, here are some things you should avoid saying. Including any of the following in your response can ruin your chances.
We can’t stress enough how important it is to avoid lying.
No matter what your industry is, it’s likely well-connected. Even if you’re moving to an entirely different field, businesses in your area have some rapport. Hiring managers know each other, and word travels fast.
If you lie when explaining why you left your last job, you’re not just hurting your chances at this job opportunity. It could harm your reputation.
No one wants to work with someone who bends the truth. Dishonesty is a big deal, and the reputation lying creates could follow you around long after this job interview.
Negative Statements About Previous Bosses or Colleagues
As we mentioned earlier, stay away from negative remarks. It’s tempting, and some applicants get the impression that interviewers want them to talk down on former employers. While business can certainly breed some form of competitive atmosphere, this isn’t the direction you should take your answer.
Talking negatively about your former boss or colleagues will make you look bad. Furthermore, it can leave a sour taste in interviewers.
If you’re fine badmouthing your old boss now, what will you say about your next employer? Trash-talking tells the interviewer what kind of person you are and what nastiness you’re capable of. It’s not the best way to start a job, and the negativity will do more harm than good.
Unprofessional Statements That Reflect Poorly on You
Always err on the side of professionalism when coming up with your answer to this question. Once again, it’s tempting to go on and on about how you were unappreciated or underpaid. You might even want to go on a tangent about just how awful your old workplace was.
But the last thing you want to do is get too personal or overly comfortable. Remember: The interviewer isn’t your best bud, and the office isn’t a bar with a couple of drinks. It’s an interview that can help you further your career!
Do your best to keep things professional and avoid anything that sounds too personal or casual.
Quick, Flippant Responses
Another thing to avoid is quick responses. Many job-seekers try to avoid divulging too much about their former work experience. You might try to dodge the question entirely by providing one-word or flippant responses.
That’s not a good approach. Your answer to “Why did you leave your last job?” is important, and there are things the interviewer is looking to find out. Going out of your way to not answer them doesn’t make you look good.
It makes it seem like you have something to hide! Don’t let the interviewer’s imagination run wild and fill in the gaps you won’t provide. You don’t have to get into full details, but give a reasonable answer that satisfies the purpose of this question.
Lastly, try not to give impulsive reasons for your departure. For example, being bored isn’t usually a valid reason for wanting to leave. The same goes for not liking your coworker or finding your boss annoying. Those reasons can make you sound immature, so you should reconsider your phrasing at the very least.
It’s also a good idea to steer clear of money-focused responses. You can talk about your old salary and mention that it’s one of the factors for your departure, but don’t let your answer revolve around money. You’ll have plenty of time to discuss that later in the interview.
Best Example Answers
We have a few of the best examples of how to answer this question and leave a positive impression. Your answer will depend on your actual work experience, but you can use the following responses as inspiration to guide you in the right direction.
In our first example, the applicant’s reasoning is simple. They were involuntarily laid off. The response to this question is succinct and doesn’t have any negative undertones that could spoil the interviewer’s opinion of them.
“I left my previous job due to downsizing. My former employer had to cut back on expenses. Unfortunately, my position was on the chopping block, and I got laid off.
The position at [COMPANY] requires much of the same work I did at my former job, but the expanded responsibilities make me feel like it’s a natural next step for my career.”
Our second example is a little more layered. In it, the job-seeker’s reason for wanting to leave was because they didn’t feel fulfilled or challenged in their previous role. Their response mentions that without talking bad about the company. Plus, it ties everything back to the new job opportunity while flattering the hiring company.
“I didn’t feel challenged in my previous job. I worked at that company for several years and thought it was time to take on a new challenge. A former colleague recommended this job to me.
After looking at the position, I became quite intrigued by the role. It sounds like a fantastic opportunity, and I’m eager to use my qualifications to be a part of [COMPANY].”
Here’s a response to try if you were fired. In this example, the applicant acknowledges why they were fired and what they did to make improvements. It’s a textbook example of talking openly about a negative experience without going negative.
“Unfortunately, I was let go from my previous job. After speaking with my former boss, we agreed I was not the right fit. I couldn’t learn the necessary skills required to succeed in that position.
I’ve since worked to improve my qualifications through training and certification. I’m seeking to harness those new skills more appropriately in my next role.”
Even though “Why did you leave your last job?” might seem like a simple interview question to answer, there are plenty of layers to it. Fortunately, spending some time practicing and keeping our tips in mind will make the process easy!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.