How to Answer the Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
If you’re preparing for a job interview, then it’s guaranteed that you’ll be asked to answer the question “why did you leave your last job?” It’s one of the most common interview questions and many times it’s the first question an interviewer will ask.
If you’re still working at the time of your interview, then you may be asked a variation on the question such as:
- Why do you want to leave your current job at this time?
- Why are you looking for a new job?
- What caused you to seek a job change?
No matter how it’s asked, you’ll need to have an answer ready to go. So, how do you answer the question “why did you leave your last job?”
The Hidden Messages Behind Your Answer
How you answer the question reveals certain aspects of your character to the interviewer whether you realize it or not. Here’s what an interviewer is looking for when asking the question “why did you leave your last job?”
- Did you leave for a good reason? Your interviewer will want to know if you quit your job on a whim or if you put some thought into it. The precise reason you are leaving will reveal a lot about your personality.
For example, saying “I wasn’t being challenged enough” will send the signal that you are hard-working and looking to grow.
On the other hand, an answer such as “my co-workers are all against me” will send the signal that you’re paranoid and unable to work with others.
- Did you move on voluntarily? If you are looking for new employment on your terms, that’s fine. However, if you were let go, then that might raise a red flag.
Your potential employer will want to know if you were fired for performance reasons or laid off due to budget cuts or downsizing.
- Did you leave on good terms? Let the interviewer know if you gave proper notice, finished up projects, or helped train your replacement before leaving.
List your prior manager or co-workers as references if you can. This will all go a long way in showing that you are a responsible and courteous employee.
Now that you know why interviewers ask the question, let’s explore how you answer the question.
Answering the Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
If you are currently unemployed, then this puts you in a tough position. Your interviewer might be thinking “why hasn’t anybody hired this person yet?” This makes your answer especially important. Here are a few tips:
- Never trash talk your old employer. Avoid phrases like “my boss was nuts!” or “the environment was too toxic.”
Even if you’re right, you’ll come off sounding like a complainer or a negative person. Stay positive.
- Make it clear if you were laid off. Most potential employers understand that lay-offs happen.
If you were laid off, then leave your interviewer with the impression that your performance was great, you were just hit with unfortunate circumstances. But don’t dwell on it.
- Be up front about being fired. It can be a bit tricky to explain being fired for performance reasons. Your best bet is to be honest about it.
Mention any extenuating circumstances that led to your firing. For example, your job responsibilities suddenly changed, and you didn’t receive training. Or, there were budget cuts that forced you to do more with less resources.
Whatever the reason, you want to assure the interviewer that you learned from the experience and you aren’t a risky hire.
Answering the Question “Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job?”
There are a million reasons why someone would want to leave a job they currently have. However, not all those reasons are appropriate for a job interview.
Here are a few tips to follow if you have a job and want to jump ship:
- Be Positive: This can’t be emphasized enough. Talking negatively about your previous employer is never a good look. Focus on the positive reasons that you want to move forward such as: new challenges, more growth opportunity, using a broader skill set.
Leave your interviewer with the impression that you are moving toward a better opportunity, not fleeing a negative one.
- Use a Bit of Flattery: Potential employers don’t want to think you’re just looking to work. They want to think that you’re looking to work for them, specifically.
Prior to your interview, be sure to learn all you can about the company. Do you love the company’s mission and values? Let the interviewer know that.
Tell them why this position is your dream job. If you have a friend or colleague who referred you, then play up the fact that you were told how great the environment was.
Just be careful and don’t go overboard with the flattery. Laying it on too thick can come across as insincere.
- Be negative (if you absolutely must): Okay, this runs contrary to all the advice you’ve been given up until this point. However, there is a time when it might be necessary to say some negative things about your current employer.
As always, be honest. It could be that you are ready to grow professionally, and you don’t see your current employer giving you the opportunities you want. This shows that you are proactive and ready to work hard to achieve your goals.
Or, you may know about lay-offs or budget reductions happening in your current company, so you’re proactively looking for another position. Interviewers are people too and will likely understand that it’s better to leave on your own terms then get fired.
Prepare and Practice Your Response
Once you know how to answer the question, then it’s time to prepare your answer. Write it down and practice saying it in the mirror. Keep your answer to 90 seconds or less. Keep your tone conversational but avoid the temptation to ramble on.
Here’s an example of a good response to the question “why do you want to leave your job?”
“I loved my time at Apex Chemicals and managed many successful projects during my time there. We are going through a restructuring and the future of my role seems uncertain.
But I have been thinking about moving on for a while. A bigger company like yours has room for growth and a wider variety of projects to be a part of. I’d be a great fit because of my ability to manage budgets and experience running large teams.”
A few well-thought sentences like these is all it takes to start your interview off on the right foot and show that you’re a serious contender.
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Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.