So you’re now on the process of applying for a new job position. But are you ready to answer one of the most common questions that will likely come up during an interview?
Why are you looking for a new job?
Why did you leave your most recent position?
Why are you looking for a new job position?
Sooner or later, you’ll need to be able to talk about the reasons why you left.
Here are some insights on how to respond when asked: “Why did you leave your last job?”
Bruce Hurwitz, Ph.D.
President, Hurwitz Strategic Staffing
There are some simple rules:
- Don’t lie.
- Keep your answer short. The more details you provide the less credible you sound.
- Don’t say anything bad about the former employer.
- Don’t begin the answer with irrelevancies like, “It was a great job,” or give a history lesson about the employer. Just answer the question.
Some sample statements are:
There was no room for growth. I had advanced as far as I could and the supervisors/bosses weren’t going anywhere.
I was fired. I did such-and-such. I was stupid. Ironically, this makes me a better employee because I learned from the experience….
Note that your question concerns your last job, not why you are looking to leave your current job. This means that the firing is truly a thing of the past since, subsequently, the applicant found employment.
It wasn’t a good fit. A new boss was hired/owner purchased the company. Policies changed and I was uncomfortable with the new direction.
Always remember the job interviewers have usually heard it all before or have been through it themselves. That’s why honesty really is the best policy.
Emily Kikue Frank, M.A.
Career Counselor | Founder, Denver Career Catalyst
You want to be fairly general, as trash-talking a previous employer is not a good idea, and will not impress an interview panel
A change is a good way to frame things, since it’s almost always the case that something did, in fact, change.
Presuming that you left your last job under less-than-ideal circumstances, I generally advise people to say something along the lines of,
There was a change in management and the organizational values no longer fit mine.
You can even use this if you got fired, but you do need to admit that.
Unfortunately, I was let go from my previous job after a change led to me no longer being a good fit for the organization.
In the case of something that genuinely wasn’t the individual’s fault — layoffs, a company being bought or going out of business, I advise just a straightforward reply.
Unfortunately, there was a big restructuring and my position was eliminated.
Finally, if you left for personal reasons, like a health (or mental health) crisis or a family issue, you will want to say something that doesn’t give too much detail (personal issues are not the business of your employer, especially before you even work there) but acknowledges that some stuff happened.
I had a health issue that needed my full attention. I took some time to take care of myself and am now feeling great and ready to get back to work.
If it’s a health concern, you want to allay their fears of ongoing issues immediately, so if you are better, say that; if it’s ongoing, just leave it at something bland like “feeling good now,” and then, after you are hired, talk with HR about the accommodations you need.
Retired Associate Prof. of Management & Human Resources, Doane University
When interviewing for any position, applicants will surely field questions about their previous work experiences; and it’s commonplace for interviewers to ask, “Why did you leave your most recent job?” Every job candidate should be prepared to answer that question tactfully.
Being critical of a former boss, departmental colleagues, or organizational philosophy (and its resulting policies) will not win any points during an employment interview. Yet, when discussing specific duties connected to a previous job, applicants need to be truthful.
However, in describing the tasks that they performed on that job, candidates should always try to focus on useful workplace skills that they developed that can help a future employer.
If asked what they specifically disliked about their duties working in a previous position, for example, candidates should focus their answer on what they learned (and how their skills improved) while handling a difficult requirement of that job.
Always acknowledge the initial problem(s) that caused the difficulty (having insufficient experience, for example), but then focus the rest of the answer on the lessons learned and how that new knowledge helped in handling similar situations that developed later on (or could easily occur in the future).
Do not bad-mouth a former boss, former co-workers, the previous job or any of its requirements
Keep responses positive and make accurate statements about transferable skills that were learned in that position — and how those skills can benefit a new employer. Organizations seek candidates who can solve problems — not create them!
Related: How to Nail a Job Interview
Founder & Executive Director, Professionals In Transition
If you left your job for a good reason, be sure to say so
You might say something like,
I really enjoyed my last job and learned a number of things. I realized I had gone as far as I was going to go into the organization and began to look around for other opportunities. I think the position I am interviewing for today is a fantastic opportunity.
For other reasons, below are sample statements that you can use:
If your job was eliminated due to downsizing, you might say something like,
You may have seen on the news that the XYZ company illuminated over 300 positions in a recent reorganization. I was one of those affected.
If you were fired, you might say,
I had a personality conflict; you may have had one in your career. I’ve never had one before and hope I never have one again.
Managing Director, The Recruitment Lab
Most of us leave a job because something was wrong with it and you were not happy. It can be your line manager, the progression, the commute or maybe the money. Whatever the reason, it will tend to be negative and not a positive reason.
Subsequently, you need to tread carefully. Normally you can outline that it was a difficult decision, you enjoyed so many different elements to that role, but one thing made you feel it was time to consider your options – and then just tell the interviewer in a soft, unemotional manner what the reason was.
You do not need to be overly negative, you do not want to speak unfavorably of your past employer, just state your case
Things can be trickier though if you have been dismissed or quit a job to then spend a period of time unemployed. Luckily, the English language can offer you a rich tapestry of dialog to draw on.
Let’s take the worst-case scenario and you were fired from your previous role for gross misconduct. I would state how you had been hoping for great things with your previous organization, you wanted the challenge and the development curve – but things just didn’t pan out as you hoped and so the decision was made to move on.
Go into as much detail as you feel comfortable with giving, and let the interviewer ask the questions. Being dismissed from a job doesn’t mean you will never be successful in your career.
Oprah Winfrey was fired early in her career and told she was unfit for television news and Walt Disney was once fired for a lack of imagination! Prepare and rehearse your answer.
Why you left or are looking to leave your most recent role is one of the most logical questions to ask at interview, so no matter how testing the circumstances behind it you should be able to give a concise and rational answer that is not causing negative ripples.
Ronee Wagener, SPHR, MBA, CTACC
Strategic Coach and Business Consultant | Owner, Coaching and Consulting by Ronee, LLC
Honesty is the best answer as to why you left your last position
Whether it be a lack of challenge, leadership, manager, culture or change in the company’s vision or mission. No matter the reason, you should be prepared to answer any follow-up questions to your reason.
We all know there are bad bosses and toxic cultures and it’s okay to leave them. I’d even recommend leaving them. However, if I see a pattern that is what concerns me. If all managers someone has worked for are jerks, I’m concerned that the applicant is the common denominator. It may not have been all the managers who had the issues.
If someone has been fired, I still believe in being honest about it.
Not all employees deserve to be fired and not all firings are handled well. Again, be prepared to answer follow-up questions. It could be that it was not a good fit or the person was not able to grasp the tasks assigned to them.
Depending on the job, I may not see these as being an issue for the job I’m interviewing applicants for. However, if someone was fired because they couldn’t make it to work on time and they had been given sufficient warnings, I would be less forgiving. With any firing, I would look to see if I saw growth from the experience or only blame.
I understand why it would be tempting to lie about why someone left a job. However, it can be a small world. If a hiring manager hears a different story through an acquaintance or during a reference check, most likely you will not receive an offer. If you were honest and the stories match, you’ll have a better chance at landing that job.
Lola Salvador Akinwunmi
Career Strategist | Founder, LolaSal, Inc.
This is an inevitable question during the interview process and one for which you should be prepared.
Depending on the circumstances surrounding your departure, never speak negatively about your prior or current employer
Speaking negatively or in bad light raises doubt on your character to the interviewer. An answer for a layoff, summer or internship position is easier to answer; however, the concern is when you have to answer this over the course of your career or a period of unemployment.
Focus on a positive answer while making sure that your non-verbal response is not giving off mixed signals
An interviewer is asking this question to get more information about you and your experience in a non-direct way and this question could be phrased in different ways to get that answer.
If you’re interviewing because you have perceived this as a better opportunity or truth be told for more money, a good way to answer is by saying
I have been at my current position for ‘X’ years and I have accomplished ‘XYZ’ and now I’m looking to use my experience in a different capacity while experiencing new challenges and continued growth.
If you’re interviewing after a period of unemployment, it is important to answer this question carefully and not to lie.
It is okay and important that you refer to any professional or personal development skills you’ve acquired during this period; volunteer hours you’ve earned especially if it relates to your career.
If this applies and you’ve gone back to school or been traveling you need to let your interviewer know and be ready for the possible follow up questions. However, it is important to highlight your accomplishments at your last employment.
If your unemployment is a result of a layoff and/or recession, employers may be more understanding of the length of time between jobs.
It’s important that you explain the reason why you left. You can say “Due to an organizational restructure our team was laid off” or “our company lost several clients over the course of ‘X’ period, which meant a loss in revenue leading to mass layoff.”
The key to answering this question is to be as honest as possible without sounding desperate or putting down your current/former employer.
Certified Professional Career Coach | Certified Professional Resume Writer, Elevated Resumes
When you are asked to provide an explanation as to why you left your last job, the interviewer is looking for more information than just your direct answer.
They are looking to see how you handle conversations that may make you uncomfortable, they are looking to see if you will speak poorly of your last company or if you will point blame at other people. All of these things are very telling about the person who is sitting in front of them.
With this in mind, you want to make sure your answer is clear, well thought out, and shows that you are able to navigate potentially difficult situations with ease.
First, you want to come prepared. Prior to the interview, you want to identify the reason you left your last job – whether voluntarily and involuntarily.
If you voluntarily left your last job, you never want to point blame or paint the company in a bad light
If you do, the interviewer will assume that you do not take accountability for challenging situations and will likely speak poorly of their company if things were to go south.
Instead, you want to position your response in a way that highlights your ability to self reflect and learn from past experiences. Self-awareness is a rare trait these days and does not go unnoticed.
To do this, you want to reflect back on your previous job and ask yourself why you were dissatisfied. Then, you want to explain this in a very concise way that will resonate with the interviewer. For example, if you were simply bored at your last job, you could say,
My previous job was a great learning opportunity and allowed me to gain new skills very quickly. Although I appreciate the valuable experience, I am eager to now utilize those skills in a new position and take on bigger challenges and more responsibilities than I was able to in my last role.
This demonstrates your drive for growth and also highlights the amazing experience you now bring to the table.
If your departure from your last job was involuntary, the reflection and self-awareness piece is even more important
If you were terminated from your past position, you will still need to provide an explanation – saying “I was let go” is not a sufficient response.
Likely, if you were terminated, there was a lesson learned and this is what you need to focus on. For example, if you were let go for not hitting sales goals, you could say.
Unfortunately, I was unable to make the goals that were set for me in my last position. After I left that role, I thought a lot about what I could have done better.
I identified that my weakness was in the closing stage of the sales process. Once I identified the issue, I took several training courses to improve this skill. I also worked with a sales coach to enhance my skills overall and set me up for success.
Now that I know where I was going wrong and I sought out the exact training I needed, I am extremely confident that this will not be a problem going forward and I am excited to put my new skills to work.
When you answer this question, make sure you have truly thought through your response and have a reasonable and impressive explanation. Understand that the way you present your answer is just as important as the answer itself so keep the explanation concise and practice as many times as you have to!
Senior Advisor, Labtuit
To many candidates, this can seem like a nightmare question. After all, isn’t everything supposed to be positive in an interview? What if you left because you hated what you did? What if your boss left you feeling trapped and unappreciated?
We know that everyone has different reasons for leaving positions, but the best way to answer this question might be simpler than you think. First of all, it’s important to understand why interviewers ask this. They want to see where someone’s focus is: the past or the future. For example, do you dwell on any failures or gaps in your last position or do you constantly aim higher?
When crafting your answer, think about your goals before even showing up to the interview
What does the roadmap to your career look like? Be specific! What do you want out of your career more than anything? After you’re done figuring out the “what,” then ponder the “why.” Why do you want these things from your career?
Next, tell yourself why this new role more closely aligns with your “what” and “why” than your last position
For example, maybe your dream is to have creative freedom, or have no boundaries to growth. These examples exhibit positive aspects of the role you’re hoping to land.
Framing your answer around the positive and forward-thinking changes you hope to see in your career allows your answer to shine through as organic and not robotic. And when you’re both organic and forward-thinking, it’s exciting to employers.
Founder & Director, The Oculus Institute
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when answering this question. First, as with any other question, be completely honest and authentic. Secondly, be concise and don’t linger on this topic. Finally, use one of the following three frames:
If you quit, then calmly explain the reasons why you decided to quit
Focus on facts, don’t get emotional, and paint your employer in a reasonably neutral light as much as possible. You want to avoid giving the impression that you carry hatred or resentment.
If you were fired, then explain why and take credit for each and every mistake you made
Don’t try to pretend you were perfect. However, also be honest if they accused you of something that you weren’t responsible for. The key here is being honest with yourself about what you really did and didn’t mess up previously.
Sometimes, a split is mutual. If so, that’s easy. Just answer that it wasn’t a good fit and what the incompatibility was.
President and Founder, Global Healthcare Services
Be honest and concise
There are obviously a variety of reasons why you may have left your last job – you were terminated, quit, laid off, downsized, the company closed…whatever the reason, just be honest and concise.
Be factual and to the point about the reason why you are no longer with your former employer
Whether the reason was positive (I was looking for career growth and they could not offer any opportunities) or negative (I was terminated for violating a company policy), be clear about what happened and the reason for your departure – but no reason to overly explain.
Provide enough details when follow-up questions are asked
Be open and honest and explain to the point that it does not seem you are being vague or misleading. Again, no reason to go into great detail. In the end, as soon as the opportunity arises, turn the topic back to the current position you re interviewing for and why you feel this is a position that interests you and how you would be an asset to the company.