Along with the questions about your previous experience and accomplishments, an interviewer might ask why you left your last job (or why you'd like to leave your current job). Whether you were laid off, bored, or looking for your next big challenge, the key is to be direct, polite and to focus on the future instead of the past.
One of the most important things to keep in mind is to avoid badmouthing your previous or current employer. Your boss might act like Michael Scott or you might feel overworked and underpaid—just don't tell them that. Instead, say something like, "I did not feel I could be most productive in the culture at my previous company. I felt there were limited opportunities for growth." By answering that the culture was not a good fit for your work style or you are seeking new opportunities for growth, you will show the interviewer you are actively seeking a role that is more suited for you, rather than bitterly or angrily leaving your job.
It might sound odd to cover up the truth and I’m not saying you should lie, just be diplomatic in your response. Telling the interviewer that your boss "is a micro-manager who nit-picks every detail of my projects" could make the interviewer question if your previous manager does that unnecessarily, or if he has to pay close attention to you because you make a lot of mistakes. Then that raises questions about how well you will perform in the role that's open in their company and whether you will leave their company if you become busy. You don't want questions about you like these in the head of the interviewer—especially as they compare you to other candidates.
To give you a few examples of how to answer this question, here are potential and very acceptable responses, whether you were laid off, fired or are leaving on your own.
- The company was cutting back on expenses, and unfortunately, my job was one of the 600 cut.
- I was laid off along with my entire department due to company restructuring.
- The company hired a new manager who "updated" my team, cutting out current employees to bring on members of her old team. I understand that was her right, and it has enabled me to open myself to new and better opportunities.
- Looking back, I realize that I made some bad choices and should have done things differently. I've taken this as learning experience so I can avoid those mistakes in the future. I hope I can have the opportunity to prove this to you.
- My talents and competencies were not a good fit with the needs of my previous company, but they seem like a perfect match for the role you have open. Would you like to hear more about my experience in graphic design?
- I was dealing with a number of personal problems that led me to disconnect from work, and ultimately led to my departure. I had the time to take care of these issues and am back, focused and ready to exceed your expectations.
- I'm looking for opportunities with more responsibility and potential for advancement, where I can challenge myself and use my production skills in a different capacity.
- I left my previous job when my spouse was transferred and am looking for an opportunity in our new area.
- The hour and a half commute I was making each day at my previous employer was wearing me down. I would prefer to work closer to home.
- Honestly, I wasn't planning to leave, but I came across this opportunity which seems like an exciting challenge that exactly matches my skill set.
Have you been asked this question before? How have you answered it in an interview? Share your stories in the comments!