Job Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

We all have our least favorite interview question.  You know the one. It’s the one query from a prospective employer that can make a candidate’s blood run cold.  The anticipation alone is enough to ruin many an interview before a single word is uttered.

We’re talking about the inevitable “why did you leave your last job” inquiry of course.  Unless you’re a recent college grad with zero experience, chances are you’ll be asked why you left or are interested in leaving a perfectly good paycheck behind to jump ship elsewhere.  With that in mind, we’ve put together a few helpful hints for addressing the situation and helping get over the hurdle and on towards discussing your skills and experience without a grey cloud of doubt hanging over your job-seeking head.

First Things First: Be Professional

No matter your previous employment experiences, you should always avoid badmouthing a previous employer during the interview process.  Even if your boss was horrid, the hours long and the work unfulfilling, an interviewer is going to think twice about any candidate displaying disloyalty about their former employer.  Need a better and more professional suggestion than throwing your former boss under the proverbial bus? We’ve got you covered.

Leaving a Current Position

If you’re currently employed the hiring managers in your new company are obviously going to be curious about why you’re willing to make a switch.  Thankfully there are plenty of ways to address their concerns. Instead of talking about the deficiencies of your previous position, instead, address the opportunities that you see in the current job listing.  Room for growth, additional responsibilities or a geographic preference are all examples of perfectly reasonable explanations that put a positive spin on your job search.

Laid Off From Prior Position

Reductions in staff are common occurrences across all sizes and sectors in today’s economy.  Instead of using the term laid off or let go, however, be sure to maximize the ordinariness of the action by focusing on the dismissal as a company-wide initiative if able.  Let the interviewer know your prior employer had a company-wide reduction, was going through a restructuring or otherwise terminated its part-time or recent employees. You’ll assuage any fears and will be ready to move on to talking about the substance of your application in no time.

Made a Voluntary Exit

If the reason for leaving your previous place of employment involved an “I quit” email, you may need to approach your answer with caution.  Any new employer will want to know just why you were unhappy to ensure they won’t be facing a similar situation a few months down the road. Address reasons that the job and you didn’t mesh up and why you think the current opening is different.  If possible, be sure to provide references from the previous job to show that your performance was stellar and that you left on good terms.

Fired from Prior Position

Saving the hardest topic for last, it can be hard to broach the “why did you leave” discussion after you’ve been fired or let go for cause.  It’s important to approach this category delicately and be sure to have your answer ready to go as well as be ready, willing and able to address follow up questions.  If you were fired for poor behavior, admit to that and then address what has changed in your personal or professional life that will prevent you from making the same mistakes.  If work disputes with management were at play, remember to never speak ill but do feel free to chalk it up to personal differences or a poor personality fit as to why you were asked to leave.

Whether being fired for cause, let go, or willingly exited, it’s important to remember to be professional when addressing the “why did you leave” question.  In addition to not bad mouthing a prior employer, this should also include honesty and integrity in your responses. Spill the beans, make the best of the situation to avoid drawing the conversation out and then spend the rest of your interview wooing the potential employer with your skills and experience that would make you just the right fit.

Article Updated from the Original May 14, 2018