How to Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?” (Interview Question)

If you’re unemployed while job searching it’s especially scary to hear them ask about the reason for leaving your last job. But even if you’re currently employed the interviewer might ask you about past job changes and reasons for leaving.

The whole topic is filled with potential traps, so I’m going to show you how to get past this question no matter what.

How To Answer: “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

 

Check out the short video above on how to answer “why did you leave your last job?” and then review the steps below to make sure you’re ready to go in your next interview!

Scenario 1: You willingly left your last job

If they ask why you left a job and you willingly resigned, there are still some traps to avoid.

The biggest tip I can offer is never bad-mouth your former company. It’ll immediately make the interviewer wonder if you were part of the problem. Are you just unhappy in every situation? Are you a complainer? etc.

I like to use a strategy I call ‘More Of’… It’s a way to turn would-be complaints into positives. You do this by saying you changed jobs to get more of something (instead of what was lacking).

Basic example: Instead of saying you left your last job because the work was repetitive, you could say that you learned a lot of valuable things in that role but felt ready for a position with a variety of tasks and broader responsibilities.

Here’s a specific line I like to use as a part of this strategy: “I felt ready for ____”

You can see I used it above.

It’ll make pretty much anything sound positive, and will help you seem motivated and driven! Both great things in the interview room!

You won’t be the only one doing this though… word has gotten around.

So a great way to put your answer over the top is to pick something that you know is relevant to the company you’re talking to.

The only way to know this is to prepare ahead of time by looking over the job description. Which is why I always mention that as one of my favorite job interview tips when preparing.

So… let’s say that they ask why you left your last job. Imagine you glanced at the job description the night before and saw that it says you’ll have to be self-directed and work without close guidance.

You could say that you left your last position because you had learned a lot, but felt a bit too closely micro-managed and wanted an opportunity that’d provide more of a chance to self-manage and make crucial decisions.

That’s going to be extremely impressive and relevant to the hiring manager! This type of answer not only explains why you left your last job, but also makes you sound very attractive to hire.

Scenario 2: You were fired or laid off from your last job

Okay, so we covered what to do if you left on your own terms. But what if you were fired and they ask why did you leave your last job?

If you were laid off for something totally unrelated to your performance it’s a lot easier so I’m not going to focus too much on that. Just tell the story 100% accurately and without hesitation (more on hesitation in a minute!)

Examples:

“We ran out of funding and my group was laid off”

“We went through a downsizing and my position was eliminated”

Now let’s move onto the tough stuff.. Here are the steps I recommend if you were fired:

1. Be up-front and take responsibility

2. Show that you’ve learned/changed so it won’t happen again

3. Practice your answer so you do not hesitate. Delivery is key!

Here’s the deal- hiring managers have done a lot of interviews and have a pretty good gut feeling on topics like this. Lying probably won’t work and neither will trying to throw blame around or badmouth your former company.

One reason that blaming others is a bad idea: If you tell your side of the story in a disagreement, the hiring manager will immediately want to know the other side of the story. They wont completely trust your version without the other side, it’s human nature.

Also they’ll instantly think: “okay, if we hire this person and there’s a disagreement here, is he/she just going to blame others again?”

So what should you do instead when they ask why did you leave your last job?

Step one is to be up-front and own up to it. Take responsibility for what happened. Be accountable. This is a trait that hiring managers love to see so you’re helping yourself by doing this.

Next, show that you’ve clearly identified why it happened from your end, and talk about the changes you’ve made to ensure it doesn’t occur again.

You should sound responsible and accept the failure, and talk about what you could have done differently, BUT don’t be apologetic and hang your head either. This is important…

You should sound humble, but not defeated or ashamed. Your mentality should be that you learned a ton from it, you’re confident in your abilities and excited to get a chance to do things again the right way.

You want to seem like you cannot wait to get back in the game and contribute to a great team! That’s very different than being apologetic or tentative.

And then finally, practice this at home a few times! The delivery is the most important piece of this. If you freeze up or hesitate in this question, you’ll seem like you’re hiding something. Even if you’re not.

It’s worth taking the time to practice and get your story straight!

Then when they ask why you left your last job you’ll be ready to jump into your answer confidently.

Remember, if you lie or tell an incomplete story and get caught, it will bring into question all of the other answers you give in the interview (past and future).

Don’t risk your credibility. The question of “why did you leave your last job?” is a chance to demonstrate strong character, not bring up concerns about it. You can do this if you follow the steps above.

Got any questions about answering the question of why you left your previous job? Leave a comment below and I’ll respond ASAP. 

And if you want 7 more questions and answers in similar format, check out this page.

Leave a Comment:

4 comments
Sara G says March 20, 2016

This is great, Biron. Thanks. But what about when youre still employed and they ask why are you willing to leave your current job. Is it any different or should I just follow the steps in Scenario #1 and tell them I’m willing to leave if I find more of ____ (I’ll pick something important to my career… like a next step up for me).

Reply
    Biron Clark says March 21, 2016

    Hey Sara-

    Yes, that is exactly what I’d do. Tell them you’re not unhappy in your current situation but you’re eager to find an opportunity with ____, and you feel you’re ready for the next move in your career once you find the right opportunity.

    That type of message is very attractive to companies. You’re not desperate, you’re not unhappy… you’re simply looking for the best opportunity possible and you’re motivated to find it.

    If you do this when they ask why you’re looking to leave your current job, you’ll attract some great companies most likely.

    Reply
Jerry says April 28, 2016

I think on some job applications they ask if you were ever terminated or discharged and give the details. How do you deal with that? Some situations are hard to explain on paper and I personally feel that employers will place your resume to the side if you say you were terminated. I don’t like that question on applications.

Reply
    Biron Clark says April 28, 2016

    Hey Jerry,

    Yea, that’s tough to answer on applications. I’d tell the truth and then try to get an opportunity to explain in-person. I know some companies might judge you harshly up-front but I wouldn’t want to work for those companies anyway.

    In fact when I’m job hunting I try to avoid companies with a complicated application process and tons of questions on an application form. If they’re asking me my 10 year work history, salary requirements, and a bunch more before they even talk to me, it’s a big sign they’re not going to be a great company to work for anyway.

    So, I’d tell the truth. Try to find companies that have a more straight-forward application process (I know this is tough if you’re applying to large corporations), and then try to follow up and get a conversation going, or explain everything in the cover letter!

    Reply
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