One of the most common interview questions you’ll face: “Why did you leave your last job?” Maybe you left under odd circumstances and don’t want to share the whole truth. But you’re not sure what to say instead. Or maybe you think you’ve got a pretty solid reason for why you left your last job, but you want to make sure. Either way, this list has you covered.
I’m going to share 20 safe, proven answers you can give when the interviewer asks “why did you leave your last job?”
Why Employers Ask This Question
When employers ask why you left your last job, they’re asking a legitimate question that helps them determine whether you’re a good fit for their open role. They want to ensure that hiring you won’t waste their time and efforts. Hiring managers seek to learn three things when they ask this question:
First, they want to understand whether the reason you left could apply to their organization. For instance, if you left because you didn’t feel challenged, there’s a chance the same feeling may crop up again in the new role.
Second, the hiring manager wants to know whether your prior employer fired you. If you were fired, be prepared to answer why, as this can be a red flag to recruiters.
Finally, they want to understand what keeps you interested in a role. For instance, if you left because your last job didn’t allow you to showcase your creative skills, the company’s open role as a marketer may be what you’re looking for.
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Watch: How to Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
How to Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
While talking about your last position may feel uncomfortable, expect it to come up in an interview. Recruiters want to understand their candidates as much as possible before hiring them.
Be clear and concise
Before your interview, list the reasons you left your last job. For example, you might have felt that the role didn’t give you upward mobility or didn’t allow you a chance to use your skills. Make sure your answer is clear and concise. There’s no need to be overly specific.
You should be very careful not to speak about your previous management team in a negative light. Speaking adversely about your employer can get back to them, and it reflects poorly on you. If you left your employer under unfavorable circumstances, find a way to put a positive spin on it.
Finally, keep your answer brief and honest. Recruiters interview many people and can usually spot when someone isn’t being truthful. To avoid future negative ramifications, be on the safe side and keep your answer tactful but candid.
20 Best Answers to “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
Here are 20 safe, acceptable answers for why you left a past job. If you give one of these reasons, the interviewer is likely to be satisfied and quickly move on to the next question. After the list, make sure you keep reading because there are 5 big mistakes to avoid when answering this question.
1. “I had been with the organization for several years and wanted to experience a new environment to continue growing.”
Most people who advance far in their careers have worked in a variety of companies. Large, small, public, private, etc. No hiring manager will fault you for wanting to have well-rounded experience and gain a new perspective in your career.
2. “I was offered a promotion at another company.”
Your past employers can’t always offer the ideal next step for your career when you’re ready. Leaving to advance your career is a common reason and this won’t be the first time the interviewer has heard it. So if another company offered a promotion, just say so.
3. “I left for an opportunity to advance my career.”
Maybe you didn’t receive a promotion in terms of job title, but you saw a better path forward at another company. Or you joined a new company for an opportunity to build a new skill that was important to you. It’s fine to change jobs if you feel it will help you advance in the future even if it’s not an immediate promotion. So you should be fine using this as your answer.
4. “I was offered a significant pay increase.”
We all go to work for money. Companies get it. I’d try to combine this with another reason though, so that you don’t sound too focused on money. So you could say something like this: “I was offered a significant pay increase, and was also excited about a couple of product launches that this new company was working on, so it seemed like a great opportunity to take.”
5. “I left to work on a product I was very passionate about.”
Sometimes an amazing opportunity comes up that matches perfectly with your interests. Nobody will blame you for leaving to pursue something like this. It’s a perfectly good reason for why you left your last job. In fact, it’s a good reason even if you “job hopped” and left very soon after being hired. While job hopping never looks great, this is one of the reasons that an interviewer will understand.
6. “A former boss or colleague recruited me to join their company.”
Maybe you had a great boss who left to start a company. She called you a year later and said they could really use a great salesperson like you to round out the team, so you went over and joined her. That’s a great reason for why you left your job. It’s pretty common in some industries, and it shows that your former boss thought very highly of you.
7. “My department brought in a new manager and I felt it was the right time to leave.”
Things change. A job you used to love could turn not-so-good, and one of the most common reasons is a new director or manager is brought in to replace your old boss. Sometimes it’s just not the right fit, so you decided to leave. If you use this answer, don’t badmouth the new management, just say that things changed and you didn’t feel as excited about the job under new management, so you decided to look elsewhere for the next step in your career.
8. “I was hired for a certain role, but over time that changed and I was no longer being given the opportunity to do the work I was interested in.”
Jobs change. Or sometimes you’re hired for a job and what they ask you to do ends up being nothing like the job description (unfortunately this happens a lot). This is a fine reason for why you left your last job. This is a very convincing and acceptable answer, even if you left the position very soon after being hired. It makes sense right? You’d leave pretty quickly if the job ended up being completely different than what the company had promised.
9. “I was no longer finding the work fulfilling or enjoying my work as much.”
If you stayed a few years but left because you didn’t find the work meaningful or enjoyable, that’s fine. Just make sure to show this new company that they’re different, or that they offer something you do enjoy. If they think you’ll find their work boring too, they’re not going to hire you.
10. “I had been with this company for many years and learned a lot, but felt ready for a change.”
If you had been at your last job for a few years or more, there’s nothing wrong with just saying you felt ready to move on. Maybe you learned almost everything you could, or just wanted to try something new next. Those are good reasons for leaving if you’ve spent a long time with one company.
11. “I reevaluated my career goals and decided a change was needed.”
Goals and objectives change. And if your company doesn’t offer something that fits with your new goals, it’s fine to leave. There’s nothing wrong with this answer for why you left your last job. Just make sure to show the interviewer that you know what you want in your career now. And show them how their job fits into your goals. If not, they’ll be worried that you might change your mind after they hire you.
12. “I went back to school to pursue a Master’s Degree (or Ph.D., etc.)”
This happens all the time. It’s very common and you shouldn’t feel any anxiety about giving an answer like this for why you left your last job.
13. “I didn’t feel there was an opportunity to grow or advance further in that role so I decided a change would be best for my career.”
If your company was holding you back, or if you were stuck under a “glass ceiling”, this is a nice way to say it in the interview without sounding too negative.
14. “I wanted to take on new responsibilities that this role and company couldn’t offer.”
You mastered the basics of the job and wanted to lead people, projects, etc. And the company couldn’t offer it, so you had to make a change. Totally fine. The interviewer will understand. And you’ll sound ambitious and motivated which is great.
15. “I didn’t feel the job was using my abilities to the fullest or challenging me enough.”
If you’re bored or not being challenged, it’s hard to stay motivated and focused on your career and your work. So there’s no problem with giving this as your reason for leaving your last job. Just make sure you don’t sound spoiled or negative or ungrateful when you say this. Don’t make it sound like the job wasn’t worthy of you, or anything like that. Just explain that you felt you were capable of more and wanted a greater challenge. Or mention a specific skill of yours that wasn’t being utilized. Maybe you’re a great salesperson but they had you doing customer service. You’d sound great mentioning this if you were interviewing for a sales job, because it shows you really want to do sales.
16. “I resigned from my last job to take care of a family issue. The issue is resolved so I can work full-time again without issues.”
You don’t have to go into a ton of detail. Just keep it simple. Make sure you tell them that the issue is resolved though, so they don’t worry whether you’ll have to resign again. If you do want to share a bit more information, that’s fine. As a recruiter, I’ve talked to a few job seekers who had to take time off to care for an elderly parent or relative. So that’s one common story I hear, and it’s completely normal.
17. “I took a position with a company that was closer to my home.”
Just like salary (mentioned earlier), I’d recommend you combine this with another reason. Here’s an example: “I took a position with a company that was closer to my home that also offered an opportunity to lead a couple of big projects right away.”
18. “I left my last job to take time to start a family.”
You can share as much or as little detail as you’d like with this answer. I’d keep it simple though.
19. “My position was eliminated and I was laid off.”
Layoffs happen. This is one area you want to be specific in your answer though and share details. Were you laid off due to financial struggles? Did your job get outsourced overseas? Did the entire department shut down? Did the company go out of business? etc.
20. “I was fired.”
If you were fired, I recommend you tell the truth and come clean. It’s not worth lying and getting caught later when they check references. Even if you get hired, if they ever find out you lied, it’s grounds for termination. Make sure you NEVER badmouth your former employer though, and try to take responsibility for what happened. Show the interviewer what you learned and what steps you’ve taken to ensure this never happens again.
Tips and Mistakes to Avoid When Answering Why You Left a Job:
Now you know 20 good answers that you can give when the interviewer asks, “why did you leave your last job?” However, there are a couple of more tips you should know, and mistakes to avoid when answering. So here are my top tips and mistakes when you explain your reasons for leaving a job in the past. If you follow these rules, you’ll avoid most of the things interviewers hate to hear in response to this type of question.
1. Never badmouth, especially if you were fired.
I mentioned this above but it’s worth saying again. Take responsibility, and don’t sound bitter or angry about the past. As soon as you badmouth, the interviewer will start to wonder what your employer would say. They’ll want the other side of the story. If you take responsibility and sound like you accept what happened, you’ll avoid all that.
2. Don’t say you had a fight with a coworker, and definitely don’t try to then blame them for it.
It’s okay if you were fired or had a professional disagreement. But if you say you couldn’t get along with somebody on a personal level… all the hiring manager will be thinking is, “how do I know this isn’t just going to happen again if I hire you for my team?”
3. Don’t make it sound like money is the only thing you care about.
If you skipped it, you can scroll up and check out the section about what to say if you left your last job for a higher salary. It’s one of the 20 reasons above but you need to do it the right way.
4. Don’t sound impulsive or scattered in terms of what you want in your career.
You need to show the interviewer that you’re focused and ready to come in and help them if they hire you! Regardless of what happened in the past. You can’t seem unsure of what you want, or undecided even if you pivoted your career recently.
5. Don’t be vague.
Especially if you were fired or laid off, try to be as clear and direct in your answer as possible. Don’t use vague words like “I was let go.” This will make the interviewer suspicious and open up a ton of possible follow-up questions. Say the words you mean (“I was fired”). You’ll get through it much faster… while building trust instead of suspicion.
6. Always be upfront and take responsibility.
Answering “why did you leave your last job?” when you were fired or had trouble getting along with your boss can be tough. And you don’t need to say, “everything was my fault,” but the interviewer also doesn’t want to hear, “nothing was my fault.” It’s about finding a balance and showing you’re responsible for your actions and you try to learn from experiences like this. If you seem stubborn or unwilling to learn from the past, you’ll struggle to get a job.
7. Don’t rush to bring it up if they don’t ask.
Don’t feel pressure to explain why you left previous jobs unless you’re asked. If it fits naturally into the conversation, that’s fine. But don’t walk into the interview and feel like you need to explain everything immediately. If they care, they’ll ask. One way you can naturally work this into the conversation is by explaining the key career moves you’ve made when answering “tell me about yourself.” Since this is one of the first interview questions employers typically ask, it’s an opportunity to not only walk them through some accomplishments and professional achievements, but also the big career moves you’ve made and the reasons for those moves. But if you aren’t comfortable doing that, or the employer doesn’t ask you that question, it’s best to just wait for them to ask why you left your last job.
8. Practice your answer so you do not hesitate. Delivery is key!
After you have a reason for why you left your last job that you’re comfortable sharing in an interview, make sure to practice a few times. I’d recommend recording yourself talking on your smartphone voice recorder app (every modern phone has one). You don’t have to memorize your interview answer word-for-word. Just make sure you sound confident and relaxed and are hitting the key points that you want to mention as you explain why you left your previous job. Those are the dos and don’ts of answering “why did you leave your last job?” in any interview.
Pick one of the acceptable answers above for why you left your last job, avoid the mistakes we just covered, and you’re going to impress the interviewer and quickly and easily move on to the next question in your interview.