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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 happen 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 make sense right? You’d leave pretty quickly if the job ended up being completely different than what the company had promised.
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.
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 there, or just wanted to try something new. Those are good reason for leaving if you spent a long time within one company.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
You can share as much or as little detail as you’d like with this answer. I’d keep it simple though.
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.
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.
Now you know 20 good answers for you can give any time 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.
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.
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?”
If you skipped it, you can scroll up and check out the section about what to say if you left your last job for higher salary. It’s one of the 20 reasons above but you need to do it the right way.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 do’s 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.
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
Get our free PDF with the top 30 interview questions and answers. Join 10,000+ job seekers in our email newsletter and we'll send you the 30 must-know questions, plus our best insider tips for turning interviews into job offers.