The question of “why did you leave your last job?” is a common interview question, and can be challenging to provide a satisfactory answer, particularly if your past experiences were not ideal.
Many candidates worry about saying the wrong thing and potentially jeopardizing their chances of being hired.
If you mention leaving for a promotion, will the interviewer view you as greedy or egotistical?
If you discuss issues with a previous boss, will the hiring manager assume that you are challenging to work with? And what if you were fired?
Regardless, everyone needs to be ready to answer questions about past employment during an interview, particularly if you are not a first-time job seeker.
The “why did you leave your last job?” question may come in various forms. Here are three of the most common:
“Why are you seeking a new job now?” This inquiry is typical if you are currently employed but seeking a new opportunity.
“Why did you leave your most recent job?” Since your most recent employment experience is generally the most relevant, it makes sense for interviewers to ask about it.
“Why did you leave job X?” The interviewer may inquire about an earlier job departure, particularly if your tenure there was brief.
Therefore, examine your resume thoroughly and prepare for all variations of the question that may arise.
Why are they Asking these Questions?
To truly prepare for an interview, it’s crucial to understand why the question “Why did you leave your last job?” holds such weight.
In the limited time of an interview, a seasoned hiring manager or HR professional won’t waste a single moment on insignificant matters.
There are three major reasons why hiring managers need to grasp the reasons for your departure from your previous job:
Firstly, it allows them to assess your motives for leaving:
Changing jobs is a common practice, but it’s crucial to understand how and why you made the decision.
Did you leave impulsively or for a sensible reason? What do your reasons say about your values?
The hiring manager isn’t just interested in what occurred, but also in gaining insight into your personality and professional mindset.
Secondly, it enables them to determine whether you left by choice or were asked to leave:
If you were let go, the hiring manager or interviewer needs to understand whether your departure was linked to your performance or integrity.
They’re also seeking to understand your attitude. Will you accept responsibility for your part in what occurred, or will you place all the blame on your former employer?
Lastly, it helps to determine if you left on good terms:
Your ability to establish and maintain relationships demonstrates your diplomatic intelligence.
So, if your former boss is a big advocate and a prominent reference, it automatically enhances your chances of being selected for the job.
What Does it Look Like in Real Life?
Every job exit is a unique experience, with its own set of challenges and complexities. While some departures may be relatively straightforward, others can be particularly tricky to navigate.
In an effort to provide some guidance, here are several scenarios arranged in order from the most ideal and straightforward to the most complicated.
Ideal scenario: Looking for a job while still employed
In an ideal world, searching for a new job while still employed is the optimal scenario.
It’s paradoxical, but having a job already can make you a more attractive candidate to potential employers.
Your current employer’s desire to keep you on staff is a strong endorsement of your abilities and work ethic. Additionally, being employed gives you the luxury of time and a stable paycheck, allowing you to negotiate for the best possible offer.
However, it’s essential to handle the question of why you’re seeking a new job with care. Responding in the wrong way could harm your chances.
Are you being greedy by looking for more money?
Are you unable to cope with the demands of your current job?
Here are some suggestions for responding to the question positively:
“I’ve gained a lot of valuable skills in my current role, such as communication and conflict resolution. I’m eager to build on these skills in my next position and take on more leadership responsibilities.“
“I’m committed to balancing my work and personal obligations. I’m looking for a company that values my dedication to my work and allows me to optimize my productivity.“
“I love my job and my boss, but the company’s structure is preventing me from taking on new challenges and expanding my skills.“
If you’re looking for a higher salary, it’s a valid reason, but you must be cautious. Here’s one way to frame it:
“I’m motivated by a variety of factors, including client satisfaction, recognition from my boss, and fair compensation. I believe that my salary reflects the value that I bring to the company and its clients. I’m excited about the opportunity to continue delivering excellent work and achieving my goals.“
Slightly more complicated: You left your last job
Leaving a job without a new opportunity waiting can be a challenging situation to navigate.
On one hand, it shows that you’re willing to take risks and prioritize your professional growth. On the other hand, it can leave you without a steady paycheck or the implicit validation of being employed.
If you find yourself in this position, it’s important to be clear about your reasons for leaving.
For example, you might say:
“I had a fantastic experience working at Company X, where I developed my skills in client service, technical accounting, and process improvement. I loved working with my co-workers and managers, especially Mike, who was a great mentor to me. However, I decided to leave because I wanted to explore new opportunities outside of the consulting world and focus on driving process improvement from within a company. Unfortunately, those opportunities weren’t available at Company X, so I made the difficult decision to move on. I also wanted to be upfront about my departure, especially as busy season was approaching. It wouldn’t have been fair to my team to wait until I found a new opportunity to leave, so I chose to depart before that became an issue.“
When discussing your career goals, be sure to highlight what you’ve accomplished in your previous role and how it’s prepared you for your next step.
If you’ve been out of work for a period of time, it’s important to be able to speak to how you’ve used that time productively, whether through networking, volunteering, or pursuing professional development opportunities.
Tricky: You were laid off
There are various reasons why someone might be laid off.
Some of the common causes include economic downturns, downsizing, loss of key clients or contracts, company restructuring, mergers or acquisitions, and so on.
It’s important to note that none of these reasons necessarily reflect poorly on your performance or worth as a professional, and hiring managers typically understand this.
They may even empathize with your situation, especially if they’ve had to let go of valuable team members themselves.
When discussing your layoff with potential employers, your approach should be to clearly explain the reason for your departure.
Highlight your achievements and contributions to the company, but avoid saying anything that might come across as vengeful, unprofessional, dishonest, or unmotivated.
Here’s an example of how you might approach the topic:
“Unfortunately, my position was eliminated as part of a cost-cutting measure during an economic downturn. While it was a difficult situation, I’m proud of the work I accomplished during my time at the company, including [insert specific achievements here]. I’m now excited to explore new opportunities and apply my skills and experience to a new role.“
It’s complicated: You were fired
Losing a job and how to say you were fired can be a challenging experience, but it is not the end of the world.
It could be due to a misunderstanding between you and your supervisor or simply not being the right fit for the job, team, or boss.
It’s essential to acknowledge any extenuating circumstances while also taking responsibility for your part in what happened.
When discussing your firing, it’s important to highlight the positives that came from the situation. Did it help you identify areas where you can improve, discover your core strengths, or learn valuable lessons?
For instance, you could say, “I now realize that I thrive in a more collaborative work environment, and the position I was let go from wasn’t the right fit for me. However, it gave me the opportunity to evaluate my career goals and work towards building a career that aligns with my strengths and values.“
Remember that getting fired is not a death sentence. It’s an opportunity to reassess your career path and move forward with more clarity and purpose.
The key is to focus on the lessons learned, the skills gained, and the positives that came out of the experience. By doing so, you can turn a negative situation into a valuable learning opportunity and find a job that is the right fit for you.
Your Prep Strategy: Get Clear, Factual, and Brief
Notice the common thread among these responses – they all necessitate preparation. To ensure you provide an optimal answer to the question “Why did you leave your previous job?” follow these three essential steps.”
Step 1: Be clear on your version of the events
Reflect on the past and be truthful with yourself. Ask yourself, what led you to leave your previous job? Why were you affected by the layoffs when others on your team were not?
If you were fired, what were the reasons behind it? Your initial responses may be raw and unpolished, but they hold the truth that you need to acknowledge.
After that, it’s important to contemplate the lessons you’ve learned about yourself.
What values are most important to you in a job? What are the requirements for your next job? What did you enjoy the most about your previous job, and what were the things you dreaded? How would you describe your interactions with your colleagues and supervisor, and what changes would you like to see in your next job?
Step 2: It’s time to frame your answer
The next part is critical: Refrain from speaking negatively about your previous employer or supervisor.
Although you might have felt undercompensated, overburdened, or deprived of equitable prospects, it’s imperative to adhere to the truth and strive to present your reasons positively.
Each circumstance has its ups and downs, and every professional is responsible for their outcomes. Acknowledge your role, cast it in a favorable manner, and redirect the discussion towards your worth.
Step 3: Keep your answers short
Sharing too much during a job interview can sometimes backfire and leave candidates in a difficult position.
It’s important to remember that honesty and transparency are key, but oversharing can be detrimental to the outcome.
So, it’s best to keep your answers brief, pause and wait for the interviewer’s follow-up question. If necessary, you can always provide more information later, but once something has been said, it cannot be unsaid.
Therefore, it’s crucial to frame your responses with gratitude for the experiences you’ve gained so far and enthusiasm for what’s ahead. By doing this, you will showcase your true value to your potential employer, and they will appreciate your willingness to focus on the future.
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