How to answer: ‘Why did you leave your last job?’

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You’re currently employed and get a paycheck every other week. It’s a sure and steady income. Why, then, are you searching for a new job?

During an interview, a hiring manager is undoubtedly thinking this and almost certainly will ask about it. A “bad” answer can kill your chances at getting the job offer. A “good” answer can position you for success.

So how do you answer that question? You want to be authentic and diplomatic, steering clear of potential pitfalls, while still providing a genuine response that resonates for both you and the hiring manager.

Here are some ideas for how to do it.

1. Always praise your current employer. Before anything else, start by offering a little praise for your current employer just to show you’re not upset or jaded and to frame the answer positively. Try saying something like, “My current employer has given me some great opportunities and I’m sorry to leave. But I’m really excited about the future.” This statement isn’t overly flattering, and it lands right back at the here and now – your enthusiasm for what’s next. Hiring managers like to hear this, because it demonstrates your loyalty and respect for the company, even though they obviously know you’re not happy there. They see that you’re able to “play the game,” keep emotions out of it and protect the image of the company even if and when things don’t work out. Hiring managers view negative talk regarding your current employer as gossip. If you’re badmouthing your company, the hiring manager thinks you could easily turn around and do the same to his company in the future.

2. Avoid mentioning people. There are surveys that say the No.1 reason people leave a job is because of problems with other people at that job. Hiring managers know that, but they don’t want to hear it. Discussions regarding difficulties with people will lead the hiring manager to wonder what your role was in the conflict — and then you’re in the danger zone. The same holds true if a hiring manager asks you a question like, “What is one thing you don’t like about your current or last job?” Good answers revolve around things like outdated policies, inefficient processes, slow technology, etc. Great answers also focus on what you did to try to improve the situation.

3. It is about what you’re moving toward. Remember that the past was yesterday. The future is why you’re in that interview. Keep your discussion centered on the fact that you’re moving toward something new and exciting, not away from where you are. This might require a subtle shift in language, but the impact is enormous. For example, instead of saying, “There is little room for growth where I am,” try saying, “The opportunities for growth here seem unlimited.”

4. Always make it about self-improvement. Hiring managers love to know job candidates are interested in bettering themselves. It’s a trait that indicates you will be a long-term hire and, with the right support, you could be someone who grows with the company. It’s always a good idea to make your career move about your desire for self-improvement, whether you’re seeking career advancement opportunities or the chance to grow a new set of skills. Sure, there are times when you just need a change of pace. That’s human nature. But saying that’s the sole reason for your move suggests you might be easily bored or unable to create the experience that serves you best in the workplace.

The hiring manager wants to know that you’ll be capable of productively working through those kinds of “typical” challenges (like boredom and the feeling of being in a rut). Always let the hiring manager know that you did everything in your power to make it work with your current employer. You sought out new challenges, advanced as far as you can, etc. You don’t want to be perceived as someone who is ready to jump ship when things don’t immediately go your way. But there are certain things outside of your control, and those are the ones that keep you from staying where you are.

It’s almost guaranteed that your reason for leaving will be a topic in any job interview. Plan your response and practice it aloud a few times so you’re prepared. The conversation will move on quickly and you’ll be able to focus on other, more compelling topics.

  1. Great article.  Definitely something I can use and is just what I was looking for.  I needed a little perspective on both ends.  Thanks.

  2. Because I moved from Kansas to Idaho to better my husband’s career, leaving me looking for a part time job, most likely below my abilities and background, but I no longer need the large income based on my husband’s salary.

  3. Wish I never had to leave my Last Employment. Hubby’s job was ending and I loved it where I worked so many Friends. :0)

  4. Due to job-related stress, I resigned from my job after only 3 months.  What is a good explanation to give a future employer?  I don’t want to use medical reasons since they may fear that I may be a health risk.  Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.  Thanks.

  5. I was just fired from a job that provided the greatest opportunity to do something new and exciting. However, the company was and is in deep trouble financially, and the owner was chewing everyone out on a weekly, sometimes daily basis to produce more. I knew that three of us were going to be fired, as my boss let us know to be more productive, and she covered for us as much as possible when not meeting our quotas. I don’t even know how to answer when asked why I was fired. My former employer has negative write ups with BBB as well as other negative reporting websites. So, on a daily basis, I’m hearing how my company isn’t good to work for on the recruiting side, because they don’t pay their techs and expect them to do a lot of extra that wasn’t in the scope of work for the same pay. On the owner side, I’m getting reamed for not recruiting. It was a challenge to find someone to work for us. I’m not cut throat enough. I guess what I’m saying is how do I explain my last employment? The company is in deep financial trouble and had to let some of us go? I was fired! I was doing my job and I know it, but…I was still the last of three to get fired!

  6. I have never understood this question because, as you mention, hiring managers should be bright enough to know that if someone is looking for a new job they are dissatisfied with their current or previous job. As a hiring manager, I never asked this question because I had no idea what the actual intent was… now I know and I fully understand. Thank you so much for clearing this up for so many of us!! Brilliant information!

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