How to Smartly Answer Questions about Leaving Your Last Job

Interviewing for a new job is no easy task. Besides the jitters generally associated with telling a perfect stranger about your most outstanding abilities, you’ll also have to come up with smart answers for questions that might make you uncomfortable, to say the least. And one of those questions manages to stand out from the crowd: “So tell me, why did you leave your last job?” Regardless of whether you must explain why you left a previous position or why you’re considering leaving your current one, you need to tailor your response so that it puts you in the best possible light in front of the prospective employer. Luckily, we have some advice that might help.

First off, the key to sounding as natural and nonchalant as possible when answering this loaded question is to practice. Mock interviews are extremely useful, especially if it’s been a while since the last time you were face to face with a recruiter. You can invite a friend or family member to ask you common interview questions and give you the opportunity to rehearse your answers, so that you’ll be less nervous on the big day. Knowing how to best describe the reasons for leaving your former (or current) employer will make you look more confident, prepared, and professional.

Next, there are two possible scenarios here – you were fired, or you decided to leave on your own. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered either way.

reasons for leaving a job

Explaining why you were let go

You might think there’s nothing sharp enough you can say to explain why you were fired from your last position. Wrong. As long as you didn’t do anything illegal or immoral, there’s always a wise way to justify your former employer’s decision to cut you loose. However, make sure that you’re honest. The prospective employer can always check with your previous one; and if the reasons you two provide don’t match, that’s a definite red flag.

Also, keep this conversation as brief as possible. Whatever you do, never talk smack about the company you used to work for, no matter how tempting venting may seem. You won’t make a very good impression. Here are a few answers you could try:

  • Now that I think about it, being let go was actually a blessing in disguise. I now have the chance to explore the market for other jobs, better suited for my qualifications. Like the one you’re currently offering. Would you like to hear more about my technical skills?
  • It turned out my abilities weren’t the right match for my previous employer. Nonetheless, I do believe I would be a good fit here, mainly because I was always interested in working for your company. Unfortunately, I never got the chance to apply for a position before. Can you please tell me more about what exactly my responsibilities would be?
  • I had some personal problems that unfortunately ended up affecting my work life. Those problems no longer exist though, and I’m hoping you’ll give me the opportunity to exceed your expectations. Could you please tell me a little more about the workflow here?
  • My previous job was a good learning experience, but it didn’t quite work out. Now that I think about it, maybe I would have done some things differently. I think I’m much more experienced now, and I’d really like the chance to prove that to you. Are there are pre-employment tests do you want me to take?

As you can see, all the answers are short and redirect the conversation to the job you’re hoping to land. They show that you have no hard feelings when it comes to your old place of business and that you’re truly interested in the position you’ve applied for. If the recruiter insists on the subject, make sure you keep the conversation positive and do your best to highlight your accomplishments at your former workplace instead of pointing out your failures.

Giving a good reason for leaving

Annoyingly enough, employed individuals usually fare better in the job search. However, potential employers will always be curious about why you want to leave your current gig or what made you already quit you previous job, without the safety net provided by another job offer.

Again, saying negative things about the company you used to work for is a big no-no. So, even if you deeply hated your former job or found it completely boring, refrain from being too honest. It’s best to smile and talk about how you are currently looking to take on new challenges that just aren’t/weren’t available at the other workplace.

To sum up, the prospective employer should think that you are moving towards a better career opportunity, not that you are fleeing from a horrible one. Here are a few potential answers, to get you inspired:

  • I had a great time with the company, professionally speaking, and I got the chance to interact with some of their biggest clients and work on well-known campaigns. There’s no doubt I’ve learned a lot. However, I’m currently looking for new challenges, and this position would really help me develop my management skills even further.
  • I’ve been with the company for more than five years now, and managed to increase sales by 30-percent during the last two. Even so, the company is currently going through some management changes and I don’t believe my personal values line up with the company’s values anymore. I actually believe I would be a much better fit here.
  • I love working there, but, unfortunately, I can’t see myself growing professionally or intellectually if I keep my current job. The company isn’t offering me any other advancement opportunities, so I don’t find my position quite that challenging anymore. Additionally, I really think that I could positively contribute to your company’s growth, due to my marketing and management skills.

As you can see, the ideal answer emphasizes how much you appreciate your current/last employer, highlights your skills once again, and suggests how excited you are about the opportunity to work at the company. As long as you make it about self-improvement and avoid discussing the negative aspects of your previous gig, you should be just fine.

There you have it. Consider the sample answers above and practice your response a few times to make sure you’ll be properly prepared on the day of the interview. With a little luck, the conversation will move along quickly and you’ll get the chance to talk about more pleasant topics soon enough.

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