“Why did you leave your last job?” is one of the most common interview questions you will face in the course of your career path. Preparing for interviews is pretty challenging on its own and questions like these only make them harder, even with valid reasons.
It could be a toxic work environment, burnout or a mismatch of expectations in your current role. The acceptable reasons may vary but in principle, your answers to this question are indicative of your abilities to manage undesirable situations and may ultimately impact the pursuit of your career goals.
Regardless of what your reasons for leaving your current company may be, this is one way prospective employers can understand what you may be looking for or consider important in a job. Learning how to answer this question can help you frame your reasons for leaving your current employer or previous role in a respectful manner.
Remember, it is vital to make an exit graciously. While you may no longer work with the team, any resentment you leave behind may negatively impact the employees and influence your supervisor’s assessment of your work ethics.
These may bring about significant consequences to career opportunities you explore in the long run.
Examples of reasons for leaving your current or previous company:
- You want to switch careers.
- Your values are misaligned with the company values.
- You were let go.
- You did not get the promotion that was promised to you.
- You are stagnating in your current position.
- You want a new challenge.
- You found a better opportunity.
- You were caring for a sick family member.
- You were coping with an illness.
- You wanted more career growth opportunities.
Ultimately, you want to portray yourself in a good light during any interview. However, besides these common reasons, there are less than ideal ones for leaving. These are trickier situations to manage even if they’re legitimate reasons, and what you say is always relevant to potential or future employers. Most hiring managers are looking for these key indicators:
- Did you leave voluntarily?
- Did you leave on good terms with your team?
- Was your reason for leaving a satisfactory and rational one?
Unless you have never worked previously, this is a question that will come up time and again in job interviews. When the costs of rehiring and retraining are high, potential employers want to assess your suitability to the organisation’s mission and confirm that you are applying for the right reasons.
Instead of letting the question stymie you, learning how to frame your answer and perhaps putting a positive spin on it can position you in a new light and possibly boost your chances of getting hired.
- You want to advance your career for professional growth or development, with either more responsibilities or promotion.
Beware of portraying your previous or current role as a ‘dead-end’. Shift the focus instead onto the role you are applying for, how you’re seeking opportunities for career growth, and present new challenges as opportunities for your abilities.
- You wanted a change in your career.
Be careful not to present yourself as someone who switches between jobs on a whim. Factor in your skills and experience that would make you the best candidate for the position you’re applying for. Include how you have taken the steps necessary to prepare yourself for the role you want.
- You are looking for more flexibility and a greater work-life balance.
Feelings of burnout and fatigue due to company culture, inflexibility or overwork can quickly turn into disengagement at work. Explain how your experience with flexibility has helped you improve the productivity and quality of your work in the past. You can talk about how you value the organisation’s approach to work-life balance and its alignment with your personal values.
- You were fired or let go.
Even though this is a difficult situation, refrain from bad-mouthing your previous employer, being emotional or playing the blame game. Keep your answers honest, but short. Avoid divulging in narratives or details that can only invite more questions. Use this opportunity to show how you have learned from your past, can apply them successfully in your new role and have a career development plan in place.
What not to say when asked about reasons for leaving a job
The main thing to remember is to be honest yet discreet. It is reasonable to have less than-perfect reasons for leaving a job, but show discretion in the reasons you do divulge. While you don’t have to always give a positive reason, avoid the following statements in your interviews:
- I was asked to leave on my own.
- My boss and I do not get along well.
- I was not paid enough.
Even if your reasons for leaving are no fault of your own, statements like these may not reflect well on you. The bottom line is, always be professional in your answers, keep them short and focus on your strengths.