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How to explain why you left your last job

One of the questions that is usually asked during a job interview is “why are you quitting your job?” or “why did you quit your job?” if you have already quit.  Interviewers like to ask this question because it reveals a lot about you, such as:  Did you leave this position voluntarily, or were you laid off or fired?


Variations on this include:


Why are you looking for a new position?

This is for employed candidates considering a change.  



Why did you leave your most recent position?

This is for candidates who are not currently employed but hold past experience.  You may have quit your last position or been made redundant.  Or maybe you are a new graduate.



Why did you leave position x?

Interviewers will be interviewers will be interested in your current or most recent position.  You should be prepared to discuss all of your previous job transitions, especially if you left after a short tenure or you have a resume gap.



Why do interviewers ask this?


Did you leave for a good reason?  If you left on a whim or for an odd reason, the interviewer will wonder if they can trust you to be responsible, loyal and reasonable.


Did you leave on good terms?  If you state that you are still in touch with your manager, or use them as one of your references, that will go a long way in demonstrating that you were a good employee.


Did you leave voluntarily?  If you were let go, your interviewer will want to try and determine if it was because of your performance or integrity issues.


How to handle the most common questions


Why are you looking for a new position?


You’ll usually fare better in the job search if you already have a job.  Your potential employers will want to know why you’re thinking about bailing on your current job.


There are many positive reasons to leave a position some of which, should and shouldn’t be discussed.


Your interviewer wants to feel like their company is wooing you away from your current employer.  The ideal answer from their perspective is – you are only thinking about leaving because this new opportunity is awesome.


Maybe you are content in your current role, but could not resist this interview as it is your dream job.


You should avoid laying this on too thick and seeming insincere.   You should highlight the positive reasons for considering a new position and if possible avoid talking about negative ones.




I have been working at my company for three years now and I have learned a lot from working with sales people.  I have worked my way up to Regional Sales Manager and my region has beat out sales projections by at least 30% each quarter since.  I am starting to feel like I need new challenges.  This position appeals to me as it would allow me to manage a bigger team and sell more products.


Why did you leave your most recent position?


If you are not currently employed, your answer to this question is even more important.  Many employers make assumptions about unemployed candidates.


If you have been between jobs for a long period of time, you should be prepared to describe the proactive skills that you have been taking to improve your skills, training, volunteer work and projects.


The subject of why you’re leaving is abit trickier in this case because you don’t have the luxury of keeping your answer 100% positive. 


If you left and didn’t leave for another opportunity, there was obviously an issue of some kind.


Maybe it was your issue or the company’s.  Either way, you must be able to explain why it was a reasonable separation and why you are still a fantastic candidate.


Laid off


If you were laid off for reasons unrelated to performance, make that clear and be sure to emphasize your accomplishments.


Most interviewers won’t judge you negatively for being downsized especially if you weren’t the only one affected.  Your interviewer will be on the lookout for any information that makes you look dishonest, unprofessional or unmotivated.




The company’s biggest client went out of business at the beginning of the year which in turn had a major effect on revenues.


They had to eliminate some positions and I was among the 5 most recently hired in our department.  I am proud of the work that I did there, and my former manager is one of my strongest references.





If you were fired for performance reasons, you should mention extenuating circumstances, avoid putting all the blame onto others.  If the job requirements/expectations changed after you were hired, make that clear. 


If you were fired for any other reason, make a point of highlighting the lessons learned from the experience.  This helps assure the interviewer that this was an isolated incident.





After management changed, it became clear that the new department director had new expectations for the role that didn’t match with my strengths.  She decided to bring in someone from her previous organization who held more sales experience.  The experience taught me that my real talent is held in customer services and I know I would be a major asset in a role such as this, which focuses on improving customer experience.  Would you like me to tell you more about my experience in that?


Why did you leave position x?


Your interviewer is going to be interested in all of the career transitions on your CV.  Again, the reasons for leaving a job can say a lot about you and your fit for the new position.  Be prepared to address your reason for leaving each position.


If you left a job voluntarily, you should emphasize the positive reasons that prompted you to leave – seeking new challenges, new experiences, new responsibilities.


For positions that you held in the past, you can provide fewer details.  The interviewer will always be interested in your most recent work history. 


You should always be prepared to talk about any positions listed on your CV (especially those that were held for less than a year).






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