INTERVIEWS / DEC. 17, 2013
version 7, draft 7

How to Answer: Why did You Leave Your Last Job?

If you’ve never been asked ‘why did you leave your last job’ or some variation of that question then you can’t have had many job interviews. It is one of those questions which makes you want to hide under the desk but nevertheless, it is one that is commonplace in the interview room these days. This question is not a mind game though, and with a little preparation you can breeze through it with no problems.

Why is this question asked?

Well although this question may make you cringe, thankfully it is not there to trick you. Think about it logically, there is a good reason to ask this question. Any potential employer would be interested in your reasons for leaving your old job or wanting to leave your current job. If you are a ‘job hopper’, then the interviewer will want as many details about your career history as possible.

Consider the following…

  • Did you leave voluntarily? – If you were let go, then your interviewer will want to find out why that was. Was it due to performance issues, actions in the workplace or were you made redundant?
  • Did you leave on good terms? - If you are still on good terms with your previous boss for example if they have provided you with a good reference then it will show that you were a good employee.
  • What are your work values? – The reason you leave a company can say a lot about you. If you leave because you feel unappreciated or you want a new challenge then that is understandable. However, you left your previous job because you didn’t like a co-worker, argued with the boss or simply couldn’t keep up with the tasks expected of you, then this could work against you in your next career move.

Once they find these things out they can get a better idea of whether you are likely to commit to the company, be a troublesome employee or leave as soon as someone criticises you.

How to answer the question...

There are two main variations on how to answer this question. The first option applies to candidates who are currently employed and the second option is suited to someone who has recently left their previous position. Luckily, in both situations you can for the large part script your answer to fit any company with little adjustment. What is important for both situations is that you always talk positively about your previous job and boss.

1. Currently Employed

If you are currently employed then you are usually treated better than the unemployed. What the interviewer wants to find out from you is why you are looking to leave your current job. It is recommended that you always say that you are “moving towards a better opportunity” or “seeking a new challenge”. Try to point out that this new job was so enticing that you simply couldn’t turn down the offer!

For example:

I have been employed at XXX company for three years and I have learned a lot about Sales and Communications while working there. I managed to work my way into a management position and achieved a 15% saving on the previous manager’s target. However, now I am ready for new challenges and the chance of bigger teams and projects was too much to pass up.” 

2. Recently left their position

Sadly, candidates who are unemployed tend to be looked on less favourably by interviewers, even though there may be a perfectly legitimate reason for their current unemployment status, such as company downsizing. Just remember to stay positive and don’t go too in depth.

For Example:

Sadly as some of the company’s biggest clients moved their business overseas my company was forced to downsize due to the loss of revenue. As I was one of the most recent members of staff, despite the significant improvements I had made to the systems the previous year my job was one of those to suffer. However, as testament to my good performance my previous boss is one of my strongest references.

As you can see, the key to answering this question is preparation and it is a question that you can script and learn almost by heart. So instead of hiding under the table; just look at these pointers to craft yourself a solid answer and convince the interviewer that you are a trustworthy, capable, dependable and eager employee. 

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