• Lori A. Jazvac, MRW

Explaining Why You Left Your Last Job

Updated: Dec 10, 2019


Hiring new employees can be costly. Recruitment to selection as well as onboarding, training, and retention costs can fuel hundreds — or even thousands of dollars for the company.

So hiring managers want to ensure that you, the candidate, will be a good fit. Questions asked in the interview process will help determine if a prospective employee is a good match for the company and role.

The interview may be going well until you approach that one challenging question — why you left your last job (or why you want to leave your current position). You need to be able to answer this question, which may be asked in different ways:

• Why are you looking for a new position?

• Why did you leave your most recent position?

• Why did you leave (a previous job)?

Your prospective employer wants to know that you’re going to be successful in your new role if you’re offered the position. The interviewer is looking for insight into why you may — or may not — be a good fit at this company. Because past performance is often an indicator of future performance, learning more about how you fit in at a previous job may give insight into your potential for success in this job.

Consider the factors involved:

Was there a good reason you left?

If you were with your previous company for a few years and you left when the company was sold, that’s understandable. However, if you mention that your commute was too long, but you’re interviewing in the same area, your employer may wonder if you’re going to stick around for more than a few months as well! (Or they may wonder if there was another reason for your departure from your previous job.)

Did you quit, or were you fired?

Sometimes, even high-performing employees are let go due to no fault of their own — when a company eliminates an entire division, or dismisses all employees with a certain job title. However, if that wasn’t so, the interviewer will want to determine if there were performance or integrity issues that led to your departure. The circumstances of your separation from the company can help answer this question: Are you a loyal employee who values work?

Are you still on good terms with your previous employer?

Employees who burn bridges when they quit may demonstrate their inability to handle conflict. But if you left a company while still maintaining a relationship with your previous boss, that’s a good sign for the prospective employer. If your previous supervisor allowed you to have them as a reference for this job, that’s an indicator that you are on solid terms. The interviewer wants to know if you can exit a situation while remaining in harmonious terms with others.

There are some particular “red flags” that a hiring manager is looking for. These include personality conflicts, a negative attitude, or poor performance.

Some Likely Reasons For Leaving a Job

While there are many reasons why you might leave a job, here are some common ones:

Your position is being eliminated.

Whether due to cut related to the budget or division, loss of a client, or a declining industry, sometimes job cuts are not personal. Being laid off — especially when it’s unrelated to performance — can happen to anyone.

The company you work for is being acquired.

Duplication of positions is not uncommon when one company acquires another. Layoffs and job reductions can often result from a company’s purchase or sale.

You’re seeking new challenges.

If your current role doesn’t offer opportunities for advancement, and you’re looking for new challenges and/or more responsibilities in your next position, highlight your accomplishments in your current job and state what about the role you’re seeking meets your desire to take on greater responsibilities.

• This is your dream job.

Almost every jobseeker has a “dream job” in mind — and no matter how much you like your current job, if that position becomes available, it would be wise to apply for it. Let the interviewer know this is the opportunity for you.

Expectations changed.

Whether because of new management, budget cuts, a shift in company strategy, or other, your current role may have changed enough to where either you — or the company — decide it’s no longer a fit. If you were let go because you failed to meet your manager’s expectations, explain that you’ve learned from the experience. Ask questions in the interview geared towards finding what the expectations and outcomes of the current role would be.

You want to make a change.

Whether you are seeking a career change — or a life change — be prepared to discuss why you want to make a change. Specifically, what will be different about your next job that wasn’t true about your previous position (or previous career)?

You were fired for cause.

Be honest about the fact that you were fired, emphasizing why this was an isolated incident (if it was) and the lesson you learned.

It was an unplanned departure.

Needing to take care of a family member, or having an unexpected health crisis can make it difficult to keep your job. In the interview, reassure the employer that the situation has been resolved and elaborate on what you did to stay current in your field during your absence (i.e. freelance work, volunteering, and/or ongoing training and education).

Should You List the Reason You Left a Job on Your Résumé?

Most of the time, you don’t have to list the reason why you left your current job in your résumé. For previous positions, you may include the reason, if it helps tell the story of your career progression.

If your company was acquired or sold, you may include that description. For example: “Division was sold in 2016 to ABC Brands and position was eliminated.” Alternatively, if you were recruited by a competitor, you could disclose this information. “Recruited to lead newly-formed department, assembling a team that achieved 10% market penetration in first year.”

Including that type of information on the résumé is not necessary. You may, however, include the reason for your departure — or your reason for pursuing the current role — in your cover letter. It’s not a requirement, however. As it will likely be addressed in the interview, you may not want to address it in the cover letter.

Four Tips for Answering The Tough Question: Why You Left a Job

• Be honest. Avoid lying.

A quick phone call to your previous supervisor can verify — or disprove — the reason you provided. It’s better to be honest than get caught lying.

Avoid being negative about your previous employer when asked why you left the previous job.

You can mention parts of the job that weren’t a good fit for your personality or experience — but only if you are certain those responsibilities are not a part of the new job. Don’t criticize your previous supervisor or co-workers.

Avoid being defensive.

Instead, focus on objective reasons for your departure. Avoid negativity or blame. Don’t position yourself as a victim. Stating that the position wasn’t what you expected it to be is a better way to describe the situation than: “My boss didn’t give me clear expectations about how to do my job.”

Emphasize the positive.

Why are you interested in this job? Position yourself as moving forward. If this is your ideal role or dream job, then state that and pursue your goal!

For more information about securing the support of a career professional to drive your next career move, contact Creative Horizons Communications. Let’s partner together to enhance your career success.

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