How to Answer an Interview Question About Why You Left a Job

The question many interviewees dread is the one about why you left a certain job that's in your resume, a job further back in your career, and possibly a job that didn't end so well. This question seeks to elicit information about what makes you decide to leave a job, as well as an attempt to find out whether you've been dismissed from a job for negative reasons. Here is how to approach what is potentially a dicey question.


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    Understand what is being sought by asking this question. This question isn't about the current position you're seeking to leave; it's related to any job the interviewer decides to select out of your resume and quiz you on. The interviewer wants to know what motivated you to leave in order to see whether or not that motivation will arise in the job you're applying for. And if you do have anything you're trying to hide from a potential future employer, this is a question aimed at ferreting it out.
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    Rely on using the same stock standard answers that you'd give for wanting to leave your existing job for the new one. Ensure that you focus on the positive aspects as much as possible. Typical positive reasons for leaving a current or older job might include:
    • You were ready to seek new challenges and the old role no longer offered these.
    • You had upgraded your qualifications and wanted to put them to use.
    • You were looking to diversify and not be typecast in a single role.
    • You sought a promotion or a different type of role.
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    Where the reasons for leaving the job were negative, tread with care. In particular, difficulties will arise where you clashed with your boss or team members (including bullying), where you were fired, or where you were made redundant. Here are some suggested answers:
    • Redundancy: Although this occurs through no fault of your own, it carries a negative stigma with some employers for reasons of their own. Don't sound resentful or angry; treat it as much as you can of being a case of "these things happen in life but I've moved on". Avoid criticizing that employer and try to focus instead on the broader market decisions and outcomes that brought about the redundancy. Also explain that others were made redundant and then quickly explain how you have since bounced back.
    • Being fired: This one is hard because it's not positive. Be honest and keep it as factual as possible. The most important thing here is to convey what you learned from the experience and how you have put in place approaches that now mean nothing like it will ever happen again because you've changed/reformed/improved, etc. Use the word "dismissed" as it has the most professional ring compared with all the usual slang words. Avoid suggesting that you were made a scapegoat (an example to others) or that you were justified in doing whatever brought about the dismissal. These kinds of excuses make you appear vengeful, unable to forgive and move on, and potentially volatile and argumentative in the future. Stay humble!
    • Inability to get along with the boss: Avoid using this as a reason. No interviewer will appreciate being given the lowdown on how bad your ex-boss was and what a sinking ship your workplace was. That shows bad morale on your behalf and an inability to rise above a challenging situation, as well as the inability to take responsibility for your own contributions to the situation. Find positive reasons and leave the ex-boss out of it.
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    Explain to the interviewer what positive things you got from the job they've highlighted. Whatever your reason for leaving, if the interviewer is able to get a sense from you that you learned lessons, gained experience, and have moved on positively and successfully ever since, then the interview will be a lot more successful than focusing on all the things that went wrong.


  • It's a good idea to construct a good and honest answer in relation to any past job that ended negatively but that you've left in your resume. Knowing how to respond is far better than being taken by total surprise.


  • Avoid casting blame on anyone or any workplace from your past. This always sets you apart as someone unable to cope with challenges and unable to take responsibility for actions done and things said. It might stick in your gullet, but it's better to move on for your own sake, as well as for the sake of your future interviews.

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Categories: Interview Skills