By Mike Simpson
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In life they say all good things (and bad things) must come to an end…and in the job market, that can ring especially true.
Are you in a job that you plan on leaving?
Have you already left and are actively in the market looking for a new position?
Unless you’ve never worked a day in your life ever, eventually everybody with a job will all find themselves having to answer the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” or having to give your current employer reasons for leaving a job.
So when can you expect to have to deal with these scenarios, and what is the best way to deal with this tricky situation?
There are three main scenarios where this can happen:
- You are in a job interview and have been asked the question “Why did you leave your last job?”
- You are applying for a new job and one of the requirements on the job application is to give the reasons you left your last job.
- You are leaving your current job and need to give your current boss a reason for you leaving.
Here’s the good part though.
Once you learn how to properly describe your reasons for leaving for one of the scenarios listed above, you can apply the same logic to the other two.
In our case, we’ll start with the job interview, and then you’ll see that you’ll already have the answer when it comes to the job application and the conversation you’re going to need to have with your current boss.
P.S. To ensure a graceful exit from your job check out blog post “How to quit your job.”
There are generally three things a hiring manager is trying to figure out about you when they ask this question:
- Did you leave for the right reasons? Are you a person who is solid and reliable or are you flighty and impulsive? Did you leave because you were offered another position at another company or did you wake up one day and decide you were quitting to pursue your dreams of alpaca racing? Ultimately an employer wants to know are you loyal, stable, responsible and/or reasonable. This can also roll into your work values. Did you leave your job because you felt underutilized or unappreciated? Was that a result of your overblown sense of importance or because you had truly achieved as much with a company as you could possibly achieve. Did you outgrow the role professionally because of your skills and abilities or did your ego outgrow the role?
- Did you leave on your own or were you asked to leave? If you left on your own, again, the employer wants to make sure it’s for the right reasons. If you were asked to leave, was it because of performance or integrity issues, or if it was due to other circumstances like downsizing, mergers, or a whole host of other, non-performance related issues.
- Did you leave as a professional? When you left, did you do it in such a way that you are still on good terms with your former employer or are you officially “persona non gratis?” Were you escorted out of the office by security? Best case scenario: your former boss is one of your references. Worst case scenario: Your boss is the star witness in your upcoming criminal case.
This is always a great way for a potential new employer to figure out that not only are you a good employee, but that you’ve got solid positive relationship skills, something which is always a highly sought after quality in the professional world.
Get Our Why Did You Leave Your Last Job Cheat Sheet!
BONUS PDF CHEAT SHEET: Download our "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job PDF Cheat Sheet" that gives you:
- 5 word-word-for-word answers to this tough interview question including the following scenarios:
- You didn't enjoy the work
- You needed a change
- You needed more money
- You were fired
- And more!
- PLUS: 20 more great reasons you can use to enter into your job application that aren't found in this article. PLUS 15 reasons you SHOULD NOT use!
Let’s Get the Heck Out Of Dodge!
Jobs end for a whole multitude of reasons. If you’re a freelancer, it could be you’ve completed the task you were hired for and it’s time to move on. If you’re a full time salaried employee, it can be a bit more difficult.
There are jobs where you leave because you want to…and then there are times when you leave because you have to. Neither is an easy situation…but it also doesn’t have to be an impossible one…
(And while we are talking about actually leaving a job… do you know how to write a proper resignation letter? No? Then head over to our article “How To Write a Resignation Letter” to get our tips for making this difficult situation much easier!)
Anyway, when faced with having to answer the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” it’s understandable to have a moment (or two) of trepidation and uncertainty. The last thing you want to do is give any possible employer any reason at all to question hiring you.
Luckily, we’re going to show you that this question isn’t anywhere as scary as you think it is.
Brace Yourself, This Question Is Coming
The first thing you want to do is make sure you think about how you answer this before you even get to the interview.
Now would be an excellent time to read “Job Interview Questions and Answers 101”, the absolute best interview question resource available on the internet. We give you our formula for answering any job interview question perfectly, including “Why did you leave your last job?”.
Remember all that prep we tell you to do? All that research? All those practice questions and scenarios?
Well…this question is no different!
The more you think about it before you get to the interview (or even before you fill out the application) the better off you’ll be answering it! And remember, like any question you’ll be answering, the key to success (beyond preparation beforehand) is to keep your answers clear, concise and positive!
This isn’t the time to get defensive, or worse, talk trash. No employer wants to hear how awful your last job was (even if it was literally the worst job on the planet, with the worst boss in the history of all jobs. Save those stories for your tell all biography…or better yet, movie of the week…).
A good employer is going to recognize and understand that people leave jobs every day for many reasons.
This question is meant to honestly assess why you’re back on the market, not trip you up…so instead of seeing it as a landmine, use it as yet another opportunity to demonstrate why YOU ARE THE PERFECT CANDIDATE!
DISCLAIMER: Before we get too deep into this whole article, let me make one thing PERFECTLY CLEAR. YOU ARE NOT LEGALLY REQUIRED TO INFORM A POTENTIAL EMPLOYER IF YOU WERE FIRED OR TERMINATED FROM A FORMER JOB. More on that a little down the line…but for now, keep that in mind.
Let’s look at a few different reasons why you might have left your last job.
10 Good Reasons For Leaving a Job
1. Another Company Offered You A Better Deal
Leaving a former employer to take on work with a new employer should never affect your application status. If you left one job to take a position with another company for an increase in pay, a promotion, or simply because you wanted to work for a different company, those are all very valid reasons. When answering this question, you don’t need to list those reasons, simply keep it short and sweet:
“I was offered a position with another company and accepted.”
“I was offered a promotion with another company and accepted.”
Short, sweet, and without too many details. You don’t need to tell the potential employer how much your raise was, or what the promotion was…
2. You Didn’t Like What You Were Doing
Maybe the job wasn’t one you enjoyed doing, or the job changed from what you originally anticipated it to be. Maybe you just woke up one day and said, “Being an accountant isn’t really what I want to do with the rest of my life, I think it’s time to finally try being what I was always destined to be, a free range squirrel wrangler.” More power to you! In this case, you want to make sure to avoid words like “quit” or “walked out.” Instead try the following:
“I reevaluated my career goals and am looking for other employment opportunities.”
“I am interested in pursuing other possibilities within my chosen career field.”
“I am currently looking for a position better matched to my skills and long-term career goals.”
“I am looking for a position within a company where I can contribute and grow.”
3. You Have Other Life Goals You Want To Accomplish
It is perfectly acceptable to leave a job because you realize that you have other goals you want to accomplish. Prime examples of this include quitting a job to go back to school, travel, work on outside interests or hobbies, or even try self-employment for a time. Although changes like this might leave large gaps in your work history (especially in the case of going back to school) those gaps are not a reason for an employer to be concerned…especially if the ultimate goal was a desire for self-improvement!
“I went back to school to pursue a master’s degree program.” (especially strong answer if what you’ve gotten your degree in relates to the job you are applying for!)
4. Your Old Boss Is No Longer With The Company And You Don’t “Vibe” With Your New Boss
This scenario is not unusual. As the dynamics in any company changes, it can mean working with individuals who might not see eye to eye with you. Of course, we go back to our earlier comment about always keeping your answers positive.
“I am looking for a position with a company where I can be challenged and grow.”
“When my boss left, it made me realize that it was time for a change and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to move on as well.”
5. You’ve Been Working Toward A Promotion That Has Never Come
Man, that sucks. Being at the same job for years and never experiencing a promotion or feeling challenged can be incredibly frustrating. Rather than letting future employers know about that frustration, turn it into a positive!
“I realized that the opportunity to grow wasn’t available to me and that in order to continue to improve myself professionally, it was time to move on.”
“I achieved everything professionally that was available at my last employer and feel that in order to keep improving myself both personally and professionally, that it was time to move onto a new company with more room for growth.”
“I’m interested in a job where I can be given more responsibility and will challenge me.”
6. You Are Overqualified and/or Under-Utilized
We are all on the quest to find the perfect job that satisfies all our needs…but there are also times in our lives when you’re forced to take a job because, well, you need the money!
“Although it was a good job, I felt as though I had learned everything I could and wanted to move on to a new company where I can continue to grow professionally.”
“The job was a good fit for who I was when I initially accepted it, but as I have worked there, I have realized that where I want to go and where the company is going don’t align.”
7. You’re a Part-Timer or Freelancer Looking For Full-Time Opportunities
Being a freelancer is a little different. You’re usually hired for the duration of an assignment and then free to accept other work once that assignment is complete. In this case, a simple “Completion of Freelance Assignment” is perfectly acceptable on a job application. When faced with this question in an interview, you can add a bit to that simple answer.
“As a freelancer, I am contracted for only as long as it takes to finish the task I have been assigned. At this time I’m looking for employment with a company that allows me to use my professional experiences and skill sets in a long term, mutually beneficial professional relationship.”
8. You’ve Had Personal Issues To Deal With
Family always comes first and there are times when you have to step back from a job in order to take care of personal situations. This can be everything from personal health issues to taking care of other members of your family.
“I left my last job in order to take care of a family issue. The circumstances have changed and I now find myself in a position where I’d like to reenter the workforce.”
“I decided to take five years off to start a family.”
“I accepted a position with another company that was closer to home.”
9. You’ve Been Laid Off
Hey, It’s okay. As long as you weren’t laid off due to reasons related to performance or integrity, a potential employer isn’t going to hold it against you…especially if you weren’t the only one laid off from the company at the same time. With mergers and restructuring, it’s not unusual for a company to let go of a group of employees, regardless of performance or skills. Just be honest and let your potential employer know.
“My position was eliminated and I was let go. Although I no longer work with the company, my former manager is one of my strongest references and would be happy to answer any questions you might have about my performance and skills.”
10. You’ve Been Fired
Okay, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, you got fired. Trust me, you’re not alone. Some of the best, most influential people in the world have been fired. As they say in Hollywood, “You’re nobody until you’ve been fired at least once.” Unfortunately, some employers see being fired as a red flag, regardless of what the reasons might be, so saying “I was fired” is not something you want to do in an interview or on an application.
DON’T LIE! But at the same time, there are ways to answer this question without either tanking yourself or talking smack about your last employer (neither of which is a good idea!)
WHATEVER YOU DO, DO NOT BAD MOUTH YOUR FORMER EMPLOYER. I will say it again…DO NOT BADMOUTH YOU FORMER EMPLOYER. I don’t care if you were kept in the worst conditions ever where you were underpaid, forced to endure humiliating situations, and had a clown come into the room every three hours and kick you in the gut…DO NOT BADMOUTH YOUR FORMER EMPLOYER.
The world is a surprisingly small place, and you never know who knows who… On top of that, any future employer is going to wonder what you’re going to say about them down the road or the next time you’re looking for a job.
If you were fired for performance issues, make sure you mention extenuating circumstances, but don’t put all the blame on other people. Own up to your mistakes, but make sure to turn them into positives by showing how you’ve grown since then. Keep your answers neutral and clear of any negativity or defensiveness.
“Although I was hired, it was clear as the job progressed that what was expected of me and what I was hired to do were two different things. When it became clear that they needed someone with more experience, I was let go. Although at the time I was devastated, I realize now this was an opportunity to move my career in a new direction and continue my professional education.”
The next thing you should do is download our “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” PDF cheat sheet. In it you’ll get 5 word-for-word answers to this difficult interview question (including the 5 most common scenarios) as well as 20 more good reasons for leaving a job that you can include in your job application AND 15 reasons you should NEVER put on a job application or bring up in an interview. Click here to get the “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” cheat sheet
One final note about your job interview. As we mentioned above, you need to make sure you know how to structure an interview question properly. But there are also certain things you NEED to know about the job interview itself.
That’s why we took our best 16 Genius Job Interview Tips and Hacks and put them all in one place for you. Head over to the article now to check them out to make sure you are prepared for everything that hiring manager can throw at you in your interview.
What Should You Put On The Application?
2) Reasons For Leaving a Job on an Application
Ok, so now you know how to answer the question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” when faced with it during a job interview.
But what happens if you get surprised with it before you even get an interview?
Occasionally, certain companies will require that you give reasons for leaving your last job on your job application. Now while this isn’t very common, you should still be prepared for it just in case it is a requirement.
After all, if you aren’t able to tackle this portion of the application there is a good chance that you won’t make it into the interview!
Here’s the good news though…
You can use the examples we gave you above to help you give the best answer on your application… and thanks to space restrictions, you can give condensed version.
Here’s an example. Using “Reason #2” from above, you could simply put on your application:
Left to pursue (and complete) Masters Degree.
3) What to Tell Your Current Boss If Your A Leaving
This can be one of the most uncomfortable situations that you could face in your career. I know that I’ve had several tough talks with different superiors for a variety of reasons, but at the end of the day, the one thing that was common was that it needed to be done.
Unfortunately, sending an email or a text message isn’t going to cut it, as you run the risk of being viewed as “spineless” or even worse, unprofessional.
So think of it like a band-aid… rip it off all at once!
Walk into his or her office and ask for a moment of their time.
Close the door and sit down.
Look them in the eye confidently and…
Let them have it!
Trust me, it always seems like it is going to be a lot worse than it is. If you remain calm and professional, 99 times out of 100 your boss will totally understand. In fact, the majority of the time they will have seen it coming already.
They are bosses for a reason, meaning they have a pretty good idea of how their subordinates are feeling.
Now there are certainly exceptions to this rule. Some bosses are jerks (those of you that have a jerk boss know what I am talking about), and their reception isn’t always going to be “hugs and kisses” like some of the nice bosses out there. They could yell and scream or say something derogatory about you…
Don’t sweat it.
All that should do is reaffirm your reasons for leaving. After all, do you really want to stick around in a position where you have to put up with that kind of behavior? Probably not.
So keep these tips in mind when you walk into the office:
1. Be Direct
Don’t waffle around, beat around the bush, or go into any long stories to try to delay the inevitable. Get right to the point.
2. Give Reasons and Be Honest
This is where you offer the message that we discussed above in the job interview example. It’s important that you give them an honest response, but you don’t want to be disrespectful. After all, you never know who your boss could know in other industries, and all it takes is one bad comment from this person to cause you problems in the future.
3. Express Appreciation
This one speaks for itself. Thank them for the opportunity and what they have taught you during your time with the company.
4. Close It Out
This is the time to go over any “housekeeping” such as what your last day will be (usually two weeks down the road), but also to answer any questions your boss might have. When this is wrapped up, offer a firm handshake and say thank-you once again. You did it!
It’s Your Turn
So there you have it… all three potential scenarios covered for dealing with the reasons to leave your last job, and more than enough examples and sample answers to get you started!
Just keep in mind as you go through the interview process that a potential employer is going to be curious about all your past jobs, especially as they relate to your ability to work well within their company.
Your reasons for leaving a job can say volumes about who you are both professionally and ethically and help an employer determine if you’re a good fit (or not) for the new position.
Answering this question can be a tricky balance between telling the truth while still managing to paint yourself in the best light possible.
Always be honest, always be positive, and always keep your answer short.
Before you go into an interview, look at your resume and make sure you can easily answer why you left your last job for every employer you have listed.
FREE: "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job" PDF Cheat Sheet!
Here's what you're getting:
- 5 word-word-for-word answers to this tough interview question including the following scenarios:
- You didn't enjoy the work
- You needed a change
- You needed more money
- You were fired
- And more!
- 20 more great reasons you can use to enter into your job application that aren't found in this article.
- PLUS 15 reasons you SHOULD NOT use!
And as always…