Why did you leave your last job? This is a question that you’ll definitely get asked in an interview. Whether you’re still at your company while job searching or you’ve left, it’s important to be ready with a clear explanation.
Lots of also people are terrified of getting asked why they left their last job. They worry about how it looks when they left their last job before finding another job. But there are lots of reasons why you might leave a job and be immediately available when you go for an interview. What’s important is that you communicate this effectively in your interview.
If done right, the answer to the question why did you leave your last job will leave the interviewer knowing that your decision to leave your company was the right one if you’ve already left or is the right one, if you’re still there. And by no means are you the sort of person who simply bails when things get tough.
Here are 10 legitimate answers to the interview question, “Why did you leave your last job?”
1.My role got made redundant/I was laid off
Let’s start with something that’s, unfortunately, a very real situation for many people right now. Companies make roles redundant, it’s unfortunate but it happens. Being laid off typically has nothing to do with your performance or the quality of your work. Redundancies/layoffs happen when the company restructures, downsizes, or completely goes out of business.
Typically if you’ve been laid off you may receive a severance package or severance pay.
Speaking as someone whose role has been made redundant, and after only 3 months in the job I might add, I can assure you, it’s a legitimate answer to why you left your job.
If this has happened to you, don’t be afraid to say so. A common mistake is to think that YOU have been made redundant. You have been laid off, but it’s the role that has been made redundant.
A role is made redundant, you are laid off.
It’s important to be clear on this distinction because you shouldn’t feel that you are redundant. You’re definitely not redundant and you have plenty to offer.
In my case, the role I was hired into was as the corporate functions recruiter for a private healthcare company. I didn’t recruit doctors, nurses, or any other healthcare professionals. I was responsible for recruiting all corporate staff. That’s Accountants, HR Managers, Business Analysts, and anyone else that wasn’t a healthcare professional. The reason my role existed was that all recruitment was centralized and managed from the HQ. But after I was hired, due to a number of reasons the company decided to decentralize this recruitment again, meaning it would now be managed at a local level by local teams.
So, my central role at the HQ no longer existed. The role was made redundant and I was laid off.
If you’ve been laid off as a result of a company restructure, or for any other reason then it’s ok to say so.
It’s also important to be clear that being laid off isn’t the same as being fired.
2. While I’m not actively looking for a new role I’m excited to work for this company and interested in this role specifically because …
This one might surprise you. Just because you’re not actively looking for a job, it doesn’t mean to say your dream job won’t show up. That’s just how life is sometimes. And when it does, it would be crazy not to go for it.
If this is the reason you’re sitting in an interview – then you need to be absolutely clear in your explanation. Since you’re not actively looking then the interviewer will want to hear evidence that this role you’ve applied for is something special to you and you’ll need to explain why.
Perhaps you’ve been looking for this exact type of opportunity to work on a certain type of product, or perhaps you’ve been dreaming of working for this company specifically for a long time, but the right opportunity has never come up, whatever the reason, let them know in no uncertain terms that this job and this company is the one for you.
It might sound like a risky answer, after all, what’s to say a new dream job won’t show up once you join them? Well, it’s really not often that a dream opportunity just shows up. The fact that you’ve been keeping abreast of the market and you’re clear on your career plans and what you want, well, that puts you head and shoulders above someone who’s just looking for any job because of the money.
3. After x number of years in my present role, I’m ready for a new challenge
You’ve been with the same company for a while, you’ve been promoted, you’ve gained a lot of experience, learned a lot, and added lots of value.
But sometimes, it’s just time for a change.
There was a time when you joined one company and you stayed there for your entire career. Now, this is rarely the case. For a start, we live in a time of rapid change. Technology, the economy, connectivity, the world is not the same as it was 40 years ago. Heck, it’s not the same as it was 5 years ago!
Being committed is a good thing, in fact, many highly successful people have reached where they are because they committed to one company and climbed the ladder there. But this type of career path is no longer the only way.
In fact, today, many talented people move companies for many reasons. To broaden their horizons, to gain broader expertise, to expand their technical exposure. The reasons are endless.
For some, being in one company means only knowing your company’s perspective, only doing things the way your company does them, and becoming deeply ingrained in your company culture, something that some might find is too comfortable after too long.
Change can be good. Learning how different companies operate, gaining experience with different company cultures and different industries. This can all add value to your career long term. Layer upon layer, it all adds value.
4. I’m looking for an opportunity to develop further
You might be in a small to medium-sized company and your next role or development opportunity is simply not possible. If this is the case, then it’s time to look outside.
While small companies can mean more exposure and more change to get your hands on a broader set of experience faster if you plan to lead a sizeable team and the company has no plans for growing headcount then there’s not much you can do.
And this isn’t the only type of development you might need to move for. Maybe your company doesn’t operate in a specific area of the market, or they don’t work with a certain technology, if you want this exposure, you may have to leave.
That’s why looking for the opportunity to develop or progress further is a legitimate reason to leave your job and a perfectly good answer to why did you leave your last job.
The likelihood is that you discussed your desires with your current/previous manager and explored the available options. If this happened then share this. It will show the interviewer that you’ve had open career discussions which shows you’re serious about developing and managing your career. It also reassures them that there’s less likelihood of you getting cold feet partway through the process.
5. This role aligns with my longer-term career aspirations
Are you someone who has your whole career mapped out? Maybe you don’t have each step of your whole career mapped out but you are clear on where you ultimately want to be and you know the specific experiences and knowledge that you need to gain in order to get there. If you can see that your long-term career aspirations significantly diverge from your current organization’s plans, then this is another reason why you might have left your job.
Employers want to hire people who are good decision-makers and what better place to start than by making a strategic decision to move when it comes to your next job.
In some career paths of professions, this long-term thinking is critical. For example, as an Accountant, while you may start your career in a Big 4 accountancy firm, if you want to be the CFO for a major corporation then you need to get out of practice and into industry before too long.
6. My current role doesn’t fully utilize my skills
One of the truest principles in life is the concept of use it or lose it. This applies to everything. Your body, your mind, your knowledge, everything. With this in mind, there’s nothing worse than having skills knowledge, and expertise but not being able to put them to good use.
When this happens, it can lead to frustration, boredom and ultimately it can make you want to leave.
You might end up in this situation for a variety of reasons, the company may change priorities and focus, the company might be in the process of restructuring and winding down your department or moving parts of your role into different areas, the company may be winding down operations or you might outgrow your role due to extra training and professional development. These are just a few different ways that you could end up being under-utilized.
But whatever the reason, after a while, you’ll likely end up feeling unhappy or dissatisfied with your job and looking for another one.
If this is your situation, make sure the job you’re interviewing for does require the specific skills that you’re not currently able to use as well as the skills you do already use, otherwise, you risk being in the same position again. Unless of course, the skills you’re not using are the very ones that you want to hone and focus on.
Be sure to explain why you feel that you’re not fully utilizing your skills and what the benefit would be to the new company of you using these skills. Also explain why you’re not able to use these skills or knowledge in your current role, in any way at all.
7. I’m looking for a role closer to home / or a role with more flexibility
Wanting to work closer to home is a completely legitimate reason for looking for a new job. As long as the closeness to home isn’t the ONLY reason you apply for that job. It’s OK to want a shorter commute. Because life is definitely short and you don’t necessarily want to spend it sitting in your car or on the tube, subway, metro tram, or whatever you use to get to work.
If this is the reason you left your last job, then say so. Explain how long your commute was and the impact it might have been having. But make sure you also demonstrate that there’s more that you’re interested in about the job than the closeness to home because the interviewer needs to understand that you’re still very committed to the job.
It’s also ok to move for flexibility. If you’re previous company left you unable to manage family life then it’s understandable that you ultimately had to leave, the most important thing is, to be honest about the situation and to show where you will also be willing to be flexible in return. Like anything, it’s about give and take.
8. The company culture and/or direction and focus changed
A new CEO joins the company and everything changes. This is not uncommon. And it doesn’t have to be the CEO. It could be the arrival of a new boss. Whatever the reason, you know this is not a place you want to be anymore.
Company culture matters so don’t be worried if the reason you’re leaving is that your company has become a completely different place from the place you once wanted to work.
BUT TAKE NOTE: If this is the reason you’re leaving, this makes it even more critical that you understand the culture of the company you’re interviewing for. You need to know who the leaders are, who’s the CEO and what are the company values. Telling the interviewer all about how the culture has changed only to find out that your new CEO put everything in place here won’t do your credibility any favors!
“I’m interested in things that change the world or that affect the future and wondrous new technology where you see it and you’re like ‘Wow, how did that even happen?’”
—Elon Musk, co-founder and CEO
Purpose: Whole Foods
“Most of the greatest companies in the world also have great purposes….Having a deeper, more transcendent purpose is highly energizing for all of the various interdependent stakeholders.”
—John Mackey, founder, and CEO
“It is incredibly important to be open and accessible and treat people fairly and look them in the eye and tell them what is on your mind.”
—Bob Iger, CEO
“Rulemaking is a key function of the commission. And when we are setting the rules for the securities markets, there are many rules we, the SEC, must follow.”
—Jay Clayton, chairman
Safety: Lloyd’s of London
“To protect themselves, businesses should spend time understanding what specific threats they may be exposed to and speak to experts who can help.”
—Inga Beale, CEO
“We have a ‘wolf’ spirit in our company. In the battle with lions, wolves have terrifying abilities. With a strong desire to win and no fear of losing, they stick to the goal firmly, making the lions exhausted in every possible way.”
—Ren Zhengfei, CEO
“I’ve tried to keep us focused on a very clear strategy of modernizing ourselves.”
—Sir Andrew Witty, former CEO
“Have fun. The game is a lot more enjoyable when you’re trying to do more than make money.”
—Tony Hsieh, CEO
9. There is/was no further opportunity for progression
Sometimes you love everything about your company, and if you could stay there you would if only there was an opportunity for you to progress.
If you’ve achieved all you can in your current role and reached a point where there’s no more room to progress then this is also a legitimate answer to the question of why did you leave your last job.
If you’ve considered all avenues and there’s nowhere else left to go and no room to grow, short of your boss leaving and they’ve been there for 25 years, then it’s understandable if you choose to move on for the sake of your career.
These are the legitimate answers to the question of why did you leave your last job.
What if I left because I didn’t like my boss or colleagues?
Generally, it’s a bad idea to talk about negative things when discussing your last job. While these things might be true, you’re best off focusing on the things you learned, and the things you’re interested in about the job you’ve applied for.
There are lots of reasons for this.
Firstly when you go to an interview, the interviewer doesn’t know you. They have no idea about the situation that occurred, so all they know is that you’re nowhere bad mouthing a company that you worked for in the past, which is never a good idea.
Secondly, if you’re reasons for leaving are that you didn’t get along with the people since those people aren’t here to defend themselves and again the new employer has no idea about the full story, they could take away from this that YOU have an interpersonal skills issue. That YOU’RE the problem. So you lose again.
Finally, the world is small. You never know who knows who and if you start speaking negatively about your past employer, team, boss, you can’t be sure that someone in the company you’re interviewing at doesn’t have close ties with any of these people.
So, always keep it professional and leave the negative stuff behind.
10 . What if I got fired from my last job, what should I do?
Ok, so you got fired from your last job now what? What should you do if the reason you left your last job was that you got fired?
As tempting as it might be to lie, this is never a good idea.
So, if you were fired the first thing you need to do is be honest about it. Briefly explain what happened, being careful to be as objective as possible and sticking to the facts, and show that you’ve learned and grown from the experience.
These things happen, what you’re new employer needs to see you demonstrate is that:
- You have the integrity, to be honest about it
- You’re mature enough to recognize the mistakes you made at the time
Show this by saying so, for example…
- I made the mistake of…
- The mistake I made was…
- I now understand that it was a mistake to …
- You’ve learned from your mistakes and grown as a person so it’s not something you’ll repeat again
As a result of what happened, I now make sure to…
…Speak to colleagues directly and calmly about any disagreements ( for example, if you were fired for handling a situation with a colleague badly)
…I’ve made appropriate travel arrangements to ensure I arrive in a timely fashion (for example, if you were fired for time and attendance)
…I speak to my boss on a regular basis and take action on any criticism and feedback ( for example, if you were fired for performance)
… I am careful to go for roles that fully align with my skills as I took on a role that wasn’t a good fit …
The main thing to remember is, keep it brief and to the point, stick to the facts, and don’t feel obliged to go into too much detail. Whatever you do, remain calm.
By covering these three things, you can go away knowing that you’ve still done your best despite having to explain a difficult situation. And the fact that you did so calmly and objectively without making it personal is all credit to you.
So, why did you leave your last job?