Time and again, you will feel like quitting your current job in favor of another and the most recurring question thrown around will be Why did you leave your last job?

That is indeed a very good question that comes to mind for those who leave their first job after graduation and opt to work for a second company.

However, the truth of the matter is that there are a number of reasons why we choose to switch jobs and companies.

Some of those reasons could be because of better opportunities, better salary and growth and some of them could be due to having a fallout with the boss or toxic coworkers. But the last thing you’d want to tell your potential new boss is the latter scenario also known as ‘the ugly truth.’

Usually, it’s good, to be honest, but sometimes there things that should never be said in a job interview, especially something that could jeopardize your hiring chances.

But fear not, because there are ways you can answer this oh-so-common question properly without inviting controversy and doubts. And this is just the post for the job.

1. REASON FOR THE “LEAVING YOUR LAST JOB” QUESTION

The obvious reason potential new employers ask this question is to determine whether you’re a good employee or a bad one. It’s actually one of those trick behavioral interview questions.

The employer usually asks this question to see if you:

  • Have a good reason to leave your previous or current job.
  • Are pursuing a new opportunity or running away.
  • Have a sense of obligation and value work.
  • Can leave on good terms with others.

Your answer can be perceived in both a positive and negative light depending on your choice of words. Here’s how you can go about responding to why you’re making the switch:

You’re Looking For a Better Opportunity

Right

I decided to leave my job in order to pursue new opportunities and take myself further in my career.

Wrong

I quit my job because I just didn’t like it. That’s it.

You Have No Hard Feelings Towards Your Supervisor

Right

I left so I could thrive in a different company. My supervisor and I left on good terms since he is one of my references.

Wrong 

In spite of working together for months, I appalled the time I spent with my supervisor. If I never seem him again, it will too soon.

You Have a Sense of Obligation and Value Work

Right

Due to corporate layoffs, I only got to work for a few months at my last vocation. Now I’ve realized that working for a smaller company that is more involved in my local community is much better for me.

Wrong

I don’t know what it is that I want to do with my life. That’s why I’m just going with the flow.

Now try to understand, we’re not actually insisting that you lie to your employer. You just need to avoid doing the following:

  • Vilify your former employer – even if they deserve it.
  • Sounding feeble or weak.
  • Constantly making yourself the victim.

Now for those who are making a life or a career change, there’s not much to worry about.

But if it’s a large career change, say, moving from marketing to software, then you need to provide more of an explanation when giving your response to leaving your previous job.

You need to formulate clear and concise reasons for transitioning between posts.

Those who often struggle more than others when giving a proper response include:

  • Job Hoppers
  • Career Changers
  • Long-term Unemployed

Still, virtually every question can be answered in the best way possible.

Sometimes, employers tend to spin their job interview questions differently, like:

  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • Why are you leaving your current workplace?
  • Why do you want a new opportunity?

And sometimes, the questions can be direct, like:

  • Could you explain your career gap?
  • Why did you leave your job?
  • Why did you leave after – three days, two weeks or a month?
  • Why were you fired?

Pro Tip: Go with the old saying “less is more.” It helps both sides (you and the employer) if your response is short and skips out on the unflattering details.

2. HOW TO PREPARE GOOD REASONS FOR LEAVING YOUR JOB

Let’s just assume you’re still employed with a company and are getting job offers from various companies. This makes you a passive job seeker.

Passive job seekers are those who are ideal candidates for an open position that is so good that they can’t pass it up even when they’re employed.

This implies two things:

  • No need to think about what you’re going to say at the interview.
  • Stick to the truth.

Here’s a table of people who usually quite around their one-year work anniversary:

A good time to quit

Source: Harvard Business Review

So here are some responses that passive job seekers can opt for:

Right

For the past couple of years, I have successfully built a strong team of marketing professionals, who have also increased sales with our campaigns by 35% from the previous fiscal year. But seeing your offer has convinced me that I want to work for a firm that is not only bigger but also provides me a chance to work on more diverse and historic marketing projects. Now I’m ready to take that next step in my career and your company feels like the ideal place for it. And that’s why I would consider leaving my job.

Don’t hold back on mentioning your achievements such as “increased sales by 35%.”

Wrong

You don’t know how much I’ve wanted to work for your company ever since I was a young’un. In fact, I had your company at the back of my mind even when I’m working at my current job. That’s why it just feels right that I leave the place where I am right now and work for you guys. I can’t wait!!!

Please refrain from sounding like someone handing over a confession letter to your high school crush while not being there in person. In other words, don’t overdo it.

But what how would you respond if you’re not presently working? Not easy. That’s because it’s easier for someone who is currently employed to land another gig elsewhere. For such people, answering the “why did you leave your last job” depends on both the reason for your unemployment and how long you’ve been jobless.

You Were Laid Off

The good thing about getting laid off is that it has nothing to do with your performance. Layoffs are a common thing with companies. They reorganize, merge and lose money. Here’s a table showing the number of people who get laid off and quit:

layoffs quits

Source: imgur

And while all these things have nothing to do with you as an employee, the downside is that you still lost your job. But don’t let it get to you that this is your fault.

So during the next job interview, just state the following:

  • Just briefly state that you got laid off and the reason for it.
  • Don’t forget to say that other people got laid off too because that’s how it usually is.
  • Tell your interviewer how good of an employee you were.
  • Explain why you believe the opening position is a great opportunity.

Be sure to practice your responses so that you don’t come off sounding bitter or disinterested.

You Were Fired

This one isn’t going to be easy to open to with your employer because being fired is a tough thing to happen to anyone.

If it was a bad kind of fired, here’s how you should explain yourself to your interviewer:

  • Don’t avoid the question or lie.
  • Talk about the reason you got fired using as many diplomatic terms as possible.
  • Point out what you learned from your experience.
  • Assure the employer that you’re not some kind of risky or poor candidate

During your interview, always remain calm and diplomatic. Also, your potential employer may double-check the facts to see if you’re telling the truth. The last thing you would want is to get terminated again for lying on your application.

You’ve Been Jobless (For More Than 6 Months)

Being unemployed for 6 months or so is not a good image to your hiring managers. And the longer you stay unemployed, the worse your chances of hiring get.

Still, once you get called for an interview, you’ve won the first part of a great battle. Now all you have to do is convince your employer that you’re not a risky candidate for their company. Also, convince them that the time you were unemployed has nothing to do with you as an employee.

Here’s the best way you can explain why you left your last job long ago:

  • Don’t try to lie and victimize yourself
  • Mention all of the productive things you did while you were unemployed
  • Then convince your employer why you are indeed the right person for the job

The “bad economy” tactic also works if need be. Other responses to throw may include:

  • “Why did you leave your last job?” – layoffs.
  • “Why the gap of unemployment?” – No one was hiring.

People usually understand how difficult it is to find a job in such a troubling economy.

You’re Changing Careers

Saying you left your last job because you wanted to change your career could mean a change of industry, role or job.

Switching Industries

Let’s just assume that you’re a Sales Associate but you want to sell clothes instead of carpets. Since your core skill is selling, you have to explain why you would be an ideal salesperson.

  • Tell your employer why you want to switch
  • Try looking at the progress that you want to make with your career
  • Concentrate on the shared skill set.

Switching Roles

If you’re a Senior Sales Associate who wants to go back to being a Junior Sales Associate, you’re changing roles. You have to explain why you want to move back down the ladder, disregarding that it’s because you’re overqualified.

  • Tell your employer why you want to change roles. For example, a better work-life balance.
  • Ensure your employer that being overqualified does not pose a risk.

Switching Jobs

Now if you want to change from being a Sales Associate to becoming a beekeeper, this is going to be the hardest thing to explain to your employer.

Don’t tell the interviewer that you need this job because of your love for bees. Tell them that you know what you’re doing and why you’re best qualified for this post.

  • State your reason for switching your job.
  • Give a proper explanation as to why your skills are best suited for this position.

While you do have one of the best reasons to leave, it will be difficult to sell yourself under extreme circumstances. Still, if you prepare yourself in advance for it, you should come off more convincing.

Chronic Job Hopper

Leaving jobs after short periods of time is known as chronic job hopping. If you’re doing this, then you’d want to explain why you left your previous jobs, instead of just your ‘last job.’

Be advised that if you’ve done this several times before, then it could put off future employers. How would they know you’re going to stay for a consistent time period?

Think of it from your employer’s point of view. You’re not just someone who’s supposed to keep the seat warm for your eventual replacement, you’re an investment. It would cost your employer about six to eight months of your salary to find and train someone to replace you.

Here’s how you can provide the best response:

  • Focus on the fact that every job change you’ve gone through was a positive thing for your career.
  • Then tell your employer that you’re a pro at what you do or that the position that they’re offering is your dream job.

3. HOW TO RESPOND TO THE “WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR LAST JOB” INTERVIEW QUESTION

Laid-Off

Right

I left my previous job due to layoffs. In my previous company, I had worked for over half a year before it merged with a larger company. I was declared redundant as the company had a more senior member for the post. While I was working there, I learned how to make short marketing videos. I also learned how to use video editing software and recording equipment and enjoy doing so as well. And that’s the reason I applied for the Video Marketing position at your company.

When you explain your reason for being laid off, use neutral terms like the one in the example, without blaming your previous workplace. Also, don’t go too much into details about being laid off. Focus on your relevant skill set such as Video Marketing.

Wrong

After years of dedicating myself to the company, they threw me out like two-week-old garbage without ever looking back. 10 years I gave to that company and THIS is the “thanks” I get? Utterly shameful of those clowns. I’ll make them regret ever giving me the boot.

It’s okay to feel wronged after losing your job like that. But you should really take some time to yourself to vent out your anger before you go for your next interview.

Fired or Terminated

Right

The startup company that I last worked for failed to reach their targeted level growth within the first year. So they hired project managers for Content and IT to diagnose the problem. The IT manager deduced that the problem was the front-end design and instead of changing the design, the PM suggested that the start from square one. During my time there, I learned that the environment was fast-paced and ever-changing like a social media trend. One day you’re on top and the next day you’re not. What’s important is that I never gave up and with that attitude as well as the design that was rejected, I landed my next job.

Give a positive, diplomatic answer as to why you got fired. Also, state what you learned from your experience there.

Wrong

My boss had the gall to accuse me of stealing even though it was Eddie who did it. The only problem was that Eddie is his son but I was the one who ended up getting the shaft. Don’t you think that’s unfair? Of course, it is.

Being bitter and placing the blame on someone gives room to plenty of red flags being raised.

Unemployed (More than 6 Months)

Right

The reason behind my job’s departure a couple of years ago was due to downsizing. During that time, I took a chance to start a family and raise two beautiful kids. I also started an online shop where I could sell furniture that I had refurbished in my free time. Ebay and Etsy are some of the usual places where I’d sell my furniture. The experience allowed me to develop a practical skill set for furniture. What’s more is that I’ve learned about marketing, sales and customer service. I even run my own blog site that enjoys 1000 unique visitors a day.

As you can see, the candidate have a concise answer as to why he’s been unemployed for so long, while at the same time talks about how productive he’s been at home. He’s only develop some new skills and is raising a family as well.

Wrong

Ever since I left my last job two years ago, I have had no luck at getting hired after that. But that didn’t bother me much since I got to spend some time with my kids playing Fortnite on the PS4. I felt that this was the right thing for me to do since working for so long.

While it’s nice that you’re spending more time with your family, it’s not really a good business strategy to let your new employer know you’ve been doing nothing in the past two years of your unemployment.

Career Changer

Right

I chose to leave my previous job as an accountant because my passion lies in baking. Even though my previous vocation helped me pay half a decade’s bills, baking was always my dream job. It is a fast-paced and demanding environment that is more in line with my forte than being chained to a desk. If you look at my resume, you will know that I have been preparing for this transition by completing pastry education at my culinary school. Fortunately, my skills as an accountant translate into this new position just fine. I pay close attention to detail and have incredible analytical and problem-solving skills.

Not only does the candidate reveal how he prepared for the transition, but he also made mention of his incredible problem-solving and analytical skills come in handy at his new job as well.

Wrong

I quit my job because I couldn’t keep up with everyone else. It was just too demanding that I reached the point of burning out. I’d rather go back to the days of data entry where I’d only get to do grunt work instead of management, which I’m not cut out for.

It’s better not to go into the negative bitter details of why you want a career change. Your employer might assume that you’re lazy and cannot rise to the challenge. Instead of that, you should mention that you want to achieve a better work-life balance.

The Best-Ever Response to "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?"

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