How to answer the interview question “Why did you leave your last job?”

How to answer the interview question “Why did you leave your last job?”

This is a tough interview question, and not always one that’s easy to give an honest response to, especially if you left your previous job on less-than-desirable terms. However, even if you left your last job on good terms, it’s still important to think about your answer. 

Why do interviewers ask this question?

This is a critical question for interviewers as it can reveal a lot about a candidate. Not only can it help recruiters find out if you left your last job on good terms, but also whether or not you can give a valid reason without making your previous employer look bad. It can reveal not only the truth about your work ethic, but also provide insight into your personality. If you left your job on good terms, let the interviewer know that they can contact your previous employer for a reference, which will give them confidence in your abilities and personality.

An interviewer takes notes as a candidate explains his reasons for leaving his last job.

Rule #1 : Avoid negativity at all costs

When answering this question, and for interviews in general, you should never be negative when talking about your last job. Perhaps you had problems with the company or your former colleagues, but try to be as objective as possible. Criticising your former employer will only make one person look bad and, unfortunately, that would be you.

Don’t forget, if you were fired from your previous job, you are not obliged to share this information, and there is no way the recruiter can find out, except perhaps through deduction if you haven’t given your former employer as a reference.

A woman dressed in yellow holds her hand up, showing that she doesn't want to hear anything negative about the candidate's previous job

So, how should you answer?

There are many possible answers to this question, but you should always try to ensure your answer at least reflects the reality, as the recruiter will see through copy-paste answers. Below are some examples of possible answers, which you will of course need to adapt to your circumstances:

  • If you were bored at your previous job and fed up doing the same tasks, you can explain that you felt as though there were no opportunities for you to grow and expand your skills, which is why you started looking for a company, such as the one in question, where you could put your skills to good use.
  • If you disagreed with a new management system or started to fear for your job, you could explain that you felt as though it was time for a change, that you had worked with the company for years helping it grow and that the company was now in more of a maintenance phase, which interested you less.
  • Another possible answer would be to explain that you had been working on a big project and that once it was finished, you felt as though your work was done and that it was time to move onto a new challenge.

One of the reasons people decide to leave their job is to move onto a new challenge

  • You could also say that your supervisor/mentor who you had worked with for years had recently left and you too felt that it was the right time to move on.
  • Depending on the job location, you could also explain that you wanted to work somewhere closer to home and spend less time travelling.  
  • You could say that you left your previous job to focus on looking for a new job full-time as it was too complicated to do both at the same time.  
  • From another angle: “Even though I was happy at my last job, a friend told me about this position and I’ve always aspired to work for your company, I just couldn’t pass on such a great opportunity."

A woman stands in front of a key hole overlooking a cityscape full of new opportunities

In conclusion, remember that you are not obliged to tell the recruiter the whole truth, but that your answer should at least reflect the truth. Never be negative about your former employer, as this will only backfire on you and could make you come across as bitter. Try to focus on why you feel your skills are more suited to the job and company in question, and how the job was too good an opportunity to miss out on!

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