How to Explain Why You Left Your Last Job at an Interview

By | August 25, 2014

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One common question job applicants receive during a job interview is, “Why did you leave your last job?” It’s important to have a ready response to this question that doesn’t make you look desperate or with egg on your face.

Keep in mind that the hiring manager will judge your employment prospects based on this answer. In some cases, the decision to hire you will be based on this answer alone, so give it some thought beforehand. The reasons people leave employment with a company include:

  • They were fired
  • They quit
  • The company closed or went out of business
  • Employee was laid off

It’s important to have a response to the question lined up for each of these reasons.

What To Say If You Were Fired

First, be honest. If you were fired, say so. Chances are, the hiring manager is going to find out anyway. The last thing you want them to think about you is that you are dishonest. Most companies will not hire someone who knowingly lied them.

If you were fired under negative circumstances, because you did something wrong, then frame it as a learning experience. Make sure your answer is:

  • Brief and concise. A couple of sentences is enough.
  • Honest.
  • Explain what you learned from the experience and how you will conduct your affairs going forward.
  • Practice using a detached tone of voice so you don’t sound bitter or angry.

If you were fired due to a misunderstanding or a false accusation, the same principles apply. Be honest without casting aspersions on former employees, your boss, or the company. Explain what you learned from the situation in just a couple of sentences.

What To Say If You Quit Your Job

There are lots of reasons for quitting a job, some of them positive and some of them not so positive. If you quit to seek better opportunities or because you wanted more responsibilities, those are positive reasons for quitting a job. Potential employers are excited to hear those reasons. On the other hand, if you quit because you didn’t like your boss or you felt the environment was hostile, then you need to frame your response to this question in more positive language.

Your interviewer doesn’t know you. While she has likely been in similar circumstances, if you tell her your boss was a micromanager, then she will wonder if you are an employee who needs more than your fair share of supervision. Plus, badmouthing a former employer will plant in the mind of your interviewer the idea that you’ll do the same to him when you leave his company.

For these reasons, you want to stay positive, be brief, and explain that you are seeking new challenges, or answer the question with tact and diplomacy because that’s what the interviewer is looking for—your ability to be appropriate in business situations.

How To Explain Layoffs, Going Out Of Business, And Other Economic Situations

Everyone has lost a job due to a closing, an economic downturn, or other unavoidable circumstance. This is not the time to air your frustrations. Just as before, keep your answers short, positive, and free of negative or frustrated talk that will make you look unprofessional. Say something like, “The company went out of business, and that’s okay because now I can search for a more challenging position to advance my career in the right direction.”