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How to Answer Interview Questions About Reasons for Leaving Your Previous Jobs

Updated on May 8, 2014
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Other Questions to Find Out Why You Left Your Last Job

1. What didn't you like about your previous role?

2. Why are you looking for a career change?

3. Have you ever been fired?

4. What do you feel your last company couldn't offer you?

5. Did your previous boss try to tempt you to stay?

6. Why are you deciding to move on?

7. If your current company offers you more money, will you stay with them?

8. If you knew your last boss would never find out what you really feel, what would you say about your last job?

So, Why Did You Leave Your Previous Jobs?

Surely it's none of the interviewer's business, right? Wrong! Asking questions to determine why you left your previous jobs can give an interviewer a great insight into how serious you are about your career and whether you are a safe bet to invest time, money and energy in.

If you are a serial "job hopper" or your CV/ resume looks like you have taken a nonsensical career path, the interviewer is likely to give you the opportunity to persuade them that you have clear reasons why you really want to work for them and your career has led you there on purpose and not by chance.

It is crucial that you have an eloquent, positive answer as to why you left each position, even if you were fired or left on negative terms - we'll come to that in a minute.

Each interviewer you encounter will have a different style of questioning to the last, so be aware that many may not ask you outright why you left your previous roles. Some may take a softly, round-about approach by asking "What could your previous company not offer you", whereas some may be as bold as brass, "Have you ever been fired?"

Regardless of how the questions are poised, it makes good sense to have answers prepared in advance for all of the roles you have detailed on your resume or CV.

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Points to Avoid

Most of us leave our jobs because it wasn't ticking off enough happy boxes. Something was, quite simply, missing. No matter what your reasons were, it is important that you frame a positive answer and avoid a "Poor me" attitude. Points to avoid, include:

1. You hated your boss

2. You hated your colleagues

3. Nobody liked you

4. The job was overwhelming

5. It was too stressful

6. You were over worked and underpaid

Of course, if these are your real reasons for leaving, I am not suggesting you lie and make up a fake answer! Focus on a positive aspect of the job, then relate it to the organisation you are being interviewed for.

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Framing a Positive Answer

It's perfectly acceptable to admit that your last company or role didn't flick your switch. It's how you frame your answer that counts. Look at the job description for the role to which you are being interviewed and pick out a comparison that will show the new job is much better suited to your skills or work ethic.

“I really enjoy working with people and my previous role was mainly solitary. I know that working here will give me the opportunity to use my skills in providing great customer service while working as part of a team”

Perhaps you are leaving because the daily commute is a complete nightmare and you can’t bear it any longer to be standing on a crowded train with a sweaty armpit in your face? That’s okay to use that as a reason, but your answer should include that you really want to work for that particular company too and it’s not all about the convenience. Employers tend to favour workers who are closer to the company as a reduction in travelling time can lower potential levels of stress.

“While I enjoyed my last role, the daily commute was lengthy so I am looking to work closer to home as I feel this will make me more productive. I chose to apply to your company because….”

Or another example is:

“I was commuting and spending an hour each day on travel. I would prefer to be closer to home so I have been looking for a local company that is a good fit for my skills and experience.”

Ensure that you can answer that the company and job description is a perfect match for your skills and experience. Lucky them that you want to work closer to home!

Another answer would be that you are looking for more responsibility or a greater challenge. Refer back to the section on why they should hire you and why you want to work for them and adapt your answer accordingly.

“My last position wasn’t a great fit and I decided it made sense to resign and to refocus my career path.”

You may have been working part time or studying and now you are looking for a full time career.

“I graduated from university/ college/ left school and resigned in order to find a position where I could use my education and related experience.”

Or

“I resigned because the position was part-time and my personal situation has changed so I need full-time employment.”


You Were Made Redundant

If you have been made redundant, say so. There's no shame in that! It was the job role that was no longer needed - not you.

Most people these days have encountered redundancy, so it will be no biggy for the interviewer. Keep your answer short and sweet.

“The company was cutting back and, unfortunately, my job was one of those eliminated”

This should be a sufficient explanation. Redundancies are more and more common these days and should not be a reflection of your capabilities. It was the role that was made redundant; not you.

Fired From a Previous Job

If you were fired from your last job, then you should come clean as there is a huge chance that your previous employer will be asked to provide a reference.

First off, once again refrain from any negative comments and use the opportunity to stress that you have learned from the experience. Keep your answer as brief, as possible. An interviewer does not want to hear the nitty gritty of “She did this; he said that; it was so unfair”. Never, ever play the victim. You were fired for a reason so step up and take responsibility and show that you have learned from the experience, have changed and are a better person as a result.

Suppose you were fired because you were continually late for work. Here you should explain that you struggled with time management skills and what you have now done to rectify the situation.


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The Golden Rule

So, whatever the reasons you have had for leaving your previous job roles, the golden rule is to be upbeat and positive. Always aim to demonstrate career progression so that the interviewer can clearly see that you are serious about the position you are being interviewed for right now.

Never, ever blame anyone regardless of the circumstances culminating in you leaving. You will just look like you can't take responsibility for your own career and ultimately; success.

It would be great to hear your comments.

Have you ever been tongue tied in an interview when you have been asked your reasons for leaving your last job?

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    • profile image

      Rose 2 years ago

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      Julianna 2 years ago

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    • Jules Halliday profile image
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      Julie Halliday 3 years ago from UK

      If someone is fired they should go through a performance management process whereby they will be informed about areas in which they need to improve. Sadly not all companies follow this process, which is a real shame.

    • kmes profile image

      Kayla Swanson 3 years ago from Wyoming

      This is a valuable hub. Most often people really aren't fired for truly performance reasons but because they don't get a long with the boss, or they don't fit in with company culture. Also, when people are let go sometimes bosses will give vague reasons and not really tell the person what they did so the question about why they left can be particularly hard to answer.