How to Explain the Reasons for Leaving Your Previous Job
There are several reasons why people leave their jobs to search for employment elsewhere.
For some, it is because of the money, while for others, it is about growing in their career, and yet for others, it is about relocation or looking for a better work-life balance.
Regardless of your reason for leaving your current job, one thing you can be sure of is that, over the course of interviewing for new positions, one of the questions you are going to encounter is “Why are you leaving your current job?”
Your answer to this question will have a significant impact on the outcome of your job interview and your prospects of getting hired.
However, what really matters here is not the actual reason for leaving your job, but how you are going to communicate this reason to the interviewer.
In this article, we are going to look at everything you need to know about answering this question, including reasons why interviewers ask this question, some good and bad reasons why people leave their jobs, things to keep in mind while answering this question, as well as some examples of how to answer the question.
WHY INTERVIEWERS ASK THIS QUESTION
To most job seekers, being asked to give reasons why they want to leave their current job sounds like an invasive question that would have been better left unasked.
It looks like a question whose only aim is to find reasons to eliminate the candidate, without adding any practical value to the interviewing process.
However, there are several reasons why interviewers ask this question.
First, the interviewer wants to know if you are leaving your current position for a good reason.
For instance, if you left your former job because you were fired for non-performance, there is a high chance that you might perform poorly once you are hired, which is something the interviewer wants to avoid.
Asking this question also helps interviewers determine if you will be a good fit for the position you are interviewing for.
For instance, if you say you leaving your current job because it doesn’t provide room for growth, yet the position you are applying for doesn’t provide much growth opportunities either, this shows that you might not be a good fit for the position. You will probably be searching for another job within no time.
Your reasons for leaving your current job can also give the interviewer insights into your work values and the kind of employee you are.
For instance, if you are leaving your current job because you feel that your skills are not being utilized fully, this tells the interviewer that you are a diligent employee who likes to work in a challenging environment.
Similarly, if you left your former job in good terms and are still in touch with your former manager, this shows that you have good interpersonal skills and that you were a good employee.
Your answer to this question can also help the interviewer determine how truthful you are and if the responses you are giving during the interview are aligned.
For instance, if you say that you are leaving your current position because you want a better work life balance, but later during the interview you say that you don’t have a problem with routinely working after office hours, this will tell the interviewer that you are not being truthful with your responses.
Finally, some interviewers will use this question to try and find red flags showing that you might not be a very good hire. For instance, if you badmouth your former boss or company when answering this question, this could be seen as a sign that you are a difficult person to work with, which is not how you want to be seen by a potential employer.
REASONS WHY PEOPLE LEAVE THEIR JOBS
The reasons why people leave their jobs are endless. Some of these reasons are easily justifiable and can be said to potential employers without any negative impact on your chances of getting the job.
Some other reasons, while equally valid, are better kept unsaid.
Some of the good, sensible reasons for leaving your job that can easily be given during a job interview include:
- Looking for opportunities to grow your career and improve your skills.
- Desire for new challenges at work.
- Desire to change the direction of your career.
- Your former company closed down, or your position being made redundant.
- You were employed for a short-term project that you have successfully completed.
- Need to relocate for personal reasons.
- Poor growth prospects at your current company.
- Your current company just underwent a merger or got acquired, leading to a restructuring.
- Looking for a position where you don’t need to travel too frequently.
- Leaving to avoid being transferred to a faraway foreign location.
- You feel that your values are no longer aligned with the company’s vision and mission.
- Desire for better compensation.
- Desire to work in a different industry.
- A feeling that your skills are not being fully utilized or appreciated.
- Desire for a better work life balance.
Some of the reasons for leaving your job that should not be given during a job interview include:
- Getting fired.
- Office politics
- Dislike for your boss, your job, or your former company.
- Getting bored with your job.
- Being forced to leave for legal reasons.
- You feel that your boss did not keep a promise they made to you (such as a pay raise or a promotion).
- Your unwillingness to work overtime.
- You feel that the targets assigned to you are unrealistic and difficult to achieve.
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN EXPLAINING YOUR REASONS FOR LEAVING YOUR PREVIOUS JOB
Like I mentioned earlier, the most important thing is not the actual reason you are leaving your current/previous job, but rather how you communicate this reason.
To ensure that you do this the right way, below are some things you need to keep in mind when explaining your reasons for leaving your previous job.
Have A Clear Idea Why You Are Leaving
Most of us have been conditioned to always seek new opportunities, and therefore, a lot of us are always looking for opportunities without giving much thought into why they are actually doing it.
They apply to every position that seems appealing, and only when they have a tangible chance of getting the job do they weigh the position against their current position.
This means that most people actually don’t have a very solid reason for leaving their previous position, and therefore, when faced with this question, they get caught off guard.
If you don’t want this question to catch you by surprise, the first thing you need to do is to make it clear in your mind why you are looking for another job. A good way to gain this clarity is to ask yourself the following questions:
- What are my values?
- What are my career goals? Where do I see myself in 5 or 10 years? Does my current job provide me with a path to get there?
- What kind of workplace environment do I want?
- What things do I like about my current job? What things do I dislike?
- What kind of relationship do I have with my bosses and colleagues? Do I like/dislike these relationships?
- Am I happy in the industry I am currently working in?
- Am I passionate about the vision and mission of my current company?
- Do I feel well appreciated in my current job?
Once you have answered these questions, you will have a better idea about what you love about your current job, what you dislike about your current job, and what you want but are not getting.
These are the factors that push one to go searching for a new job.
From your answers, find out those that give you the biggest motivation for searching for a new job. Ideally, you should focus on professional reasons – such as desire for professional growth – rather than personal reasons, such as the desire to move so that you can be closer to your family.
Keep Your Answer Concise
Most candidates view this question as one that is meant to eliminate them, and therefore, when they encounter the question, they get defensive and start rambling in a bid to explain themselves, especially in situations where they did not leave their previous job for very good reasons.
Unfortunately, when you ramble, there is a higher chance that you might say something that you shouldn’t have.
Therefore, the best approach is to keep your response to this question short, sweet, and to the point. Simply explain the reason you are leaving your previous job in one or two sentences, and then steer the conversation back to your qualifications, skills, and why you are the best person for the job.
In an interview, doing this can be somewhat difficult, and therefore, the best thing to do is to practice giving your answer to this question before you get to the interview.
You can practice in front of the mirror, or conduct a mock interview with a friend or relative. The more your practice, the higher the chances that you’ll give your answer confidently, which is key during an interview.
Always Keep Your Answer Positive
Sometimes, we leave our jobs because of something negative about the job.
Either you don’t get along well with your boss, there is something about the company you dislike, you feel that you were passed on for a promotion or pay raise that you deserved, and so on. In such situations, there is a high chance that you will be tempted to mention the actual reason you left your job.
Despite your honesty, there is a high chance that the interviewer will view this as an attempt to badmouth your former employer or boss, which will be seen as a red flag and could impact your chances of getting the job.
They will assume that you are a difficult person to work with, and are highly unlikely to believe your words since they haven’t heard the other side of the story.
If you want to get the job, avoid focusing on the negative aspects of your previous job. Instead, focus on what you learnt in your previous job and your desire to apply these skills in a different environment. Always keep your answer positive.
Don’t Get Into Too Much Detail
In some cases, you might have left your job involuntarily.
For instance, you might have been laid off as your former company was downsizing, or you might have been fired for something you did or did not do. In such cases, it is important to give an honest answer, rather than trying to hide the fact that you did not leave on your own volition.
There is a high chance that your potential employer will ask your former employer about you, and if you lied, your lies will be uncovered quickly.
However, just because you should be honest doesn’t mean that you should go into all the details of your termination. Trying to explain too much might be seen as an attempt to cover up for your mistakes, and will therefore give the wrong impression of you.
You will come across as someone who doesn’t want to take responsibility for your misdeeds. To avoid this, mention the fact that you were let go, and then steer the conversation back to the opportunities ahead of you and the value you can bring in the event you get hired.
When it comes to explaining your reasons for leaving your previous job during your job interview, you should give the same reason you gave during your exit interview with your former employer.
Remember, your prospective employer will probably reach out to your former employer to perform a background check, and if the reasons they get from your former employer are different from the reasons you gave them, they might develop some doubts and misgivings about you.
EXAMPLES OF GOOD ANSWERS TO THIS QUESTION
To make it even easier for you to answer this question, below are some 5 examples of good answers to the question “why did you leave your previous job?” Note that you don’t have to copy these answers verbatim.
They are just meant to act as pointers on how to answer the question in case you encounter it.
Example 1: Desire for New Environment
To be great at your career, it is important to have experience in a wide range of environments – large companies, small ones, private companies, public companies, you name it.
Therefore, the need to experience a new environment is quite good an answer to this question. In this case, you could say something like,
“I have worked at Company XYZ for over 6 years now, and I felt it was time for me to experience a new environment in order to continue growing my skills.”
Example 2: Seeking Opportunities to Advance Your Career
Sometimes, you might realize that your current position does not offer much room for growth.
In such cases, your best option for advancing your career is to seek new opportunities elsewhere, and no interviewer will fault you for that. If this is the case, you could say something like,
“I had gotten to the top of my career at Company XYZ, and therefore, I decided to leave so as to seek opportunities to advance my career that I would not have gotten at Company XYZ.”
Example 3: Desire to Do Work That is Aligned With Your Skills
Sometimes, you apply for a position and get hired, only to realize that the actual responsibilities of the position are totally different from what you expected when you got hired.
Other times, you might get hired to do one thing, but over the course of time, the job description changes gradually until you wake up one day and discover that what you are currently doing is not remotely related to what you were actually hired to do.
This is a good enough reason to leave that job and find a new position that is more aligned with your skills. If this is the case, you can say something like,
“I was hired at Company ABC as a content strategist, but over time, that has changed, and I find that I am more and more involved in editing. Since my passion is in content strategy, rather than editing, I decided to leave in order to find opportunities that are more aligned with my skills and passion.”
Example 4: Seeking More Fulfilling Work
Sometimes, after working in a certain position for a while, you might stop finding the work enjoyable or fulfilling. In such instances, there is nothing wrong with finding a new position which offers work you are more likely to enjoy.
However, to avoid your prospective employers assuming that you might also get bored with the position you are interviewing for, you need to show them how the position you are interviewing for offers something that you do enjoy. In such instances, you could say,
“After spending five years at Company ABC, I no longer felt the work was fulfilling. Therefore, I decided to seek for new opportunities that would give me access to more fulfilling work. This position provides me with exactly such an opportunity. I love the fact that it involves routinely applying my creativity, which is the kind of work I find fulfilling.”
Example 5: Reevaluation of Your Career Goals
As your career progresses, your goals and objectives for your career might change as well, and there is nothing wrong with that.
If your career goals change, and you realize that your current position is not aligned with your new career goals, there is nothing wrong with finding new opportunities that are more aligned with your career goals.
However, you will need to explain to the interviewer how the position you are interviewing for is aligned with your career goals. This will help convince them that you won’t switch up on them a few months down the line.
If this is your situation, you could say something like,
“After reevaluating my career goals, I decided that it was important for me to undergo a career change. I realized that I wanted to remain as an individual contributor, rather than a manager, and the only way for my career to progress at my previous job was for me to become a manager. This position seems perfect for me because it would allow me continue contributing in the capacity of an engineer and advance in my career without necessarily having to manage people.”
ANSWERING THIS QUESTION IF YOU GOT LAID OFF OR FIRED
Explaining your reasons for leaving your previous job is not very difficult if you left out of your own volition.
If you were laid off or fired, however, it can be a bit difficult, since some people might take this to mean that you weren’t the best at your work. However, even if you did not leave your previous job voluntarily, you don’t have to worry.
If you were laid off, your situation is much easier compared to being fired. In most cases, layoffs do not have anything to do with your performance as an individual. Therefore, you should just state the facts as they are, then quickly move to reiterating your interest for the position or your qualifications for the job. For instance, you could say,
“Following the general decline in the XYZ industry, my former company was forced to restructure, and unfortunately, my role was one of those affected by the restructuring. However, over the period I worked in that role, I have learnt a lot and gained skills that will be very useful in this position.”
If you were fired rather than laid off, this might be a little more damaging to your reputation, but it is still important to be honest. Don’t try to make it seem like you left your previous job voluntarily.
However, you can use softer phrases to communicate the fact that you were fired. Don’t go into the reasons why you were fired. Instead, steer the conversation back to what you can do for your prospective employer. For instance, you could say,
“Unfortunately, my values and those of the company were not really aligned, and the organization and I decided to part ways. Looking back, I now understand that the role wasn’t the right fit for me. My passions and skills lie in XYZ, which is why I decided to apply for this position.”
Over the course of your job search, it is inevitable that you will be asked to explain why you left your previous job. How you explain this will have a significant impact on your chances of getting the job.
If you left your previous job willingly, focus on the positive reasons that you are looking for in your next position, rather than the negative reasons that might have pushed you from your previous position.
If you were fired or laid off, explaining this to a prospective employer can feel a bit awkward, but all you need to do is to objectively state the facts, then quickly steer back the conversation to the value you can bring to the employer, rather than focusing on the circumstances that led to your being fired or laid off.
Of course, if you want to be able to answer this question as confidently as possible, without looking like you are trying to hide something, you should practice answering the question severally before you ever set foot in the interview room.
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