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Answering the 'Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?' Interview Question

January 26, 2021

One of the most common questions hiring managers ask during a job interview is 'why did you leave your last job?' For many candidates, it's challenging to figure out how to respond to this question honestly and how much information to share. Preparing for this interview question in advance can help you feel confident about your answer. In this article, we provide helpful information about why employers ask this question and examples of how to answer it.

Why do people leave their jobs?

People leave their job for many reasons, which can be voluntary or involuntary. If it's involuntary, that means the employer decides to terminate the employee's contract. A lot of times, though, an employee might take the deliberate steps to quit, usually called a resignation. A resignation is a voluntary action. If they initiate this action, they're required to notify their employer and submit a resignation letter. The following are a few reasons why people choose to part ways with their employers:

Related: 8 Common Exit Interview Questions With Sample Answers

Career stagnation

When an individual starts a new job, they expect to use and develop their current skills and gain a few more through the course of their work. In some cases, employees feel they're not increasing their skill set acceptably, making them feel they're not developing as they would've liked. Stunted career growth is common in organisations that lack mentorship programmes, upskill opportunities and tend to discourage networking.

Unfavourable relationship with their manager

Managers are a big part of an employee's career, as these superiors delegate tasks and ensure employees meet specific performance and productivity indicators. Having a good relationship with your superior is crucial to your productivity, longevity at the establishment and peace of mind. If you don't have a positive relationship with your manager, you may be inclined to leave your position.

Related: Management Styles: Overview and Examples

Career change

If you're considering changing your career completely, you may find it appropriate to resign from your current job to go back to school in order to develop relevant skills for a new career. When explaining the reason for leaving the previous job, explain to the interviewer that you're advancing your education, so you can work in a new career field.

Organisational restructuring

If there have been massive changes to your position or work environment, you may have valid reasons for resigning from that job. Although it is always a good idea to apply for a job while still working, some organisational changes require a reactive job hunting approach.

Some of the organisational restructuring reasons that would propel an employee to resign from work include:

  • Travel: The employee is required to travel quite often, which may affect their family life or relationship
  • Retention: The company is incapable of retaining staff, and the employee's workload has surpassed reasonable expectations.
  • Relocation: The company is moving the location of the position from one office or workplace to another.

Family circumstances

There are several reasons for which you may want to quit a job so as to attend to family issues. These include:

  • Parenting: Some employees opt not to return to work after maternity or paternity leave to be a parent full time.
  • Traveling: For positions that require substantial travel, the employee may choose to leave the position in search of something local.
  • Supporting: In some instances, an employee's partner might receive a job transfer to a new city or region, necessitating a new position.
  • Relocating: Employees might choose to live closer to family.
  • Caring: For some people, opting out of work to give full-time attention to a member of the family who is seriously ill is a necessary career move.

Health reasons

If an individual becomes ill, they may need to leave their job to attend to their health issues. Although some organisations and employers offer extended sick leave for special circumstances, an employee may choose to resign from their position. In an interview, the candidate should simply mention that they chose to leave their job to attend to their health issues and are ready to resume working.

Salary issues

At a certain point in your career, you may have more skills and experience than your current salary reflects. Some employees, after asking for but not receiving a raise or promotion, choose to look for other job opportunities elsewhere rather than continue to make the same amount of money in salary.

Related: 6 Tips For Your Next Salary Negotiation

Tips for preparing for the question 'Why did you leave your last job?'

Most people who attend interviews hope to get hired, and the hiring team is looking for the most convincing candidate. One of the best ways to persuade your potential employer of your suitability is to offer a clear response to 'Why did you leave your last job?' Use these guidelines when preparing your answer to this commonly asked question:

Assume that the interviewer will ask the question

The interview question 'Why did you leave your last job', or its variations, is popular among recruiters. So, when preparing for an interview, assume the interviewer will ask you to explain the reason you left your last job and script an answer in advance.

Visualise positive answers to this question

When answering this question, omit any reference to bad feelings or experiences in your last position. Instead, it would be best if you focus on the positive things the new job will bring into your career and overall wellbeing. You can begin your preparation by outlining the reasons your last job wasn't a good fit. This process allows you to frame your answers in a way that makes your reason come across as professional.

Practice in front of a mirror

By practising your answers in front of a mirror, you will be able to set the right posture you would take when answering this question during an interview and use your body language effectively. When rehearsing, you'll need to structure your reasons for leaving your last job and memorise the order. Doing this will enable you to remember the points in your head as you've written them on the paper.

Guidelines for keeping your answers relevant when answering 'Why did you leave your last job?'

Answering the question about why you left your last job reveals a lot about your attitude towards work. Your reason should be valid and well explained, as well as devoid of complaints or flattery. To ensure your answer remains relevant while answering this question, take these steps:

Answer with patience

Even after preparing well for this question, it's essential you don't rush your response. Take your time to speak in a measured tone and pace, and make sure to address any specific follow up questions the hiring manager might pose. Also, a slight pause will demonstrate to the interviewer that you're thoughtful and calculating as a professional rather than simply repeating what you've memorised.

Be honest

Honesty is the ideal approach to this question. Let your response clearly outline why you left your last job, which could be anything from lack of motivation to stalled career.

In addition, if you left your last job to advance your education, remember to mention the company's name and the skills you acquired there. It would be best if you then talk about the opportunity that arose from furthering your studies and why you had to choose schooling over remaining in your last job.

Clearly explain why you left your last job

Clarity is vital in an interview because the employer needs to easily understand your responses to have any chance of considering you for the job. To ensure you answer the question 'Why you leave your last job?' clearly, you need to:

  • Use simple words and vocabulary: Keep it simple—i.e., avoid fancy words or jargon. Some candidates believe using sophisticated words is the best way to demonstrate their knowledge and intellect, but these word choices usually have the opposite effect on interviewers. Recruiters expect you to communicate as people do in the real world. Using plain but professional language will help illustrate your point effectively.
  • Be brief: Try to be brief and direct when answering this question. Even when you have an anecdote to introduce, summarise it as the recruiters may have limited time for the interview—it's unlikely you're the only candidate they'll be interviewing that day. Also, if you enjoyed recreational and team-building activities in the previous company, be sure to generalise it in one statement and not go into details.

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