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When you go to apply for a new job, most potential employers will ask you why you left your last job. This can be a tough interview question, especially if the truth is complicated. 

People leave their jobs for a wide variety of reasons and it can be a sore spot for those who were laid off or fired. Whatever caused you to leave your last job is okay and there are many positive ways to respond to this question while keeping the subject light.

If you aren’t sure how to respond to this common interview question, don’t sweat! We’ve got you covered with some appropriate responses for your unique situation. 

The Question

The question “Why did you leave your last job?” can feel like a loaded one.  Your response to this question may reveal a different side of you than many of the other interview questions because it exposes how you handle departing from an employer.

A potential employer will often ask this to see if you are a risk as a new hire. They want to know if you were fired to mitigate hiring risk. A prospective employer will also try to gauge your respect for your previous employer and your dedication to your positions. 

Most interviewers will not push back on your responses or probe with follow-up questions, so it is best to keep it short and simple. The best responses to these questions are the ones that keep it light and positive. Negativity and trash-talking a previous or current employer is never a good idea. As long as you put down those red flags despite your genuine feelings, this question can be quick and painless.

Common Responses

There are many common responses to this tough question that are completely genuine and appropriate because people leave their roles for various reasons and many of them are perfectly acceptable. 

For example, if you needed to leave your job to take care of a sick family member, if you left to stay home with your children, if you left to go back to school, or if you left because you were relocating for a spouse’s job, then you can respond honestly. All of these responses are valid reasons to depart from a current role and a potential employer will likely understand. 

If you respond to the question with any of the above-mentioned reasoning, try to also throw in a statement about how it was a difficult decision but the right one or say something kind about your last employer. You want to show the interviewer that you appreciated the opportunity and your time there but you needed to move on for personal reasons.

Some responses can look like this:

  • I really loved working at ABC Company, but when my mother got sick, I needed to leave the position to take care of her. Everyone at the company was so kind about my departure and I’m still grateful.
  • Last year, my wife was offered a new role in San Diego, it was hard for me to say goodbye to my position at ABC Company in Denver because I had been there for so long and formed some great relationships, but I was so proud of my wife and excited to take on a new city!
  • After I got pregnant with my second child, I left my position at ABC Company because I really wanted to be home to treasure the formative years with my kids for a little while. Now that they are old enough for school, I am so proud and excited to get back to working in the healthcare industry because it is my passion.
  • I left ABC Company because I wanted to go back to school for a new career field. It was a tough decision, but my manager was very supportive and it was the best decision I made because I found that business is my true passion.
  • I left ABC Company last year because I had some big life changes that required me to take some time off. Those two years at ABC Company were so special because I was really able to see the wonders of science up close. After the break from work, I can’t wait to dive back in.
  • The team at ABC Company was amazing and I learned so much in my position, but I found felt that elementary Education wasn’t the right fit for me, so I got left to pursue a new certification in Social Work because I love helping adults. 

These are all great responses to that difficult question because they are concise. You don’t need to over-explain yourself or go into great detail because the prospective employer just wants a quick snapshot idea. Just be confident, clear, and brief. Stick to the facts and avoid negativity, personal details, and overly emotional responses that may cause an employer to raise an eyebrow. 

People resign from jobs all the time due to family reasons, health reasons, career transitions, or professional reasons. A true work-life balance is difficult to find and employers should understand, though some might not If you don’t want to state the exact reason for your departure, that is also perfectly acceptable. By stating that you left for personal reasons you can maintain your privacy while still providing an acceptable answer.

If you can, try to follow this response with why this potential employer would be the perfect next step for your career. This is always a great way to keep the job interview flowing smoothly.

When You were Laid Off

Being laid off is hard for any working professional and it often happens abruptly. Many workers were laid off during the 2008 recession and Covid-19, so if you were laid-off know that this is common and okay.

If you were laid off it may have been a difficult time for you and even a sore spot that has left you bitter. These feelings are always okay and perfectly normal. However, you should avoid expressing any of these negative feelings to a potential future employer during an interview. This can be hard, but it’s in your best interest to stick to the facts and answer without too much emotion.

Here are some examples of good responses:

  • A couple of months ago, ABC Company downsized, and my position was cut. Now I am looking for new employment in the same industry.
  • When the pandemic hit, ABC Company eliminated my previous position. Throughout quarantine, I used the downtime to research trends in marketing while I searched for new employment.
  • The bad economy caused ABC Company to take a hit and they were unable to renew my contract. I was grateful to them for the five years of leadership skills that I honed there and I am excited about my next career step.
  • A larger company bought ABC Company out and my position was eliminated. I still keep in touch with my former boss because he was such a great mentor in sales.

Again, corporate layoffs are nothing to be ashamed of and it is okay to be honest. As long as you keep it short and sweet the question will flow like every other part of the interview. The same thing goes for a gap in your resume, if this is related to being laid off don’t be afraid to be honest. Many Americans are struggling with this same dilemma right now because of the pandemic and you don’t need to give too many layoff details, the interviewer will understand.

If you were recently laid off and have been looking for work for a while with no success, keep researching the habits of effective job seekers and prepare for those behavioral interview questions. The job search and interview process can be stressful when you were not mentally prepared to be unemployed. Just know that you aren’t alone and with a little practice, you can ace that next interview.

When You are Still Working at Another Company

Employers may ask the tricky interview question of “Why did you leave your last job?” when you haven’t actually left that job yet. If they know that you are still working at another company, they may ask you, “Why do you want to leave Company ABC?”

You may be looking for new work because you hate your current job, but we’ll get to that section next. Many people start looking for a new job before they resign from their current position because they need to maintain a steady income. Some common reasons you are looking for new employment can include higher pay, a different company culture, a shorter commute, a more flexible schedule, or a step up the ladder.

A 2018 study found that the average person stays at a job for four years, but with a fluctuating economy and the pandemic, many people have started to reconsider their options. Younger generations seem to make job transitions at a faster rate than past generations, as well. It’s is okay if you want to take a step up with a management position at a new company and it’s totally fine to just want a change of pace.

Some employers may be wary of short amounts of time working with past employers because they fear that you are a flight risk. This is the best time to reassure them that you aren’t merely job-hopping. Explain why you want to work at their company and how this role fits into your career aspirations.

Remember to hold your tongue on those detailed bad reasons that you are leaving in your interview answers. Concise reasons are the key to a strong answer

Here are some good sample answers:

  • ABC Company has been a great introduction to accounting, but there isn’t room to grow. I want to take what I have learned there and bring it into a position that challenges me.
  • I was not initially looking for new employment but I am a huge fan of your company and when I saw a position open up, I had to apply. ABC Company has fostered my professional growth in sales but my passion lies more in the arts.
  • I have worked at ABC Company for two years and lead a strong team of web designers but I believe that my professional achievements are better suited for a larger company.
  • ABC Company just transitioned back to in-office work and the commute is just too far for me now. I am looking for a position that is closer to home.
  • My current company is transitioning to new leadership and after an amazing five years of professional development, I am ready to take the next steps as a Senior Manager in a new environment. 
  • A former manager referred me to this job description and I was blown away. I have been feeling unfulfilled in my current role and would love an opportunity to work in a more creative space.
  • After working at ABC Company for many years, I decided to go back to school to get a degree in nursing. I did night school while working at ABC Company and now that I have completed my training, I’m ready for the career transition.
  • I recently spoke with my mentor who gave me some great career advice. She suggested this company because she believed that it would better suit my skills and career goals.

You can also ask the interviewer to keep this information confidential for the time being if you have not elected to tell your current employer that you are leaving yet. Oftentimes, employers like to see that you are still working somewhere else while you job search because it shows that you are responsible.

The interviewer may follow up to ask you when your available start date would be upon hire so be prepared with a timeline. Most jobs require you to put in two weeks or a month’s notice before resigning and your future employer will likely respect that.

If the hiring manager is looking to fill the role immediately, contemplate if it would be possible to leave your current role at a sooner date upon being offered the new job. By preparing for these questions in advance, you will appear confident, organized, and eager during your interview and job offers.

When You Just Didn’t Like Your Last Employer

If you quit or resigned from your last position because you just didn’t like the company, don’t sweat it! Maybe your last boss really wasn’t a great guy or maybe the burnout that you faced in the role wasn’t worth it. The company culture could have been toxic or your pay was just way too low. Whatever the reason your old job sucked, you are free from it now and the best part of the past being the past is the fact that you can look back at it with a more positive perspective.

Try to think about what you gained from that experience and weigh it against what was missing. You are likely interviewing for a job that is better suited for your needs so capitalize off of that. It’s best not to talk about your negative experiences with your previous company and try to avoid emotional responses. Instead, focus on why this new potential employer is a better fit and frame your answer that way. 

Here are some examples of good responses:

  • ABC Company was a very fast-paced work environment that taught me so much about customer service but I was ready for a change of pace. I’m hoping to take what I learned about efficiency and customer experiences to your team.
  • My last employer was a small company that didn’t offer the room to grow, I am hoping to take on bigger projects.
  • After 6 years at ABC Company, I strongly desired career advancement. I resigned to attend online marking conferences and polish my skills.
  • After contemplating my career goals, I determined that ABC Company wasn’t the right fit. I left to look for a more budding opportunity.

When you resign from employers that you aren’t fond of try not to burn any bridges. Even if your management team was the absolute worst, you never know who they know. Lapses in judgment and abrupt departures can find their way to potential employers and cost you the job. Try to be a team player to the best ability and resign with respect for your employer and your previous roles.

When You were Fired

When you were fired from your last job, it can be nerve-wracking to respond to this tricky interview question. In some cases, it is okay to be honest and share what you learned. The occasional employer will respect your self-awareness and dedication to opportunities for growth and take a chance on you.

However, most potential employers will find this information to prove that you are a risky candidate and they might not be willing to give you an opportunity. Some previous employers will disclose the fact that you were fired and agree to state that it was a mutual decision. If this is your case then use this to your advantage and focus on the fact that the job was not the right fit.

No matter what, do not bad mouth your last employer because it will only reflect poorly on you. Keep it short while avoiding emotional details or negative reasons. In this case, a simple answer is the best response. 

Here are some examples:

  • My last boss and I decided that it would be best if I moved on.
  • The position was not a great fit for me at that time.
  • Departing from ABC was in my best interest and it benefited my career aspirations because I was able to take IT courses and perfect my skills.
  • Moving on was a blessing in disguise because I was able to direct my focus to a career better suited for my skills.

Try to avoid using the word “fired” but do not lie if you are asked directly. It is best to be honest with a simple answer while still being vague enough to deep dive into the dirt of being fired. You can also research more tips for talking about your weaknesses in job interviews and practice your responses. 

Answering why you left your last job can be difficult but it is not the most important question of your interview. You can choose how to frame your response by focusing on the opportunity at hand while keeping your emotions under wraps.

The interview is your time to shine so bring your best self and always answer with confidence. You are qualified enough to land that interview so be proud of your skills and accomplishments.

If you’re looking for a new job, a hiring agency like FirstPRO can help. Check out our article on How To Ace A Staffing Agency Interview and Contact Us to be proactive about your job search.