"Why did you leave your last job?" can be one of the most challenging interview questions.
When hiring managers and interviewers ask this question, they want to learn about what's important to you in a job, why you left, and whether you're suitable for the new position.
There are several ways to answer this question. If you don't prepare, it can catch you off guard. In contrast, preparing a good answer gives the interviewer confidence and positions you in the most flattering light.
Common variations of this question include:
- "Why did you leave your last job?"
- "Why did you quit your last job?"
- "Why are you looking for a new job?"
- "Why were you fired?"
The foundation of a good answer is a valid reason that reflects your specific circumstances while remaining positive. Even if you quit because of a demanding boss or didn't like your old job, always emphasize your excitement for the new role.
In this article, we'll provide example answers, as well as tips and mistakes to avoid.
Why interviewers ask, "Why did you leave your last job?"
Interviewers ask, "Why did you leave your last job?" to assess the level of risk you present as an employee. They want to know whether:
- You left the position voluntary, or if you were fired or laid off
- You are still on good terms with your previous employer
- Your reason for leaving is reasonable
For example, if you left your job because of performance issues, the hiring manager may question whether you'll be successful in the role. If you're leaving for a better opportunity, they may question whether you'll be loyal to their company.
None of these reasons are necessarily deal-breakers, but how you answer this question will give the interviewer insight into your character, values, and how you handle your professional life.
How to answer "Why did you leave your job?"
This interview question can be challenging to answer, so it's a good idea to focus your answer on the new opportunity while being honest.
1. Get clear on your reasons for leaving
Write down why you're looking for a new role. If you're not sure, consider the following questions:
- What do you value?
- What are your career goals?
- What new skills do you want to learn?
- What new responsibilities would let you develop those skills?
- What's your ideal company culture?
- What do you need from a job?
- What did you like and dislike about your prior role?
- Are you passionate about particular industries?
Answer these questions and choose a few key reasons to highlight in the interview. Ideally, the reason you choose will be related to work.
For example, while you may be looking for a new job because you recently had a baby, it's unlikely to be a compelling reason for a future employer.
2. Keep your answer short
While it's essential to answer the question, keep your answer short. You want to focus the conversation on why you're the best person for the job and why you're excited about the growth opportunities the position offers.
3. Stay positive
Even if you left your job because of a negative experience, stay positive. Employers want to hire people who work through difficult situations.
Focus on how you're excited to take on new challenges and responsibilities. Emphasize that the new role is an excellent opportunity to move toward your career goals.
For example, instead of saying, "I didn't like my manager in my previous position." Try something like, "I've learned a lot in my current role, but I'm looking for a position where I can do my best work in an industry I'm passionate about."
4. Be honest but don't overshare
You don't need to go into every reason you're leaving. If you find your current employer unsatisfying, you can share that in a way that doesn't disparage individuals.
Remember, your answer should move the conversation toward why you're excited about the new company.
You don't want to call out people because the interviewer could have a connection with your previous employer. They'll likely reach out to your old manager to confirm your story or get a reference, so always be honest about your situation.
Sample answers to "Why did you leave your last job?"
Now that you have your reasons for leaving the job, it's crucial to understand how the interviewer could interpret your answer.
Below are examples you can use to shape your answer.
Example answer 1: "I don't like the company."
"I've learned a lot at my current organization. I'm thankful for the professional opportunities I've had and the friendships I've developed. However, it's becoming clear to me that my motivation stems from believing in the company's mission. I'm not super passionate about the mission of my current employer, but I love your mission to help the unbanked develop strong financial habits."
Why it works: There are positives and negatives in every company, and the candidate has outlined what they don't like about their current employer without bad-mouthing anyone. Instead, they've highlighted their excitement about the potential employer's mission.
Example answer 2: "I want more pay."
"I love connecting with customers and helping them get the most out of the product. However, I feel like I'm not compensated enough for the role that I'm performing at my current company. I joined straight out of university and quickly rose through the ranks. However, the company has a policy of only providing raises yearly, so I haven't been paid more despite taking on more responsibility."
Why it works: This is a tricky reason to share, as interviewers can interpret it in several ways. The candidate has shown they care about more than money while also emphasizing that your current role isn't paying the market rate.
Example answer 3: "I'm bored at work."
"I've learned a lot in my current role, but now I'm looking to take on more responsibility as I want to continue developing my skills and abilities, particularly my management abilities. I'm excited that this role provides the opportunity to build out a team rather than only being a sole contributor."
Why it works: Being dissatisfied with your current role is an excellent reason for leaving. However, you need to be able to position it correctly. This candidate has outlined why they're looking for a new job, the new skills they hope to learn, and even tied it back to the job description!
Example answer 4: "I don't like the hours at my job."
"I do my best work when I have a healthy work-life balance, and I take the commitments I make at work very seriously. In my current role, I don't have a lot of control over my schedule despite producing results, so I'm looking for somewhere that has more flexibility."
Why it works: If flexibility is important to you and you can produce results, it makes sense to share that with your interviewer. The way the candidate has framed this is important. You don't want to come across as someone who wants flexibility but won't take responsibility. Instead, this answer positions you as a responsible professional who can manage their time well.
Example answer 5: "I'm looking for career growth"
"I love my current role and coworkers, but it's come to the point where I can't grow on the team. We're a small company, and there isn't anyone above my current manager, so I'm looking to move to a larger company with more established career paths. Could you tell me about the growth opportunities for this job and what the company does to invest in its employees?"
Why it works: Some companies offer more upward mobility than others. It can also be challenging if you're looking to grow in a different direction than the company. Career growth is one of the most common reasons for leaving a job. It won't surprise the interviewer.
Example answer 6: "I want to change career paths"
"I'm looking to move from content marketing to SEO, but it isn't an important growth lever at my current company. So I'm looking to move to a company that values SEO so I can develop and expand my skills."
Why it works: It's increasingly common for people to have several different careers in their lifetime. Whether you went back to school or pivoted into another field, changing jobs is a great answer.
Example answer 7: "This is a better opportunity"
"I've learned a lot at my company, but from my research, I believe that this opportunity is much larger. I can see that this position offers the opportunity to learn more skills at a quicker pace, and I value learning above all else."
Why it works: Leaving a job because you have a better choice is one of the most valid reasons. Whether that's because the work environment is better, the pay is better, or you believe in the company's mission is up to you.
Example answer 8: "My previous employer let me go"
"I was let go. In retrospect, I can see that my former employer and I had different expectations for the role. I could have done a better job clarifying what success looked like in the position. There was a lot I could have done differently, and I learned a lot. This role lines up with my skills, abilities, and the direction I'd like to take my career."
Why it works: The candidate has been truthful without going into a lot of detail, explained what they learned from the situation, and didn't blame their former employer.
Example answer #9: "My previous employer laid me off"
"Unfortunately, I was impacted when management restructured the company. It's given me time to consider my next move and research opportunities. I'm excited about this position because my skills align perfectly with the job description, and I'm passionate about the healthcare industry."
Why it works: The candidate has been clear about why they left their previous role and outlined why they're excited about the new position.
Common reasons for leaving a job
- Your values don't align with the company's values or mission
- You want more compensation
- The company you worked for went out of business
- You feel undervalued in your current role
- You are looking for new challenges
- You want more career growth opportunities
- You had to leave for personal reasons
- You don't like the hours of your current job
- You want to relocate
- You want to change careers
- You went back to school
- You didn't enjoy the company culture
- You found a better opportunity
- You had to leave for health reasons
- Your previous employer laid you off
- Your previous employer let you go
- Your previous employer fired you
- You want to work in a different industry
What to say if your previous employer fired you
If your current employer fired you, it's essential to keep your response positive. Don't blame yourself or your previous employer. Give a brief, honest answer, then move the conversation along.
Tips for giving the best answer to "Why did you leave your last job?"
There are many good reasons for leaving a job. Maybe you wanted more money, were poorly managed in your previous role, or wanted a career change. However, be careful when raising these reasons during a job interview.
Be honest but also strategic in your response. You want your answer to show that you're a good fit for the role.
Here are a few tips you should follow to ensure your answer is well received:
- Be honest: You don't have to go into every reason you left, but be sure to focus on a legitimate reason for leaving. For example, if you felt like you outgrew your previous roles, start by describing some of the things you accomplished and then outline why you think you couldn't get more done in the position. You'll score extra points if you can tie your answer back to the job description.
- Keep it short and sweet: Answer this common interview question quickly. There are a lot of ways to screw it up. A sentence or two is sufficient. If possible, frame your departure from your past job in favorable terms.
- Practice: Practicing your responses ensures you come across as a positive, strong communicator. It'll also help you feel more comfortable answering this difficult question. If you were fired or let go, give the hiring manager a short, clear, and unemotional reason.
Avoid these mistakes when answering, "Why did you leave your last job?"
- Negativity: Don't speak poorly about managers, colleagues, or the company. You never know if the hiring manager has a close relationship with someone at the previous company. That said, it's okay to say that you disagreed with the direction the company or your team was taking.
- Unprofessional comments: A job interview isn't the time to let out all your angst. You don't need to overshare or get personal about your motivations for leaving. Keep your answer professional.
- Being vague: Especially if you were fired or laid off, be clear and direct in your response.
- Not taking responsibility: Saying you were fired or having trouble with your manager can be rough. You don't need to say everything was your fault, but you need to outline what you learned from the situation.
Possible follow-up questions
- Describe your work ethic
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Why do you want to work here?
- Why are you the best person for this job?
- Tell me about a time you made a mistake
- What can you bring to the company?
- Do you have any questions for me? Read our guide on the best questions to ask in an interview.
- What is your greatest weakness?
- Any number of behavioral interview questions. Be sure to use the STAR method when answering.
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