Job Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

It’s not uncommon to be asked during the interview about why you left your last job or why you’d like to leave your current job. The key to answering this question is to be positive and emphasize the future.

Before we delve into the specifics on answering the question positively, let’s first establish how you shouldn’t answer the question:

  • Don’t badmouth your previous or current employer.

  • Don’t badmouth your previous or current boss.

Instead, you want to keep the conversation positive and focused on the job you’re targeting. Here are a few examples of how to answer this question, whether you were laid off, fired or are leaving on your own.

Laid Off

  • The company was cutting back on expenses, and unfortunately, my job was one of the 600 cut.

  • I was laid off along with my entire department due to company restructuring.

  • The company hired a new manager who “updated” my team, cutting out current employees to bring on members of her old team. I understand that was her right, and it has enabled me to open myself to new and better opportunities.

Fired

  • Looking back, I realize that I made some bad choices and should have done things differently. I’ve taken this as learning experience so I can avoid those mistakes in the future. I hope I can have the opportunity to prove this to you.

  • My talents and competencies were not a good fit with the needs of my previous company, but they seem like a perfect match for the role you have open. Would you like to hear more about my experience in graphic design?

  • I was dealing with a number of personal problems that led me to disconnect from work, and ultimately led to my departure. I had the time to take care of these issues and am back, focused and ready to exceed your expectations.

Quit

  • I’m looking for opportunities with more responsibility and potential for advancement, where I can challenge myself and use my production skills in a different capacity.

  • I left my previous job when my spouse was transferred and am looking for an opportunity in our new area.

  • The hour and a half commute I was making each day at my previous employer was wearing me down. I would prefer to work closer to home.

  • Honestly, I wasn’t planning to leave, but I came across this opportunity which seems like an exciting challenge that exactly matches my skill set.

Got a tricky situation and don’t know how to explain the reason why you left or are leaving a job? Ask the community in the comments section below.

  • Rachel

    I was let go from my job in January. They told me they felt I was unhappy there and that they wished me luck in the future. Just not sure how I should answer the question…. Of why were you let go? Seems like no one wants to hire me because I was let go.

    • Kara

      “My position was eliminated. However, what this has enabled me to do is to seek a role where I can use my project management talent to help a nonprofit increase membership and raise more money. This would be an ideal opportunity” Got this answer here http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/2013/09/18/why-did-you-leave-your-last-job

    • Michelle U

      I am being told I am a “problem employee” because I won’t “adapt” to the rude / unprofessional/unethical behavior of one person in my dept. She berates me quite frequently. I have only been there 6 weeks!! And she hates me. She doesn’t say it…she doesn’t have to. Her actions speak loud enough. However, she admits that there are things previous employees did that she feels I will do. Well, that is not my deal. I am not those previous employees. But when I voice my concerns to the manager, she keeps alluding to how “miserable” I am going to be if things keep up like this. Honestly, there is no “going to be” miserable. That ship has sailed. I AM miserable, because this “golden child” gets to do what she wants and was not held accountable, even in front of the manager, … yet I was told that it was ME who had to adapt to her strong personality!!! So, I pretty much feel your pain.

  • Wzox

    I started working for a new company in a sales position about 9 months ago. After coming on board I became aware that the company has bad credit and very poor accounting practices. Can I speak honestly about this in an interview without it coming off like I am speaking negatively about my employer?

  • Meca

    I was not renewed because I reported a sexual harassment incident involving my boss’s friend. Once the report was made, the boss made it his personal mission to make me look bad. When it was time for contracts, he did not renew mine. Since then, he has black balled me from getting other jobs in the area. I had no other recourse than to file with state and federal agencies that deal with whistle blowing issues I know that I will eventually be vindicated but it doesn’t help me right now since I cannot get a job to support my family.

  • Miguel Diaz

    I have a question about how I should answer this if anyone is willing to hear it.

  • Christine

    I left an insurance company for retail

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  • Rick Hoffman

    How about if I was let go for workman’s comp issues I had lifting restrictions

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  • SUE C

    HOW DO I EXPLAIN QUIT DUE TO CHANGES IN MANAGEMENT, DOUBLED WORKLOAD AND DEALING WITH ILL FAMILY AT HOME CAUSED ME HIGH STRESS AND ANXIETY LEFT UNDER DOCTORS ORDERS.

  • Sue C

    Best interview answer
    Why I quit
    Overworked due to new boss, restructure of staff, high stress
    At the same time dealing with family illness
    Left per doctors order

  • Sue C

    Answer to interview question why I quit
    Left due to high stress, doubled workload, restructured management, dealing with family illness
    left per physician’s order but loved my job. My former boss giving me a great reference and other managers. I received multiple letters of employee recognition for going above and beyond job expectations to get the job done.

  • Cyndy

    Worked for an atty who cussed and screamed at everyone including throwing phones across rooms. I left without notice due to his personality at the same time 4 others did. Giving notice meant more abusive environment. How do I explain that in an interview?

  • Lisa Selby

    I had a job that I was let go several years ago. But if I get in a similar type of job, where I was dealing with a demographic that were mentally ill, or some disabled focused company I would like to know how to answer the question. I was in charge of helping the clients weed the front yard. I had to finish things up inside the house, and when I went outside a client had dug up a plant that was 2 feet high and almost that wide. Being a plant person, having taken horticulture courses and worked in a garden center for nine years, I lost my temper. I pointed out that she had pulled up a plant, not a weed. At my suggestion the house had the lawn dug up and planted drought tolerant plants which was a city program. In a way I felt responsible. Also I realized as soon as I told her about the plant that she didn’t know the difference between a plant and a weed and that she was only doing what she was told. The client told the program manager and I was let go.

  • Taimi

    My job was very physically demanding and I developed a medical condition that prohibited heavy lifting. My technical term for being let go was “no longer able to physically perform duties”. I have since completed my graduate work and am looking at positions that do not have significant physical requirements. I do not want to mention physical limitations during an interview, any suggestions on how to answer that dreaded question?

  • Michelle U

    I am being harassed by a co-worker. I know I do not address that at all. So, would it be best to just say something like, “Unfortunately, my abilities were not the right
    match for my previous employer. I believe that my personal competencies are a
    good fit with your company because . . .” and list why I feel I’d be a good fit with this new company?

  • 21russell21

    I took on a promotional job a year ago in an unfamiliar territory of underwriting and risk finance. I was pleased that my boss tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to interview for the position. She hired me for my people leadership skills and thought I would adjust to the technical portion of the job. After 90 days or so I was becoming quite overwhelmed as the job was over my head and I could not get caught up. I had a conversation with my boss regarding this job being the right fit. We agreed that it was not and she even gave me some time to search for a new job. Unfortunately, I did not secure a new role as there was a hiring freeze and/or my experiences didn’t meet requirements etc. So I decided to resign from the company in order to allow myself the flexibility to strategically search for my next job/career. Now, I would like advise on how to explain this in an interview when asked why I left my company after 14 years. What I have done so far is reach out to 2 former supervisors and a few colleagues and direct reports for professional references. I know I can point out my longevity and loyalty with my former company.

    • Genevieve Hawkins

      Very similar to mine, I worked in a finance 4 years but I was laid off 5 years ago(way after many others were, it was inevitable during the mortgage crisis so it wasn’t for poor performance).
      My above story is recent though and its very hard no matter how I write cover letters/resumes even with professional help.

  • Genevieve Hawkins

    So I got a very pathetic story. I left a job in the medical field right after I finished the school program. I was very much welcomed and liked the first 6 months. It was very rewarding and exciting at first but I was going through a separation with ex boyfriend. I had also gotten a side job that did not conflict with my schedule whatsoever. I had to get my loans paid off and was a great way to keep busy.
    My emotions were very up and down from the breakup to the point I couldn’t focus as well etc. So my supervisor pulled me aside and was saying how DR’s have been complaining about my work lately. I moved past it and tried harder but then she tells me I should leave my side job (blaming my 2nd job on messing up). She also said if I don’t purchase a car I would have my ft hours cut in half. I finally just checked out but finished the two weeks I gave to stay in good terms.
    So now I’ve been working a menial job ft and realized I screwed up big time. I didn’t have money for a car and wasn’t paid over min wage to compensate either.
    I would rather put I’m working than not but most employers would see my current jib and laugh. I mean most ppl my age working there are considered mentally disabled which I am not. I messed up and now I’m screwed for the of my life! I learned a very important lesson too little to late: feelings do not belong in the workplace ever!