Answering Interview Questions: Why Did You Leave your Last Job?

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Any seasoned job hunter can tell you that no two interviews are exactly alike. That being said, the same interview questions tend to come up time and time again, in one form or another. Even if your ‘go-to’ questions aren’t asked during your interview, having responses prepared can still come in handy. One question that is almost guaranteed to rear its head is: “ Why did you leave your last job? ”.

Employers have good reason to ask you why your last position ended, or why you’re choosing to move on from your current job. They’re not just being nosey or trying to make you sweat! Recruiting someone new into a business is no easy task – interviewers need to cover all bases to see if a candidate is the right fit. Your answer to this question will give a potential employer some insight into who you are as a professional. It will tell them:

  • If you’re a loyal employee
  • Whether or not you left on your own terms
  • About your work ethics
  • If you still have good business relationships with previous employers
  • What’s important to you (for example, if you left because you were unhappy for a specific reason)

As you can see, it’s safe to say that there’s a lot riding on the question why did you leave your last job? However, if you’re prepared, you’ll have nothing to worry about. Whether it’s during the telephone interview or a face-to-face interview, it’s always wise to be ready to tackle it. Here’s how to do it.

Refresh your memory

An interviewer isn’t going to be solely interested in your current or most recent position. They want to gain a full picture of your work history. If you’ve been working for quite some time, or if you’ve had a few different jobs, it can hard to keep track. Before any interview, you’ll need to do some preparation. As part of this, take some time to go over your CV and remind yourself of the reasons you moved on from each position that you have had.

Once you’re up to date, then you’ll need to work on how you want to explain those reasons for moving on. Some will be straightforward, others will need a little bit more thought. Either way, knowing what you want to say will help you to feel confident when answering this question. In addition to this, it prevents you having to think about it or remember the details on the spot during an interview. One less thing to worry about!

Be honest

Hands up if you’ve ever fudged the truth ever so slightly in an interview! OK, it’s something most people are guilty of at some point in their career. With this particular interview question, there is no room for porky pies. You may think that it will be easy and harmless to pull the wool over your interviewer’s eyes. Think again! The truth is, some interviewers may already know everything about you. If they don’t, you can bet your bottom dollar that they’ll be able to find out. So, lying about your reasons for leaving a job could turn out to be ten times worse than telling the truth. No one wants dishonest staff.

If you were fired or left on bad terms, you may be worried about this harming your chances of getting the job. Managers have seen a lot in their time, so they’re more understanding than you may think. With situations like this, your preparation will save the day. Prior to an interview, consider how you can explain these instances in an honest way but with a positive spin.

Example

Let’s say, for instance, you were let go from a sales job due to poor performance. Here’s how to tackle it:

Interviewer – “ Why did you leave your last job? ”

Interviewee – “I always believe it’s best to be honest in any situation – I was let go from the business because I wasn’t quite there with my targets. I’ve learned a lot from the experience and I’ve been brushing up on my tactics since and I know where I went wrong. I definitely won’t make the same mistakes again. That being said, I left there on good terms and I still have some great contacts.”

Sounds a lot better than “they sacked me because I wasn’t hitting my targets”, doesn’t it? Obviously, this is one very specific example, but it shows that how you explain yourself can have a huge impact on how you come across to an interviewer.

Keep it positive

Stay with the positive vibes when answering this interview question and avoid negativity at all costs. Your interviewer doesn’t want to hear about what a tyrant your manager was or how much you hated your job. You may think it’s good banter, but trashing a previous employer will only harm your chances of success.

Negativity and whining are not things that win interviewers over. In addition to this, how do you know that your interviewer isn’t best buds with the person you’re slating? Positivity is the right way forward.

Example

Instead of:

“I hated that place and everyone in it.”

Try:

“I moved on from my last position because, although I learned some valuable lessons there, the business wasn’t the right fit for me. I’m looking for a role with a company that will allow me to grow and develop even further as a professional.”

Make them feel good

You can be clever with your answer to “ why did you leave your last job? ” by slipping in a bit of ego stroking, too. We’re not talking about brown nosing, or flattering your interviewer!

An interview isn’t just about showing why you’d be good for the job, it’s also crucial to show that you want it. Speaking highly of the company is a great way to show your enthusiasm for the role. Luckily, it’s something you can incorporate into your response to this question.

Example

Let’s consider the previous example. You can also turn this into a chance to show that you’re very keen to work for the company in question. Take a look:

“I moved on from my last position because, although I learned some valuable lessons there, the business wasn’t the right fit for me. I’m looking for a role with a company that will allow me to grow and develop even further as a professional. I also want to work in a supportive environment within an ambitious company that has a great company culture. Having looked into your business, I really feel that [COMPANY NAME] can offer me that.”

Spoken like a true schmoozer!

Bringing it all together

There really is no need to fear the interview question, “ why did you leave your last job? ”. If you prepare yourself well, be honest and stay positive, you’ll be unshakeable!

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