Interview Question: Why did you leave your last job?

This question, which may also be phrased as “why do you want to leave your current job?” is one of the most common questions asked during an interview (and rightfully so). As interviewers, we want to know why things didn’t work out between a potential hire and his or her past/present employer.

Sometimes, the answer is easy:

  • The employer had a reduction in force.
  • The employer is relocating and the employee doesn’t want to move.
  • The employer is no longer in business.

Other times, the answer might be a bit more complicated as one or both sides might not be living up to the other’s expectations. In this case, interviewees need to stay positive when they answer this tricky question:

When we’re unhappy in the workplace, it shows. Sometimes we’re right to be angry as life isn’t always fair and the business world can be awfully cruel at times. Other times, our own flaws may prevent us from succeeding in the workplace. In either case, a potential employer doesn’t want to hear us whine or complain about the CEO giving your promotion to his nephew or the company taking away free lunches on Fridays. Instead, they want to hear that you’re making a job change for the right reason. Some good reasons include:

  • The commute is difficult or time consuming (and telecommuting is not permitted).
  • There’s nowhere to grow / move up in your current position.
  • The company lacks basic benefits such as health insurance.
  • The company is financially unstable (layoffs, office closings, etc…).
  • The position requires excessive challenge (provided you are looking at a position that has limited travel).

Again, it’s tempting to complain about your current/past situation, especially if you feel like you’ve been hurt or treated unfairly. But a potential employer may see this as a personality flaw on the part of the interviewee (remember, they have a more objective view of the situation than you do). They may wonder if you’ll speak ill of them if they were to employ you.

So the best thing to do is give a concise and positive answer. Avoid blaming others for your unhappiness and complaining. Here are some examples of acceptable answers:

  • My commute takes an hour each way so I’d like to find something closer to my home so I can use that time more productively.
  • I’ve outgrown my current position and unfortunately, my current employer would have to make some drastic changes to the way it does business for me to move up.
  • My current employer isn’t reaching its financial goals so even though I’m happy with my current job, I’m concerned about my job being around in the near future.
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