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27 Apr 2021 Austin Belcak

How To Answer The Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

There are a number of reasons you may have left your last job. And, truthfully, any reason that felt like the right decision for you is probably a good enough reason. But, when you’re asked the common interview question, “why did you leave your last job?,” you’ll want to give an answer that puts you in the best light.

You’ll also want to assure the interviewer that you’re serious about your next job that could potentially be at their company!

In this post, I’m going to show you exactly how to do that. But before I do, I want you to know why interviewers ask you this question in the first place. Because once you understand that, crafting an excellent answer becomes a whole lot easier.

Why Does An Interviewer Ask “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

You’ll be asked this question for the same reason that you’ll be asked problem solving interview questions and situational interview questions. The interviewer needs to assess whether it’s risky to hire you.

What do I mean by risky? When a company hires a new employee, it can be an expensive and time-consuming decision. And, if they get it wrong, it can cost them 30% of the employee's first-year salary!

What Answer Are They Really Looking For?

With this question, the interviewer’s looking for the same thing they’re looking for when asking questions like, “why are you interested in this position?

They want reassurance that, if hired, you’ll take your work seriously. And when you have your first bad day, your two weeks’ notice letter won't pop up in their inbox soon after. When it's time for you to leave the job, they want you to do so on good terms. So, the best answers will satisfy the interviewer of all those things. And you accomplish that by focusing your answer on one thing in particular: your desire for career growth.

The Best Ways To Answer This Question

As promised, I’m going to walk you through a step-by-step formula to craft an answer that focuses on your growth and impresses the interviewer. But, first, I want to make sure you know what type of answers interviewers don’t want to hear in response to this question.

What To Avoid Saying

The last thing you want to do in an interview is to make yourself out to be a victim. It won’t work out in your favor. That’s why you’ll want to avoid things like:

  • Badmouthing your old boss or colleagues (even if they made your life miserable)
  • Talking about the inefficiencies within the company that made your skin crawl
  • Claiming the company couldn’t afford to pay you a salary you deserve
  • Mentioning that your work became too boring to bear

Why should you avoid saying these things? Because — even if those reasons are true — they’re subjective and have the power to create doubt in the mind of the interviewer of whether you’re really the one to blame for those poor outcomes. The interviewer might also start to wonder if, one day, you’ll feel the same about them and their company. And that’s not the direction you want your interview to go!

So, how do you prepare for the “why did you leave your last job?” interview question? Let’s take a look.

4-Step Formula For Answer Preparation

Preparing for this question is easy — focus on the career growth you are or were chasing by changing jobs. To craft that type of answer, you can follow this formula:

Step 1: Write down the real reason you left your job

Write down the negative (e.g. toxic work environment) and positive (e.g. career advancement) reasons for leaving your job. This first step is just for you and your notes. So, be honest! Then, choose the most compelling positive reason and skip to step 3. Or, if the majority of your reasons are negative, continue to step 2.

Step 2: Reframe negative reasons to be focused on your career growth

Sometimes there are only negatives reasons for leaving a job. And that’s okay. But, like I said before, you don’t want to share that in your interview. Instead, you want to reframe the negative. How would you do that? Reframing is a way of changing your perspective of negative events to find the good in them.

Here’s an example. Instead of saying something like, “I’m leaving my job because I feel my work is undervalued” you'd say, “I’m leaving because I’m looking for a role where I get to really demonstrate the value of my skills.”

Step 3: Pair your reason for leaving with your career goals and the new company

You could stop your preparation after completing steps 1 and 2. Or you could prepare for an interview like a top performer by taking advantage of the opportunity to share even more positive information about yourself.

That’s why I recommend tying in your reason for leaving your last job with one of your personal career goals and how that aligns with this new company. Adding this to your answer will make it more memorable! And it can be even better if you show your goals are aligned with what the company hopes to accomplish in the future.

Step 4: End your answer by asking a relevant follow-up question

Remember why the interviewer is asking you this question. It's to evaluate whether hiring you is a risky decision. So be proactive and crush any doubt they could have by asking a relevant follow-up question that further shows your interest in the role. By doing this, you’ll also keep the interview feeling more like a conversation between potential colleagues!

Examples Of How To Answer The Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job”

My 4-step formula makes answering this interview question sound pretty simple, right? Good. Because it is! Find the growth-oriented spin on why you left, pair it with one of your career goals, and end with a follow-up question.

Want to see what that looks like? Check out these examples of “why did you leave your last job?” answers.

Example 1

“I recently completed a certification program in UX design. While I enjoy my current job, there aren’t many opportunities for me to apply this new skill I really enjoy. I know this open job’s core focus is product management and isn’t necessarily a UX-focused role. But I saw in the job description that one of the core responsibilities involves collaboration with the UX team. Would you be able to share more about the team’s working style and an example of what the collaboration between these two teams might look like?”

Example 2

“My last company had to lay off over 100 employees last year, and, unfortunately, I was one of them. But, on the bright side, I’ve managed to use that time to advance some of my technical skills and take on a few freelance projects. When I heard about the opening for this position, I knew it could be the perfect opportunity to build on what I learned in my last role and apply some of the new skills I’ve been learning during my time off. I also saw that this company supports employees' continued development of job-related skills. Can you tell me more about that?”

Example 3

“As much as I love the hustle culture of start-ups, I’ve realized that I’m ready to work for a company that has the brand recognition to reach a larger audience. In my last role, there were times where I got a taste for how we could influence customers at scale. For example, I was in charge of a brand marketing campaign that resulted in a 38% increase in brand awareness among our target market. Now, I want to hone in on what I’ve learned. And I see a lot of potential to do that in this role. Can you tell me a bit more about what type of projects I might get to work on?”

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re preparing for a phone interview, in-person interview, or video interview, you can expect to talk about why you’ve left or plan to leave your last job. To do that in a way that impresses the interviewer, remember to focus on your desire for career growth rather than any negative feelings!

And when you’re done preparing your answer for this question, make sure you’re starting and finishing your interviews as strongly as possible. How? By revisiting how you introduce yourself and by following-up with the perfect post interview thank you email!

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.

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