10 Ways to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job

John Krautzel
Posted by in Career Advice


Job interviews are stressful enough without worrying about how to explain why you left your last job. Reduce your stress levels by preparing your answer ahead of time. Remember to frame your situation in positive terms. Here are a few suggestions to get you started.

1. No Room to Grow

Let the interviewer know that the job was wonderful, but that you were ready to move on to new challenges.

2. Taking Up Too Much Time

Explain that you were ready to move on, and knew that you wouldn't be able to do your best at work and job-hunt simultaneously.

3. Shift in Company Focus

Sometimes companies change positions. Whether the change was due to a buyout, a slight change in emphasis or a whole new mission statement, explain at the job interview that your priorities were no longer in line with the company's.

4. Just Finished a Big Project

Start by telling the hiring manager about a big project that you recently completed. Then explain that after the project, you realized that you were ready for new things and that you were unlikely to find those opportunities with your previous employer.

5. Looking for a Particular Position

Share that you had recently decided you wanted a specific position and that position was not available at your previous company. Remember to be honest. If the position you are currently applying for was available or likely to open up at your old company, the hiring manager may find out.

6. Fast-Growth Period Ended

If you're a person who loves a fast pace, then you don't want to stay at a company that has moved into a maintenance mode. At your job interview, explain that your interest had waned in your old position when things slowed down, but that you are excited to have the opportunity to help another company prosper.

7. New Interests

If you are applying for positions that are quite different from your previous job, tell the interviewers that you wanted to pursue new interests and move in a different direction.

8. Wanted a Different Work Environment

The job interview is a perfect time to explain that you love the work environment and company culture at the new organization. Without badmouthing your old employer, share that you were looking for a place that was bigger or smaller or more relaxed or offered specific benefits depending on your situation.

9. Realized Your Strengths Weren't a Good Fit

This is a great answer if you left your previous position on less-than-perfect terms. Share at the job interview that you realized you had strengths that weren't suited to the position. Then elaborate on those strengths to move you closer to getting hired.

10. Position No Longer Meshed With Life Goals

This is usually an honest answer and doesn't require much explanation. A brief, confident statement that your previous position was not in line with your current life goals should be enough to move the interview along.

Most importantly, remember that a job interview should be a collaboration. Don't be on your guard expecting the worst. Instead, take a cooperative attitude, working to help the interviewers understand who you are. When you let them see your value, you move a step closer to getting hired.


Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Cindy A thanks for your comment and so sorry for everything that you had to go through. Terrible company. But they aren't all like that. You were micromanaged to the max at that company. No wonder the stress caused health issues. Have you thought about taking your sales skills to another venue of sales? Maybe a sales position where you go the client instead of the client coming to you? That way you can sell, totally on your own, without someone looking over your shoulder, critiquing you at every move and stealing your sale. Just a thought. Maybe you should consider moving out of sales altogether and into another field. We all change careers. Maybe it's a good time for you.

  • Cindy A.
    Cindy A.

    I had to leave my position with a company. I was not receiving adequate training and so many of my sales were finished by someone else. They kept the sales commission and tried to deny this. I would be told, that I still got credit for the sale and so did not lose it. What they meant was that I got sales credit-needed to keep my job- but not the commission for the sale. I feel that basically, my training was at a standstill point to where they could take over any sales more difficult in order to receive the commission. I was also told that a manager has to right to step in and save the sale if I was going to lose it. But with the customers purchase(es) in my hand and them deciding on more items, how could they say that I am going to lose this sale? They would also engage/interrupt my customers conversation. Then they would literally take it over, ask to see their choices, take them and the customer to the desk and finish the sale. Remember...I said they would tell me that at times, I was going to lose the sale and they needed to step in. Most of my sales went like this. If they were working with me for long periods of time, they would not let me help any customers coming in. Glaring customers would soon understand why I didn't help them and stop. Serious stress from inadequate training, loss of good sales and other situations made for an unforeseeable immediate need to quit. Literally 5 days afterward, I lost 5 clothing sizes and discovered the serious-Luckily fixable!- health issue it caused. I am thankful I quit when I did, I may have ended up on the floor of my office with strangers calling emergency. This is all true but now I can't find a job and it's been over a year. All my jobs have been started or obtained almost immediately after the previous. Any suggestions or help with solutions? This isn't to bad mouth just to tell the seriousness of what I am going through because I need work. Thank you for ANY help.

  • DEBRA W.
    DEBRA W.

    This article has been extremely beneficial to me right now. I am in the midst of searching for a new job, and as I am older now, this has given me some ideas to explain why I just left a job I held for 12 years. My company that I left is moving to a new focus for the job I held and my job is actually being discontinued. The options left for me with my previous employer were not options that fit what I need and want to be doing for the rest of my working life. I also read your article "on getting around ageism" and that also gave me great insight into how to handle that subject during an interview. Thanks so much and I'm very happy that I took the time to read these.

  • ken h.
    ken h.

    Great advice...thanks for posting!

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Paul S thanks for your comment. The bottom line here is that if it's legal for a company to tell all - whether factual or not - then you more than likely wouldn't get anywhere if you tried to sue for a bad review. Can't have it both ways. I have never had a company spill the beans on a former employee. All I have even been told is "yes, she worked here from this date to this date". And that was it. Companies can not afford to have the lawsuits that would occur if they told it all - or even said a little bit about the former employee. It can all come back to bite them. All you have to do is look at what is happening with all of the investigations at the White House to know that maybe it's not a myth that all companies can offer is to verify employment dates.

  • Paul S.
    Paul S.

    I have seen in the comments section in this and other articles that "legally, a company can only verify your title and dates of employment." This is a complete MYTH and there is absolutely no federal law restricting what a company may say about a former employee. State laws vary on this issue. SOME companies have internal policies to this effect. It is irresponsible to promote this fallacy that MIGHT be true for a certain location or company as universal truth that applies to all US workers. Every one of you reading the comments for this article should do some research and learn what laws may apply to your own individual case. Personally, I left my last position under very bad terms (it was a mutual separation and I have a CONTRACT stating this) and my assumption is that if asked, my previous manager will (absolutely legally) present the situation in the worst possible light, so I do everything in my power to keep any prospective employers from speaking with my previous manager. If you do learn, however, that people are not being factual in giving a bad review, you may have legal remedies available to you.

  • Paula Thornton
    Paula Thornton

    @Nick Kossovan I left a job I had been at for 14 years and nine months. Just a few more months and I could have retired. I left because I was on a team with four women, myself included, and the other three did not talk to me, even though I did not know them from working at this company for so long. One day, I was sitting at one of the lady's desk doing cross-training when her instant message popped up on the screen right in front of me, and all three women were talking about me. A few months later, sitting at the same woman's desk and cross-training, I had gone to the printer to pick something up, and I found a print out of another instant message between two of the women and the things they called me, personally, I think they should have been fired for. I had been sick before I came to this position, losing 35 pounds for no reason at all (I cannot lose weight if I tried). I had problems swallowing which limited the amount I could eat, and I was starving. After reading the latest instant message I sent a copy to my manger and HR. I then ended up in the hospital because of this swallowing problem. I think I was out of the office for 6 weeks. When I went back, I went back to the same team working with the same women. Other things happened, but I was almost fired because of something that happened in the Philippines that I did not know about. A very knowledgable woman on my team had been on vacation, and when she came back, she was fired for the exact same thing. It was just more than I could take, and I walked out. My manager did not support me. In fact, he would pull me in to the conference room and tell me he had no confidence in me. He did this several times. The company I worked for was an Outsource provider, and had lost two of their largest clients that i had supported. I was basically told there was no other team they could put me on. I worked in a hostile environment. For the 14 years before that, I loved every position I was in. I had support. But when these two clients cancelled their contracts, every one left the company for career assurance.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Ivy N thanks for your comment. You don't have to volunteer anything like that in the interview. Only answer the questions asked - nothing more. Obviously you wouldn't be applying for a position that requires physical movement all day long so, I say no. What does everyone else think?

  • ivy n.
    ivy n.

    My skills have slowed down due to 6 surgeries on hip. Do I tell them this during interview !

  • Bola A.
    Bola A.

    Wow !!! So interesting and Inspiring

  • ivy n.
    ivy n.

    I have not worked in approximately 1 year. This was due to lay off for not making 1 matrix. At the same time I broke my hip

  • Jacek Balcerzak
    Jacek Balcerzak

    interesting article!

  • David B.
    David B.

    Thanks for your interestings comments and advices.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Diane Santini thanks for your comment. So very sorry. Boy, that's tough when they just say thanks but we don't need you any longer. If asked the question, you could just say that you got new management and he wanted to bring in his own staff. In today's "right to work" world, they don't really have to tell you why. Sorry. I know that doesn't help. All the best on your job search.

  • DIANE SANTINI
    DIANE SANTINI

    How do you answer when you get an excellent performance evaluation then the boss's boss says it just didn't work out and that they were not required to tell me why? My boss left after 6 years and they hired someone then let me go.

  • Elizabeth D.
    Elizabeth D.

    older workers

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Jeff Sloane thanks for your comments. I, too, have been in an interview where I knew more than the hiring manager and it didn't go well. As soon as they realized that I knew my trade inside and out, the interview wound down quickly. Needless to say, the position went to someone else as it rightly should have. That hiring manager knew that I would either jump ship when a real job came along or that I would be working to get his job! Those are all good questions that you are asking, though. As for the questions about kids and education - you didn't have to answer. Try to turn the table... saying yes I have children - how about you? For the education, simply state that yes you have a bachelor's degree in XYZ from University ABC. Great school... do you know about it? Again, it takes the interviewer off the attack and puts the focus back on him. Doesn't always work but it's worth a shot. Of course if you realize quickly that the position is not going to be for you - don't waste your time or his. Simply thank him for his time and end the interview.

  • Jeff Sloane
    Jeff Sloane

    Nick, your comments were pretty straightforward bordering on being a bulldozer personality. Are you that candid when a candidate wants to know your strengths and ask you how you help your team overachieve or is it a one way street - your way.

  • Jeff Sloane
    Jeff Sloane

    As a software sales professional for 22+ years I've interviewed with hiring managers who iltimately didn't measure up. While the hiring manager is looking for people who will be a strong contributor to the company's bottom line the inverse is true as well so after I have given the hiring manager the lead and the interview is progressing well i then ask questions that are relevant to my willingness to work for the company and my ability to overachieve MY earning goals. I ask about their managerial style, what are there expectations for the first 6 and 12 months. How many people are on their sales team and how many hit 100% of quota and how many did 110%, 120% etc. and how long have they been with the co. Why is the job open, what is the most important criteria in the hiring decision (and how is it made). Bottom line, i've worked for 3 moron's and while I consistently overachieved it's a pain when you realize you hired on with the wrong Mgr and have to look for a new job. The hiring mgr may not like the questions but that may be verification that they are not competent - go look for the job that is best for you. BTW some managers seek to find your age by asking if you have children and what their ages are, when did you graduate from college etc. quite illegal and you should notate it in your interview notes and simply lie. If you graduated from college in 1978 just tell the HM 1987 and ask why the year you graduated is important. You are quietly sending a message that the question is illegal.

  • Louis Charles B.
    Louis Charles B.

    Strong Suggestion. Pay attention to the jobseekers professional background and what area they want to find work.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @c.c.w. thanks for your comment. HR knows that most people don't stay in a job for long these days. It used to be that you would start a job after HS or College and you would stay in that job, or at least with that company, until retirement. Now, if a person stays in a job for 3 years that's a feat! Even though it can hurt you, people job hop more today than any other time in recent history. So they know this. You just have to find a way to explain how your skills can be applicable to the new position. Try to find a correlation between your skills and the skills they need. Not an easy task for sure but it could be done. Maybe others reading this have experienced what you are going through and can have some helpful hints.

  • Darnelle W.
    Darnelle W.

    Thanks that was hard to answer.

  • c.c. w.
    c.c. w.

    Thank you for sharing this article. People are always changing careers and opportunities we are not defined by our last job but how do you explain this to Human Resources who may not always recognize transferable skills.

  • Tomek Markowski
    Tomek Markowski

    A very useful article will definitely be useful when talking about a job

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Suzanne Sawyer thanks for your comment. You don't always have to get a reference from your current company. A reference is someone who knows you; knows your work habits and can speak positively and highly of you. A prospective employer is not going to call your company for a reference. They are going to contact the references that you give them. If they do contact your company, all they can get is a confirmation that you work there and the dates you worked - nothing more. @Alan A so sorry that you are going through that. Toxic to say the least. Hopefully you are getting out of there and, once out, you can warn others. Glad to hear that the man is under investigation. Hopefully it will turn up the truth - that someone won't be afraid to speak up for fear of reprisal. Once poison like that gets into a company, it's hard to get it out! All the best.

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