Why Did You Leave Your Last Job

“So Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Interviewing when things didn’t go as planned in your last job

You start on the fast track. You work hard. You get promoted. Your career is moving along just as you planned.

Then, you hit a speed bump. Maybe your boss sees you as a threat and starts making life difficult. Or someone else gets the promotion instead of you, and wants you to disappear. Or your division gets closed and you’re laid off. Or something else happens. And the plan starts to break down.

Now, you need to get yourself back on course, but your perfect record is tarnished. When you get called in for the interview, you know you’ll be asked about it. What can you say? Here’s what you need to know.

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job

Focus on your talent first

Like in any other interview, the key to successfully landing a new job will be focusing on what you have to offer this new organization. Be prepared to explain how you can add value to their team. You will need to address their concerns about why you left your last job, but that’s not as important as the experience and qualifications you bring to the table.

To make sure you don’t feel distracted during the interview, you have to prepare ahead of time.

Don’t let it get in your head

You must let go of any negative feelings and look towards the future with confidence.  You might be mad at the boss who made your life difficult. You might be frustrated that you have to explain yourself despite all of the positive contributions you have made. You can’t bring those negative feelings into the interview.

Imagine starting a romantic relationship and all you can think about is how angry you are at your ex. Your new relationship partner is going to tire of the subject and leave you pretty quickly.

Hiring managers are the same way. They want you level-headed and ready to go. That means you need to leave the emotions behind.

Be ready with an answer

One of the worst things a candidate can do is walk into the interview unprepared for this question, hoping it won’t come up. Chances are, it will, in one form or another.  So you’ve got to be ready with an answer.

With your response, you want them to think, “Okay, that sounds reasonable” so they can put that aside and focus on evaluating you for the job at hand. In general, this means keeping the answer short. Three sentences are often enough.

Here’s an example if you resigned from your last job:

“I enjoyed my job at So & So Co. and loved the clients I served. A new management team arrived when the company changed hands. My division was consolidated and my job essentially changed. I resigned so I could find a position where my talents could be fully utilized. From what I know it would seem this job would be a great fit for me.”

Side note: If you were asked to resign and agreed, then you were not fired from your job and you can answer the question, “Were you ever fired,” with a resounding “no.” You chose to resign of your own accord.

Here’s an example for a company going through a layoff:

“The company suffered major setbacks when the xyz market sank. They had to lay off a large number of employees and I was just one of many. The management team seemed particularly frustrated to let me go given that I was a larger producer for them. But I am excited to now have the opportunity to bring these results to a new company.”

As you can see in these examples, you don’t have to get into the negative details of losing a job. Keep it clear and simple, so you eliminate any concerns in the interviewer’s mind.

With a simple answer prepared ahead of time, a positive mindset, and a focus on what you can bring to the table, you can ace your next interview and get your plans back on track.


alan headshotAlan Carniol is the creator of the Interview Success Formula. Through his websites, workshops and one-on-one counseling, he has trained over thirty thousand job seekers to craft persuasive interview answers, find their confidence, and win the jobs they desire and deserve. Before launching the Interview Success Formula, Alan founded Career Cadence, a company dedicated to helping young professionals and college students to identify and land their dream jobs. There, he developed a series of live seminars that simplify the job search, and also designed the multi-layered Distill™Career Assessment. In his previous life, Alan was a corporate trainer for Public Financial Management Inc. Alan received an MBA from Yale University, and BA in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.