10 Sample Answers To "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?"

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Ken Chase, Freelance Writer

16 min read

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While it would be great if everyone were able to start their career in their dream job and work for that company until they retire, few people ever get that luxury. Instead, the average employee can expect to hold multiple jobs throughout their working years. Of course, that means that almost everyone will have to leave a job at some point in time. Most of those workers will eventually have to answer one of the most difficult interview questions of all: “Why did you leave your last job?”

In this post, we will consider why employers ask this question and provide some examples of the most acceptable reasons you can offer for leaving a job. In addition, we’ll provide some tips to help you craft your response to that question and offer ten sample answers that you can use to successfully navigate that complex subject.

Why do employers ask the question, “Why did you leave your last job?”

You might wonder why an interviewer would ask, “Why did you leave your last job?” Is it a trick question that is designed to get you to say something bad about a previous employer? Are they just looking for a reason to reject your application? Or is this question simply a way for the interviewer to learn more about you as an employee, gain insight into your broader career goals, and determine just how well you’ll fit within their organization?

The good news is that interviewers are not trying to trap you when they ask you why you left a job. While you may have a reason to be concerned if you have a habit of hopping from job to job, you should generally assume that the question is being asked in good faith and for a good cause. Chances are the employer simply wants to know things like:

  • Are you dependable and loyal?

  • Was your decision to leave based on a good reason or just a spur-of-the-moment decision?

  • What kind of work ethic and values do you have?

  • Is it worth the company’s time to invest in you as an employee?

How you answer this question can help the interviewer assess your attitude toward employers, your goals, and even your ability to get along with colleagues and supervisors. Knowing that, you should focus on ensuring that your answer to the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” leaves the best possible impression on the prospective employer.

Acceptable reasons for leaving a job: examples

Of course, it’s difficult to provide a positive response to any question about why you quit your last job if you’re not sure what employers want to hear. Fortunately, employers understand that workers move from job to job as they advance through their careers. More importantly, they’ve heard just about every reason for leaving that you can imagine. With that said, your job is to make sure you provide an answer they’ll understand and find acceptable.

So, what are these acceptable reasons for leaving a job?  What type of reason should you give if you want to make sure you don’t make a bad impression and lose out on the job opportunity? We’ve listed some examples below.

Those are all acceptable explanations for moving from one job to another, and most employers have encountered other candidates who left jobs for these reasons. There are other reasons for leaving, of course, including needing to escape a toxic work environment or a bad boss. However, you need to be careful about how you discuss those types of reasons since you want to avoid saying anything negative about your past employer.

Tips to help you create your reasons for leaving a job answer

Whether you left your last job for reasons the employer will easily understand or were fired, it is important to learn how to explain why you left a job. You need to carefully craft a narrative that the employer will find acceptable while also providing key information that helps to reinforce the idea that you’re the best candidate for their open position. The following tips can help guide you as you create that message.

Focus on the right reason

The first thing you need to do is identify the main reason why you left your position. Look through our list of possible reasons above to find one or two that fit your situation. More importantly, make sure that you can find a way to draw a connection between your reason for leaving and your motivation for applying for the new job. That will help the interviewer better understand how your decision to leave that past job aligns with the company’s needs.

Choose your details carefully

As you craft your answer, focus on sharing the right information. You want to create a responsive answer that is as direct as possible, but you should avoid divulging any details that might cast you or your past employer in a bad light. Be professional, focus on the lessons you learned, and clearly explain how the experience has made you a better employee or changed your perspective. Even if you were fired for not measuring up to expectations, focus on the things you learned about yourself that will help you add more value to the position you’re seeking.

Be honest

While you might be tempted to give an inaccurate reason for why you left your last job, you should resist that urge. No matter how messy your separation might have been, it is always better to be direct and honest than to run the risk of being caught in a lie. With that said, there is nothing wrong with choosing to focus most of your answer on a different reason. Just don’t try to hide the fact that you were dismissed.

For example, if your employer fired you after repeatedly promising a raise or promotion that never came through, you might cite that failure to follow through on a commitment as a source of tension. Then simply mention that they let you go after the issue was raised with them several times. The key is to focus attention on a reason that is more acceptable to your prospective employer while minimizing the negative aspects of your firing.

Stay positive about the experience

Always make sure that you answer this question in a positive way. Regardless of the reason you left that job, you should never resort to negativity. Were there personal issues between you and your colleagues? Don’t mention those to the interviewer. Instead, talk about how the organization’s culture changed over time, causing a separation between your values and the workplace environment. Then immediately pivot to talk about why the prospective employer’s workplace culture is a better fit for your values.

Practice your response

Once you’ve created a response that explains why you left your previous job, make sure you practice that answer as many times as it takes to learn it by heart. When the interviewer asks the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” you need to be able to provide a coherent answer without hesitation or stammering.

Don’t include these explanations in your answer

It’s also important to know what not to say. There are some answers that are sure to make a bad impression on any interviewer. As a result, you should never cite any of the following reasons when you’re asked, “Why did you leave your last job?”

  • I needed more compensation, but the company was too cheap to pay me what I’m worth

  • I couldn’t stand my boss

  • The longer I was there, the more I came to hate the company

  • The work was boring

Why did you leave your last job? Sample answers you can use

If you’ve read everything up until this point and still feel like you’re unsure about how to get started on your answer to the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” then the following examples may help spark your creativity. Each of these sample responses focuses on a different reason for leaving, so there should be at least one that you can customize to fit your needs.

1.     You were laid off

Some employees get uncomfortable when they talk about being laid off, especially if they equate it to a firing. Employers won’t look at it that way, though, since most of them are familiar with the idea that companies often must reduce or eliminate worker hours when profits drop. The best way to address being laid off is to tackle the subject head-on in as direct a manner as possible:

“Unfortunately, my position was one of several that ended up being cut due to the company’s reorganization to avoid insolvency. Shedding those jobs did help the company stabilize its financial situation and avoid further difficulties, so I wish them all the best. The good news is that being laid off has left me available for this position, and I’m confident that the skills and experiences I learned from that job will enable me to add real value to your team if I’m fortunate enough to be selected for the position.”

2.     You had a change in location

Millions of people have moved from one city or state to another in recent years, so most employers are familiar with those types of changes in location. Simply decide how much information about the move you want to divulge and create a response that highlights how the move has led you to apply for the prospective employer’s open position.

“I had to part with that job when we moved here to take advantage of this area’s great schools. I appreciated my time with the company and made sure they had three months of notice so we could get my replacement trained before I left. I feel fortunate to have discovered this company since your corporate culture is so well-aligned with my own values and those of my former employer.”

3.     It was time for a career change

It is not uncommon for people to change their careers these days. In fact, it happens more than most people might imagine. If you’ve left a position due to a desire to move into a different job role or even a new industry, most employers will understand that explanation. Just make sure that you focus on your skills – including transferable skills – to highlight your qualifications for the job you’re seeking.

“Over the course of my six years with the company, it became clear that my skill development was leading me toward this industry. After discussing my development with my employer, I decided that my talents would be of more value to a company like yours.”

4.     You had to deal with family issues

Leaving a job for family concerns is another one of those reasons that most interviewers will readily understand. After all, everyone has loved ones and can, at least, sympathize with someone who was forced to take time away from their career to become a caregiver. The important thing here is to decide just how much information you want to provide and make sure that you explain why you’re ready to get back to work.

“I truly enjoyed my years in that role but had to take time away when my father fell ill and required full-time care. Though my employer was gracious enough to repeatedly extend my leave of absence, they eventually had to hire a replacement, and we ended up parting ways. Now that my father has passed on, I am ready and eager to rejoin the workforce and believe that I’m a great fit for this position.”

5.     You were looking for advancement opportunities

If you left your last job because you were looking for advancement that the firm couldn’t offer, don’t be afraid to say so. Interviewers generally understand that motivation and will appreciate your drive and desire to provide greater value to your employer.

“After ten years as a marketer, it became clear that my time as project manager had prepared me for a larger leadership role with the company. Unfortunately, the company’s organizational structure didn’t provide any real opportunities for advancement to this type of position. I feel fortunate that your company’s opportunity has become available just as I’m ready to move forward in my career, and am confident that my skills and experience make me a great candidate for the job.”

6.     There was a change in the old company’s management

Just as employees can change over time, companies may evolve for a variety of different reasons. For example, a merger, acquisition, or other change in ownership or management can sometimes result in massive changes to that work environment. If you left because the company and workplace changed, just explain that to the interviewer. As you do so, make sure to mention your need to be with a company that shares your values and goals.

“I joined the firm seven years ago and was reluctant to make my exit. However, the company’s recent acquisition by one of its rivals resulted in a new management team with a radically different vision for its workplace culture, values, and mission. Sadly, that vision was no longer aligned with my own, so I knew that it was time to leave and find a job and employer more in line with my values.”

7.     Your skills have advanced, and you require new challenges

Your prospective employer will want to know that you’re up for a challenge. If you left your previous employer because your skills were no longer being used in a way that enabled you to maximize your value as an employee, make sure that highlight that fact in your answer.

“After starting out in the copywriting side of advertising, I spent several years taking classes to develop my digital design skills too. Over time, I came to realize that I needed to utilize those talents in my work – something that I was unable to do with my previous job. That’s why I was so excited to see this job opportunity and would love the opportunity to demonstrate the type of value I can bring to this role.”

8.     You left for a better opportunity

Ambitious, career-driven people often must leave one job to move closer to their long-term goals. Again, interviewers understand why that happens and tend to respect the dedication it takes to stick to a career plan. As a result, they’ll appreciate the fact that you’re so focused on your career path that you are continually moving forward. At the same time, you also need to make sure that you don’t give them the impression that you’re going to still be looking for other opportunities once they offer you the position.

“After eight years at ABC Corp., it eventually became clear that my career advancement at the company was pretty much maxed out. Around that time, a recruiter reached out to me through my network to let me know about an opportunity at your company that was just the kind of promotion that I had been seeking. I discussed the role with my then-employer, and we both agreed that it was just what I needed to move my career forward.”

9.     You left to go back to school

Leaving a job to further your education may not be as common as many of these other reasons, but it is still an acceptable explanation for resigning. The key to properly conveying this explanation is to describe what you were trying to accomplish and the skills you’ve learned that can benefit the prospective employer.

“I had to leave that job when I decided it was time to get my Ph.D. and move on to the next stage in my career as a researcher. That educational effort has helped me advance my technical skills and improve essential soft skills like time management. It’s also enabled me to master the grant writing skills that are so critical for this job opportunity.”

10.  You were terminated

It’s not always easy to explain why you were fired from a position, but if the question comes up, you need to tackle it as directly as possible. Don’t bother pretending that you quit or that the decision was mutual. If you were fired, explain the reason why and then talk about what you learned from the experience. If you’re sincere and otherwise qualified for the job, the interviewer will be less likely to hold that firing against you as they make their hiring decisions.

“While I enjoyed the job, there was a clear disconnect between myself and the employer when it came to expectations. My understanding about what the company needed from me was incomplete, which impacted my performance assessments and my relationship with everyone at the company. That experience taught me the importance of ensuring that expectations are clear from the moment I’m hired. That’s why I truly appreciate how transparent and complete you’ve been in describing this role, and believe that you’ll find my skills and abilities to be a great fit for the job.”

Make sure you’re prepared to explain why you left your last job

Interview questions can sometimes take you by surprise. Fortunately, you can avoid that by anticipating the types of questions that you’re liable to encounter, such as questions like, “Why did you leave your last job?” Having the right answer to that question could be just what you need to help secure that great job offer you need.

Does your resume present the compelling narrative you need to sell you as the best candidate for any open position? Get a free resume review from our team of experts today!

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Written by

Ken Chase, Freelance Writer

During Ken's two decades as a freelance writer, he has covered everything from banking and fintech to business management and the entertainment industry. His true passion, however, has always been focused on helping others achieve their career goals with timely job search and interview advice or the occasional resume consultation. When he's not working, Ken can usually be found adventuring with family and friends or playing fetch with his demanding German Shepherd. Read more resume advice from Ken on ZipJob’s blog.

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