Interview tips and examples for answering the question, “Why did you leave your last job?”

It’s a tricky question, and it’s almost a guarantee that you’ll get it in job interviews. Learn how to spin this potential negative into a positive. 

Consider why they’re asking

“Why did you leave your last job?” It’s a loaded question, but a potential employer can learn a lot about you from your answer, like:

  • If you’re a job hopper

  • If you’re fleeing your old job or pursuing a better opportunity

  • How you deal with uncomfortable situations

  • What your work ethic is like

  • What your sense of responsibility is to your employer

Your answer ideally reflects well on you. Since a hiring manager can tell a lot from your answer, it’s a great opportunity to make a good impression. 

Plan ahead

Don’t get caught off guard by this question. Particularly if you left because you had a negative experience at your last job, your ‘off the top of my head’ answer may not be all that warm and fuzzy. 

It’s going to come up in most job interviews, so make sure you prepare an appropriate answer. 

Be honest

A potential employer may check up on your story about why you left your last job. If they hear a completely different story than the one you gave, it’s going to make a terrible impression. Lying to a hiring manager is not a good idea.

While careful phrasing is in order, make sure you tell the manager the truth. 

Try to stay positive

Sometimes you left a job because it just plain sucked. Maybe the manager was a jerk. Maybe the work was awful. Maybe your coworkers were utterly toxic. Regardless of why it sucked, you’re going to want to phrase your answer in a way that reflects positivity.

When you’re planning how to word your answer to this question, find the silver lining, keep on the sunny side, or whatever bright side catchphrase you prefer.

Avoid alienating former companies, managers or coworkers

This kind of falls under ‘stay positive’, but it deserves a section all its own. Your answer to this question can say a lot about how you interact with the people you work with. If you talk bad about people at your old company, your interviewer might assume that you’ll throw shade at people at their company if you’re hired. It can make it look like you’re painting yourself as a victim. You don’t want to look like you can’t handle your business right out of the gate.

You want to show a hiring manager that you left on good terms. You hold no grudges. You don’t have beef with anyone. You’re simply moving forward.

If that’s not exactly the truth, you might consider working on actually moving forward. Let go of any perceived wrongs and look at this interview and interviews to come as an opportunity to move past your negative experiences.

Be brief

While you don’t want to be too vague, keeping this answer brief is a great way to convey your interest in new opportunities without leaving the interviewer room to seek out your character flaws. Oversharing can make it seem like you’re hung up in the past.

A simple answer, a few sentences long, will do just fine.

Examples

Here, we’ll talk about some common reasons for leaving jobs and how you can frame those reasons to impress your interviewer. In some scenarios, a diplomatic answer isn’t the easy one or the one you’re really thinking, but don’t let that stop you from using this question to make a great impression. Put on your big kid pants and answer in a way that makes you look like a boss.

You were laid off

This answer can be relatively straightforward, but it’s definitely one where you don’t want to take a turn to negative town. State your answer without blame. You don’t need to specify why you were included in the layoff (*cough, oversharing, cough*). Here’s an example:

I’d been with the company for a couple of years when they restructured and my position became redundant. While I wasn’t thrilled to be laid off, the skills (you can be specific about this part) I learned with the company have set me up for great opportunities in a position like this one.”

Notice the lack of nitty-gritty details about the layoff and the positive spin. It shows the interviewer that you gained valuable experience at your last job that will be useful in their open position.

You didn’t like your boss, coworkers or the company

Regardless of what you loathe entirely about your current position, you don’t need to share that with your interviewer. Keep to neutral ground. 

“The company just wasn’t a great fit for me. I felt there were opportunities out there that were more in line with what I want for my career and my life in the long run, including this one.”

There’s nothing to gain from tearing down your past employer or their company culture, no matter how awful they were. Highlight that you’re looking to the future and you’re not salty about the past.

The new gig is just too good to pass up

This is one of the easiest situations when it comes to this question. If you haven’t left your job yet and you’re simply looking for a better opportunity, you don’t have to skirt around any negative junk.

“In my current position, my department has increased revenue by 20%. I truly enjoy the work I do there, but this new position with your company was just too good not to take a shot at it. I can see a future for myself with your company.”

You can see how this highlights the positive impacts you’ve made at your current job and conveys a positive overall experience. It also shows them that you’re super interested in all the opportunities their organization represents. 

You got fired

This one can be especially tricky. You don’t want to call attention to a mistake at your previous job or sound negative, but how can you frame your answer in this case without doing exactly that? Try this:

“When a new manager was brought in, they had different expectations for the role than those in place when I was hired. Per those expectations, I was no longer qualified and the position was given to someone with more experience. Through this experience, I learned that I really shine in this particular job duty (ideally one related to the position you’re interviewing for) rather than that one.

It’s stated plainly why you were fired without taking too much blame on yourself or speaking negatively about the company or your superior. It’s like, “It just didn’t work out, ya know?” This answer also points out what you learned from the experience.

You’ve been unemployed for a while

A big gap in employment can be a red flag for some hiring managers. Regardless of why you left your last job, make sure you account for a big gap when you answer this question. Pretending it’s not there definitely isn’t going to work.

“I left because (insert neutral explanation). Finding a position that fit didn’t happen right away, but it has given me a chance to brush up on these skills so I’m more ready than ever to take on the challenges of this new position.”

Notice how this answer doesn’t paint you as a sad sack. It paints you as a well-qualified, proactive go-getter who just hasn’t come across the perfect position yet.

If you left for family or personal reasons, don’t hesitate to say that. Just tell them that you took time off to raise your family or take care of an ailing loved one, but you’re no longer needed in that role so you’re ready to pursue your career goals again. It still helps to point out any actions you took to maintain and improve your skills while you were home.

You’re looking for a change

If you’re making a drastic career change, you may get some raised eyebrows from hiring managers. You’ll need to explain the change, whether it’s a change in industry, a new position (maybe even what would be considered a step backward in your career) or a drastic change in the scope of work. If you used to research capybaras in the rainforest and you’re applying for a job in pharmaceutical sales, you’re going to have to explain yourself.

“While working in my past position was very fulfilling, my true passion in life is ice dancing and I’ve decided it’s time to pursue it. I realize that this is a big change, but this position checks the boxes for what I want from my work and I have the right skill set to handle the challenge.”

This answer is positive, upbeat and explains why you’re seeking a change. It also circles back to how you’re qualified for the new position.

You change jobs a lot

High turnover rates cost employers money, and your history of changing jobs frequently may make the hiring manager leery. If you switch jobs frequently, this question is the perfect way to justify your job-hopping if you answer it right. Here’s how you might handle this one.

“I left my last job in pursuit of a better opportunity when I realized I wouldn’t be able to achieve my goals with the company. I’m looking for a position where I can use my skills to make a difference, and I feel I’m an ideal fit for this position because I possess the skills and experience it requires.”

Highlight your experience. Make sure you state that you have the skills for the position you’re seeking. You can also make sure they know every move you’ve made has been the right one for your career at the time.

The final word

This question isn’t always easy to answer. Preparing for it can mean the difference between it ruining your chances at a new job and painting you as an ideal candidate.

If you’re looking for a new gig, Snagajob is the perfect place to start your search and find great career and interview advice. Find tips on how to answer another tricky job interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” here.