6 Solid Ways to Explain Why You Left a Previous Job
If you really enjoy the thrill of super awkward conversations, just go into your next job interview without an answer prepared for the question: “Why did you leave your last position?” On the other hand, if you’re like most of us and don’t enjoy sitting in uncomfortable silence while you fumble for the right words, then it’s best to have something prepared when confronted with that oh-so-common interview question.
Crafting your answer to this question carefully is crucial, as it can set either a positive or negative tone for the interview, depending on your response. You might have valid reasons for hating your boss or the company, but good luck explaining your reasons in an interview without making your interviewers squirm in their seats. The most constructive route is to focus on the positive. You’ll want to be pretty strategic (yet still honest) about your response, so we’ve come up some explanations you can use for leaving your previous position:
1. You or a family member had health problems.
Whether you left your last job because of your own health concerns or because of a family member, both are completely legitimate reasons you can provide for leaving a previous position. Assuming the issue is now resolved, the key here is to emphasize your ability to return to work. For example, you might say something like:
“I (or a loved one) faced some health issues that forced me to leave my previous position, but they’ve since been resolved, and I’m ready to refocus on my career.”
2. You wanted to transition into a new career.
Wanting to make a career change is a valid reason for seeking out new opportunities and isn’t likely to be off-putting to a recruiter. You should make a strong argument for yourself if this is your situation by explaining what skills you’ve developed in either previous roles, personal projects, or elsewhere that make you qualified for the role:
“I left my previous position because I was looking to broaden my experience in (insert new industry here), which wasn’t possible in my previous role. I’m hoping to expand some of the skills I’ve already developed such as (mention 3-4 relevant skills here) to transition into this field successfully.”
It’s always a good idea to have a response lined up in case you’re asked, “why didn’t you wait until you had a new job lined up?” In this situation, something like this would suffice:
“Searching for a role in a different career was a full-time effort, so I left my job so I could dedicate my entire attention to my job search.”
3. You wanted to relocate.
Sometimes your reasons for leaving are purely practical, like maybe you just didn’t want to commute four hours to get to work from your new city. Or perhaps you haven’t moved yet but are hoping to. Whatever your reasons for relocating are, you’ll want to ensure your timeline is clear so that recruiters know you’re a serious candidate who can be available to start in a reasonable amount of time. If you’ve already moved, this conversation will be relatively easy. If you haven’t moved yet, you’ll need to provide more detail about your availability to start. Make sure your reason for wanting to move to a new city isn’t just “I like it.” While that might be your true motivation, recruiters might be hesitant to hire someone based purely on your preferences as those could always change. Instead, suggest that you’ve done some research about the job market in the area and are excited about the opportunities there. Here’s how you can phrase your intent to relocate:
“I will be relocating to the ____ area (insert valid reason here, if possible. Ex: to be closer to family, better job market, etc. ) and I will be available to work as of (date).”
4. You needed to take care of your family.
Sometimes people are hesitant to mention family as a reason for leaving their last position, but believe it or not, your interviewer probably has a family and will likely be more understanding of your reasons for deciding to quit than you realize. Taking some time away to take care of a loved one is a perfectly acceptable reason for leaving a job, so there’s no need to beat around the bush about it during an interview. For instance:
“I decided to leave my last position and stay at home with my children until they reached school age, but I am now prepared and excited to return to the workforce.”
5. Your company underwent some restructuring/You were let go.
Being let go is a reality that many people face, and while you might be hesitant to mention them in an interview, they should hear it from you than from your previous employer. Your explanation will need to look a little different if you were fired vs. if you were laid off, so here’s an example of each:
If you were fired:
“I’ve had some time to reflect on the reasons I was let go, and I’ve learned a lot about myself and what I can improve upon to be successful in the future. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned to a new role and believe that my experience has prepared me for what’s next.”
If you were laid off:
“My company had some budget cuts/did some restructuring/etc. that led to a necessary reduction in staff. Unfortunately, I was one of the ones impacted by this. Since that happened, I’ve been exploring other opportunities and am looking forward to using the skills I’ve developed in a new position.” If you can, mention that your company would be happy to provide a positive reference, as that will help eliminate all concern about your reasons for dismissal.
6. You wanted a better opportunity.
Perhaps your previous position didn’t have any room for growth, or you were basically forced to live at the office because of your crazy schedule. If you left your last job just because you wanted something better, welcome to the club! Many people leave positions, even if they liked the work, because of the prospect of something even better. On the other hand, maybe you left because you didn’t like the work, it was a hostile work environment, or you didn’t think you were compensated fairly. Either way, you’ll want to keep your explanation for leaving focused on the opportunity ahead of you, rather than all the reasons you chose to leave. For example:
“Even though I had a great experience at (previous company), I’m ready to take on a new challenge that aligns with my career goals and will provide more opportunities for growth. I think this could be a really exciting change!” Being upbeat and positive about all your experiences, even the ones that weren’t so pleasant, builds a lot of points in an interview.
Almost everyone leaves a job at some point in their career, so it’s helpful to keep in mind that your interviewer is probably not that concerned with the fact that you left a position and will be happy with a brief explanation as long as it doesn’t include “I hated my last job.” Practice answering the “why did you leave your last position?” question directly, concisely, and emphasize why you’re a good fit for the role. If you follow that recipe, your interviewer will feel more at ease about your ability to be successful in a new position. Need some help practicing your responses? Executive Drafts offers interview coaching services to walk you through some commonly asked questions as well as identify the areas of strength you should focus on to position yourself as a natural fit for the role.