A list of common job interview questions and answers—right and wrong—with expert tips. Behavioral interview questions, phone interview questions, and more.
Why did you leave your last job?
Why are you leaving your current job?
You will always get this question, and it’s a hard one.
Well, Mr. Interviewer. That’s an interesting question. I threw my computer out a seven-story window after re-enacting Fight Club with my boss.
Then I got fired! Imagine that.
Okay, so you know that’s not how you talk about leaving employment.
But what if you did get fired and it was ugly?
Do you tell the ugly truth?
Not to worry. There is a way to answer this common interview question well. And that’s without blowing your chances at landing your dream job.
This article will show you:
- What interviewers are getting at when they ask, “Why did you leave your last job?”
- How to prepare acceptable reasons for leaving a job - without lying.
- The best answers for the “why did you leave your last job” interview question.
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What Are They Asking? - Why Interviewers Ask “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
The most obvious reason for asking the “why did you leave your last job” interview question?
To find out if you’re a good employee or a bad employee. That’s because this is one of those tricky behavioral interview questions.
The employer is checking to see if you:
- Have a good reason for leaving your job or jobs.
- Are running away or pursuing a new opportunity.
- Can leave situations on good terms with others.
- Value work and have a sense of obligation.
Regardless of what may or may not be true, the right answer should always be a combo:
First, you’re moving on to a better opportunity.
I quit my job to pursue new opportunities and take a new step in my career.
I quit my job because I didn’t like it. That’s all. It didn’t suit me.
Second, you have no hard feelings against your former employer.
I’m leaving my current job to pivot into a different industry. As you can see, I left on good terms with my former employer as he is one of my references.
I got fired because I did not get along with my supervisor. We went together like peanut butter and asparagus. She was the asparagus. Obviously.
Third, you value work and have a sense of obligation.
I spent less than a year in my last position because of corporate layoffs. Now, I know that I want to work for a smaller company that is more involved in my local community.
I haven’t quite figured out what I want to do yet. That’s why I’ve been moving around trying things on for size.
Now, we’re not telling you to lie.
You should never lie during an interview. But, you should refrain from the following:
- Badmouthing a former employer - even if they deserve it.
- Victimizing yourself.
- Sounding wishy-washy or flakey.
For those of you who are making a life or career change, you have nothing to fear. That’s where you’ll focus in your “why did you leave your last job” answer.
For those of you making large career changes, you may need to provide more of an explanation. For example, your reason for leaving a job can be transitioning from one industry to another.
Let’s say you’re going from marketing to construction. The interviewer is going to ask why you want to make such a big transition.
You’ll need to come up with clear and concise reasons for wanting to make the change.
But for the rest of you, this question will be tough to answer.
The “why did you leave your last job” interview question is harder for:
- The Career Changers
- The Job Hoppers
- The Long-term Unemployed
Regardless, there are best answers for every type of job seeker.
Here are some other ways that an interviewer might phrase the job interview question:
- Why are you leaving your current job?
- Why are you looking for a new job?
- Why are you looking for a new opportunity?
They may also ask more direct questions:
- Why did you leave a particular job?
- Can you explain your career gap?
- Why did you leave after two days - weeks - months?
- Why were you fired?
Pro Tip: Do you know the old saying, “less is more?” Well, that applies here. Keep your answer short, and don’t go into detail. And that’s especially true if the details are unflattering.
Want more best answers to common interview questions? We’ve got you covered. Read our guide: “Most Common Job Interview Questions and Best Answers (+20 Examples)”
How to Prepare Acceptable Reasons for Leaving Your Job
Let’s say that you haven’t quit your job yet. You were hanging out on LinkedIn one day and happened to see a fantastic job offer. That makes you a “passive” job seeker.
Best Answers for The Passive Job Seeker
You’re an ideal candidate. You’re a good employee who sees the open position as a golden opportunity. One so good that you couldn’t pass it up even though you already have a job.
That means two things:
- You don’t have to think about what to say.
- You don’t have to say anything other than the truth.
So what should your answer for the “why did you leave your last job” interview question be?
I have spent the last two years building a strong team of marketing professionals. My team has increased sales with our campaigns by 37% over the last fiscal year. But when I saw your offer, I had to take the opportunity. I want to work for a bigger firm with more diverse, iconic marketing projects. I’m ready to make that move in my career. And XYZ Company would be the perfect fit. That’s why I would consider leaving my current job.
I love your company. I’ve wanted to work for your company since I was a little kid. I used to pretend that I worked for your company even at my current job. So, it makes sense to leave my current job and work for your company for real. Right? I love you guys!
But how do you prepare an answer if you’re not working? The sad fact of the matter is that it’s easier for someone who already has a job to land another.
So, in the end, a best answer for the “why did you leave your last job” depends on the length and reason of your unemployment.
You Got Laid Off
The one perk of getting laid off from a job? It didn’t have anything to do with your performance. Companies make layoffs all the time. They merge, reorganize, and lose money.
All these things have nothing to do with you as an employee. The bad news is that you lost your job. The good news is that it wasn’t your fault.
So when you provide a list of reasons for quitting a job, all you have to do is:
- Briefly mention that you got laid off and why.
- If other people got laid off, say that as well.
- Explain how you were a good employee.
- Explain why you think the open position is an excellent opportunity.
The key is to practice your answer before the interview, so you don’t sound bitter or cynical.
You Got Fired
Here’s the real tough one.
Why did you leave your last job? Well, I was fired.
And why were you fired?
Let’s say it was the bad kind of fired. Here’s what you’ll need to do to explain why you left your last job:
- Don’t lie or avoid the question.
- Speak about what happened in as diplomatic terms as possible.
- Add what you learned from the experience.
- Assure the interviewer that you are not a risky candidate.
The key is to stay calm and be diplomatic. Also, remember that your new employer might check your answer. You don’t want to get terminated again for lying on an application.
You’ve Been Unemployed (More than 6 Months)
When you’re unemployed for longer than six months, you’re in a spot of trouble. Around two million individuals are “long-term unemployed” in the US.
And the longer you’re out of a job, the more unattractive you are for hiring managers. The unemployment merry-go-round is one of those weird, Catch 22 biases that a lot of people have to face.
Here’s the good news - you’re going to the interview! That means you’ve won half the uphill battle. Now, you have to convince the interviewer that you’re not a risky candidate. That your time spent unemployed has nothing to do with you as an employee.
Here’s what you’ll need to do to explain why it was so long ago that you left your last job:
- Avoid lying and victimizing yourself.
- Focus on the productive things you did while unemployed.
- Then swing the conversation back around to why you’re right for the job.
You can always invoke the “bad economy” argument.
“Why did you leave your last job?” Layoffs. “Why the gap of unemployment?” No one is hiring. People understand that it’s hard to find employment in the current economy.
You’re a Career Changer
Let’s say you left your last job because you want to change your career. That could include a change of industry, role, or job.
For example, let’s say you’re a Sales Associate. You want to sell clothes instead of carpets. You’re core skill set still comes into play. You’re still selling something, so you have to explain that you’re a great salesperson.
Explain why you want to change.
Focus on the progress you want to make with your career.
Concentrate on the shared skill set.
Let’s say you’re a Senior Sales Associate who wants to go back to being a Junior Sales Associate - a role changer. You’ll have to explain why you want to move backward. And you’ll have to explain that it’s not a problem that you’re overqualified.
- Explain why you want a change - i.e., a better work-life balance.
- Reassure the interviewer that being overqualified is not a risk.
Now, let’s say that you’re a Sales Associate who wants to be a beekeeper. An extreme career change is going to be the hardest to explain.
Your love of bees is not the best “why did you leave your last job” answer. You have to convince the interviewer that you know what you’re doing and that you’re qualified for the position.
- Explain why you want the change.
- Explain why your skill set still matches the job requirements.
The good news is that you have the one of the best reasons for leaving a job. The bad news is that it might be difficult to sell yourself in extreme circumstances. But if you prepare in advance, you should be convincing.
You’re a Chronic Job Hopper
Chronic job hopping is leaving employment after short periods of time. And no, it’s not only a Millennial thing.
If you’re a job hopper, you may have to talk about several jobs instead of answering “why did you leave your last job.”
If you’ve spent less than a year at a job, the interviewer is going to ask about it.
Let’s say you’ve done that several times. Well, that raises red flags for future employers. How do they know that you’re going to stay?
You’re not only a warm body that’s going to fill an empty chair. No, you’re an investment.
It can cost an employer from six to nine months of your salary to find and train your replacement. So, your job is to convince the interviewer that you’re either not risky or worth the risk.
So, here’s what you have to do to provide the best answer:
- Try to focus on the fact that you felt every change was positive for your career.
- Then explain that you’re either a pro at what you do or that the open position is your dream job.
Pro Tip: If you’re a stay-at-home parent who took time off to raise children - say that! The same applies for those taking care of ailing family members.
The six-year gap you see on my resume was the time I took off from my career to raise my daughter. Now, she’s starting kindergarten, and I’m ready to go back to work.
That’s a full-time job! And hiring managers aren’t going to look down on you for that.
Plus, don’t forget to mention the many productive things you did during that time. Whether it’s the PTA, volunteer work, or freelance work all those things take skills and hard work. So mention them!
You can also bring up your hobbies and interests at an interview. It’s a good way to break the ice. Find out more: “+20 Best Examples of Hobbies & Interests to Put on a Resume (5 Tips)”
Best Answers for the “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” Interview Questions
Laid Off - The Best “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” Answer
The reason why I left my previous job had to do with layoffs. I worked for XYZ Company for less than a year when it merged with a larger company. I was declared redundant after the merger as I had a more senior counterpart at the parent company. While I worked at XYZ, I learned how to make short videos for marketing purposes. I was trained to use video editing software and recording equipment. I realized how much I enjoy such work. So, that’s why I’ve applied for the Video Marketing position with your company.
After many years of loyal and dedicated work, I was thrown out of my last job. I was thrown out like Cat in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Just tossed like a cheeseburger wrapper out of a moving car’s window. I worked there for ten years. Ten years! Oh, the horror. It’s like a bad breakup. It’s like hearing Mr. Darcy went for that terrible other woman, what’s her name? Oh, who cares. You don’t. I don’t. It’s the fact that he went for her and not me that’s important.
Fired or Terminated - The Best “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” Answer
The startup that I worked for didn’t achieve the level of growth they expected within the first year. The owner hired project managers for IT and Content to try to diagnose the problem. The IT project manager decided the problem was the front end design of our website. Instead of changing the design, the PM suggested the owner clean house and start from scratch. It was my second job. I worked in a corporation first and wanted to try working in a startup instead. What I’ve learned is that the startup environment is fast-paced and ever-changing. You can be in fashion one day - MySpace and MSN Chat. And replaced the next - Facebook. The important thing is to stay quick on your feet. That very same design work landed me my next job!
My boss accused me of stealing. But I wasn’t stealing. It was Miranda who had the sticky fingers. But my boss had a thing for Miranda. So, I got fired for stealing. What I learned is that it doesn’t matter what you do. Life isn’t fair.
Unemployed (More than 6 Months) - The Best “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” Answer
The reason for leaving my job seven years ago had to do with downsizing. I took the opportunity to start my family, and have spent the last five years raising my daughter. During that time, I also ran a small online shop where I sell furniture that I refurbish in my free time. I also sell furniture on Etsy and Ebay. The experience has taught me a lot! I now have a practical skill set for working on furniture. Plus, I know a lot about online marketing, sales, and customer service. I also run a blog for my site and get around 1,000 unique visitors a day.
I left my last job after the company folded. I’ve been on unemployment for the last two years. Unfortunately, no one seems to be hiring. I haven’t done much in the interim except for spending time with my kids and playing Flowerville on Facebook. But, I feel like I deserved the vacation. I’ve worked most of my life, and this was the first time I’d ever had a decent break.
Career Changer - The Best “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” Answer
I have decided to leave my current job because I am passionate about cooking. Being an accountant has paid the bills for half a decade. But now, I want to cook. I want to be on my feet in a fast-paced, demanding environment instead of chained to a desk. As you can see on my resume, I’ve prepared for my career transition by finishing culinary school. I also obtained the proper certifications. I also have a lot of skills that will translate from my career as an accountant. Accounting has taught me to pay attention to detail and to focus. I also have exceptional analytical and problem-solving skills.
I quit my job because it was too demanding. I was burnt out and the pressure was too much for me. I want to go back to the days when all I had to do was data entry. I’m not cut out for management. I know that I’m overqualified. But I prefer doing the grunt work.
Chronic Job Hopper - The Best “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job” Answer
As you can see on my resume, I left my second-to-last job after three months. I got the opportunity to take a management position in another company. I wanted to take the next step in my career. I want to leave my current position because I’ve maxed out my growth possibilities. With your company, I would have the opportunity to grow and learn. I see this position as the potential sweet spot in my career. Your training programs and career paths are exactly what I need to keep my career on track.
I’m not going to lie to you. I have itchy feet. I’m looking for that position that feels “just right,” and I still don’t know what that’s going to be. I also have wanderlust. I love to travel. So, I’ve left jobs before to take trips. But that’s why I feel this position is perfect. As a travel blogger, the thing that drove me away from jobs before would keep me at work. It’s a perfect solution.
Now that you’ve aced your interview, what’s next? Time to send a thank you email to the interviewer. Here’s how: “How to Write a Thank You Email After an Interview(+10 Examples)”
Bonus: Download FREE step-by-step checklist of things to do before an interview. “Things You Need To Do Before Your Big Interview.”
Yes, the “why did you leave your last job” interview question is tricky.
- Practice, practice, practice. Know what you’re going to say before your interview. Preparation is the key to talking through even the worst reasons for leaving your job.
- Avoid lying and victimizing yourself, instead focusing on the productive things you did while unemployed.
- Then swing the conversation back around to why you’re right for the job.
Still not sure how to tell an interviewer your reasons for quitting a job? We can help! Leave us a comment, and we will help you find an appropriate way to talk about your last job before you land your new one.