Written by Ashira Prossack (Forbes Women) - Sep 28, 2019
One question that’s guaranteed to be asked in a job interview is some iteration of – “Why did you leave your last job?”.
What the hiring manager really wants to know is if you’re looking for a new job for a legitimate and well thought out reason, or if you’re just bored and looking for greener pastures.
This question can be phrased differently depending on your current employment status. Other versions are ‘Why are you looking for a new job?’ and ‘Why did you leave Job X?’ Regardless of the question that’s asked, there are a few things you need to keep in mind when you’re giving your answer.
Keep it professional, not personal.
You want to speak about the professional reasons you left your job, not about personal ones. Looking for a shorter commute, to get away from a terrible boss or colleagues, or anything else along those lines are all completely valid reasons – but not to tell the hiring manager. Keep it to the professional side and talk about your work itself.
Avoid generic answers.
Generic answers are the surest way to lose a hiring manager’s interest, as they don’t say anything definite about the candidate. Instead of giving a canned answer like ‘I’m looking for more growth opportunities’ or ‘I want a new challenge’, explain why you want those things.
Don’t speak negatively.
Do not speak negatively about your previous job, employer, manager, or colleagues – even if one of those things is exactly the reason you’re leaving. You want your answer to be constructive, not critical. A negative answer shows you off in a negative manner. Avoid saying anything that could be interpreted as a complaint.
No explanation needed here – just don’t lie or make things up. Sometimes the reason for leaving is out of your control, so you might be tempted try to spin it like it was your decision to leave. If you lost your job due to the company downsizing and eliminating your position, you can say that. If you were fired or let go for performance issues, speak to what you learned from that experience like how it taught you to be a better employee or to work harder. Being honest, especially about a bad situation, shows that you have integrity.
Don’t over explain.
Keep your answer short and concise, and only speak about what is most relevant. Provide enough detail to paint a clear picture, but don’t over explain. You can actually end up doing more harm than good if you go into too much detail.
Turn negatives into positives.
Turn a negative into a positive by framing it as something you learned. If you really dislike an aspect of your current job, think about what that made you realize you enjoy. A good way to frame this answer is, I’ve been doing X in my current role, but I’ve realized that my strengths/passions/interests are more in line with Y and Z. For Y and Z, tie in key components of the job you’re interviewing for.
Don’t be overzealous.
When the position you’re interviewing for is your dream job or with your dream company, it can be tempting to want to focus on that as your sole reason for leaving. While it’s worth mentioning your enthusiasm for the new job prospect, don’t go overboard. Mention it as part of your reason but don’t forget to answer the actual question of why you’re leaving.
Mention what you’re looking for in a new role.
Only half of your answer should be about why you’re leaving your current job. The other half should be about what you’re looking for a new role. This shows that you’ve fully thought out your reason for leaving and aren’t just looking to leave because you’re bored.
About the Author
Ashira Prossack is a Multi-Generational Workplace expert helping organizations understand, manage, engage, attract, and retain Millennials & Gen Z and bridge the gap between generations. Learn more at www.ashiraprossack.com.