Picture this; you’re sitting across from your interviewer and you’re ready to go, firing back answers to question after question with skilled expertise. Then suddenly a question is asked which catches you off guard – ‘Why did you leave your last job?’

You start to fidget in your chair and your face becomes a little flushed. You remember your awful old boss, the unfair wage that just didn’t make the cut each month, and the excessive workload. And you wonder…should you be completely honest or would sugar-coating the issues put you at an advantage?

Whether you’re hoping to leave your current position, or you already left your past place of employment, we can help you find the best way to answer this question. If this is your first time preparing for an interview, you may want to check out our interview preparation packs here. Our blog is also packed with articles about the interview process and how to answer other possible questions.

What the interviewer is REALLY asking

Let’s face it; we all have a few skeletons in the closet that aren’t that pretty. We may be afraid of revealing a bit too much of our undesirable qualities and flaws which don’t make us an appealing choice for the job. You want to answer this question ‘correctly’, but you’re just not sure how.

First, let’s address the root of the question. What does this question really mean and what is the interviewer trying to uncover about you?

  1. Did you leave for a good reason?
  2. Did you struggle with meeting the job’s expectations and needed to be constantly coddled?
  3. Did you get along with your employers/co-workers?
  4. Are you outwardly bitter about your previous job/boss?

These questions each veer towards once goal; getting a sense of your fit for the company you’re applying for. The way you explain why you left your last job will give your interviewer a peek into how well you handle conflict, whether you are an easy person to work with and what they can expect from you in the future. You want to leave a positive impression when addressing each of these points.

How do you give off the RIGHT impression?

The truth is, no employer is going to want to hire someone who holds grudges, is negative and is quick to judge. You know you’re better than that, so show it!

Be openly expressive about the fact that this decision to change is good for you. Talk about the events that led to your ultimate choice by using positive criticism of your boss/company and explain why you see their faults and inadequacies as a learning experience.

Show how ambitious you are – being able to rise to a challenge and being driven towards self-improvement are traits that every employer looks for in a candidate.

Be brief – a good answer is not necessarily a long one. You can get your point across and grab the interviewer’s attention by getting straight to the point.

Be specific – it’s always nice to stick in a personal example which pertains to your reason for leaving; such as the faulty management practice you witnessed, or the moment you realized there was no room for you to grow in the company.

Be positive – venting about all of the problems you faced and the hardships you went through doesn’t reflect well on you. Try not to argue ‘your side’ as if quitting/getting fired was a conflict you had to win. Rather, explain the factual reasons and why this ultimately helped you.

Emphasise your strengths – we all want to be seen in the best light; so why not brag a little and give yourself the credit you deserve? Use your answer as an opportunity to discuss your competencies by explaining how your skills would truly flourish in their company.

‘I am exiting my company because I want to lead and grow in a new consultancy environment. It was too stifling to be so tightly linked to my work, employees, myself, seeking revenue, hr, payroll, daily this and that etc… and I felt I would be best suited to focusing only on new projects, new challenges, new people client satisfaction and sharing knowledge.’

So then, what are acceptable answers to this question?

Preparation is key! Take our advice in and give yourself a few minutes to come up with an answer by applying each tip. Acknowledging the real reason why you left is the first step, however, forming your answer so you can portray it in the right way takes more time.

You want to be concise and honest about the reason and then straightaway pivot to why you are delighted by the new career opportunity. Expand on all the wonderful skills you can bring to the table and don’t be afraid to demonstrate why you will be the perfect fit for the job.

Just be careful not to dig yourself into a hole by being TOO honest… if you were fired or left your last job because you were not meeting their requirements and your performance was poor, or if you got into a messy conflict with your boss, then it’s okay to leave out some details.

In fact, you might want to think of other (possibly more irrelevant) motives for why you left so that you could still give a good and convincing answer. You can just say the company wasn’t a good fit so you wanted a job that was more well-matched to you. Hey, it’s still the truth and no one’s the wiser!

If you want to go a different route – you can always be honest about the circumstances and talk about any expectations or requirements which changed. You can also talk about why this was a learning experience for you. NEVER put the blame on the employers. Your interviewer wants to see that you can take responsibility for your actions and grow as a result.

Here are some examples of acceptable answers:

  • My previous job wasn’t challenging enough
I learnt a lot about myself at my last position, however, I knew there was no room for me to grow and achieve my long-term goals, which were… I ultimately had to make the tough decision to leave the company so that I could pursue a career that was more suited for me.
  • The leadership changed and I wasn’t happy with the company’s new direction
I’ve come to realize that deciding to leave the organisation I was the best choice for me. I’m much happier about working for a company with the same aspirations and values as my own.
  • I’ve expanded my interests and wish to work in a different industry
I have several personal goals that I want to achieve in my career. The industry and company itself was good for that time of my life, but now I want to grow, learn, and branch out in a different field.

Remember, answer honestly, positively and concisely. See the upside of changing your job and stress the fact that you’re overjoyed at being given the opportunity to work for their company. Make them see you as an asset who will be a great addition to their team. At the end of the day, the right company is one which matches YOUR career goals as well. So start practising and enjoy the process!

We at JobTestPrep are here to help you succeed throughout the hiring process. Prepare with our pre-employment tests and interview practice to improve your performance today.