How to answer: 'Why did you leave your last job?'
These answers will help show hiring managers that you’re no quitter.
When you look for a new job, you need to be prepared to explain to a hiring manager why you’re a proverbial free agent. Some reasons for leaving a job include “additional responsibility, increased pay, and relocation,” says Kyle Elliott, a San Francisco–based career coach and founder of CaffeinatedKyle.com, a career advice site. Your resulting resume gaps can also be explained away by citing taking time off to raise a family or going back to school. Coming out of a tough economy, even getting laid off doesn’t have the stigma attached to it that it once did.
However, many people quit for more personal reasons—because they couldn’t deal with a screaming boss, they felt stuck in a dead-end position, or they were tired of enduring poor treatment. In those cases, you’ll have to find a way to put a positive spin on why you decided to say, “I quit!” when you go on your next job interview.
That’s because the last thing you want to risk is having your interviewer thinking that you’re a quitter who couldn’t hack it, wasn’t a team player, or who was hard to manage. This is how can you explain in an honest way why you quit your last job without scaring off recruiters.
You left a demanding job because you were feeling burned out
So there you are, in the interview, and the hiring manager asks innocently enough, "Why did you leave your last job?" Deep breath. Do not launch into a tirade about how you were expected to work 80 hours a week or how your supervisor expected you to answer 11 p.m. emails.
Instead, say something along the lines of: “I’m looking for an opportunity where I can leverage my skills and experience, while also balancing time with family and friends. I believe we perform our best when we have a healthy balance between work and life.”
“Many companies are embracing—and even demanding—work/life blend,” says Elliott, “so focus on the type of work environment you thrive in.”
If you have no other gaps on your resume and have a track record of working with companies for big chunks of time, an interviewer should be satisfied with that response.
You left to take care of a family member or health issue
Of all the good reasons for leaving a job, your duty to your health and your loved ones is at the top. While you certainly don’t have to get into the specifics if you went out on Family and Medical Leave Act and then just didn’t return to the job after your 12 weeks were up, you might want to at least give the interviewer some key information.
“You can address that this was a very specific and one-time issue that is now resolved, and assure them the situation isn’t part of a pattern,” says Michael Sunderland, managing director of Tampa-based Full Stack Talent, a technology staffing agency. That way, a hiring manager won't be worried that they’ll bring you on board only to lose you in a few months.
You needed a change
If you’re making a career change, is it because you simply reached the point where you couldn’t stand what you were doing anymore? If so, that’s not necessarily the best way to put it to a prospective employer. Instead, say something like: “I’m seeking out opportunities that will allow me to make full use of my newly acquired web design skills” (or whatever new passion or old interest you want to tap into), says Elliot.
Again, prospective employers are looking for stability, so do your best to demonstrate that you’re not just seeking this position on a whim, but that you’ve taken steps to prepare yourself and done industry research to make sure this is what you want.
You didn’t click with your former company’s ethics
There are times when resigning from a job might have been the smartest thing you could’ve done, namely if you notice activities going on that run afoul of basic ethics, if not the law. You don’t want your reputation (and resume) tarnished by a shady organization.
“If your company doesn’t value honesty or playing by the rules, chances are that future employers will assume you lack those values as well,” says Mike Moradian, executive director of Washington, D.C.–based HonorSociety.org, which offers career services to its members.
That said, bashing your former employer will not go over well (even if it’s well deserved).
Instead, try to turn the conversation onto the values you share with this new potential employer. “I think it’s fine to bring up legitimate high-level disagreements between you and management,” says Sunderland, “but you should present their train of thought and why you fundamentally disagreed.”
Then, make the shift to describe what you admire about the company you’re interviewing with, such as how they focus on diversity and inclusion or strive to be environmentally conscious. This will also give you the opportunity to show that you did your homework.
You’re looking for more money or a promotion
High on the list of good reasons for leaving a job, according to a study by Gallup: career advancement. If there’s no sign of your career moving forward, no new responsibilities, no new skills to learn, and no raise coming your way, why bother staying? But there’s a way to express that in an interview without coming off as bitter.
“Instead, explain that you’d reached the growth ceiling in your position and you are ready for your next challenge,” says Sunderland. “This puts a positive spin on your departure and the ‘challenge’ portion implies that you will be a hard worker.”
No matter your reason for resigning from a job, here are a few more of Elliot’s general tips to keep in mind:
- Less is more. Provide just enough information to explain your reason for leaving without going into too much detail.
- Stay on point. Stick with sharing relevant information that relates to the company and position you’re applying to.
- Be honest. While you can certainly frame how you quit in a positive way, you should never flat out lie about how things went down.
Show off your strengths
If you recognize a few (or more) of the above reasons for leaving a job, chances are you should be making an exit plan sooner rather than later. One way to start off on a good foot is with a strong resume that highlights your achievements. If an employer is impressed by your resume, it could help draw the focus toward the stuff you want to talk about: your skills and experience. Want to see if your resume is up to the challenge? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. It's a quick and easy way to help ensure you make a good first impression and can help smooth any wrinkles in your work history.