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Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Former Job?

by Contributor

This is a guest post from Ron Haynes, editor of The Wisdom Journal and author of a new eBook, The Inner View of Your Interview, exposing the motivations behind today’s top 100 job interview questions. Ron has been interviewing people for various positions for over two decades and uses his new eBook to give job seekers an insider’s peek into the mind of an interviewer.

Interviewing for a job isn’t always comfortable. If you haven’t thought through your answers, attempting to “wing it” can mean sending out another 50 resumes and hoping for a call back. One of the toughest questions to answer is WHY you’re leaving your current position – especially if there are hard feelings between you and your boss or if the company is behaving badly in some fashion. Question #4 from the book, Why are you leaving (or did you leave) your current (or former) position?, can help guide you through the minefield of discussing previous positions and why you didn’t stay with those companies.

Why are you leaving (or did you leave) your current (or former) position?

Interviewers are looking for potential problems and this question could reveal your impatience, lack of respect for authority, job-hopping tendencies, or any one of a host of issues. You best be prepared for this question since it is almost always asked in some form by interviewers. No matter what, never go negative about a former (or current) position, a boss, or any other situation that had a negative effect on you or your career. Few things can sour an interview more than going negative – even if it was warranted – so steer clear of the temptation.

WORST ANSWER: Speaking badly of your previous industry, company, board, boss, staff, employees, co-workers, or customers. This rule is written in stone: never go negative. Any mud you sling will get your own hands dirty and the interviewer will see it. Especially avoid words like “personality clash”, “couldn’t get along”, “butted heads” or others that could cast a long, dismal shadow on your competence, integrity, or temperament.

BEST ANSWER:

(If you have a job currently)

If you’re not quite 100% committed to leaving your current job, say so. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that and it will put you in a much stronger position. But don’t be coy or play hard to get either. Be honest and tell the interviewer what you’re hoping to find in a new spot. Of course, as stated often before, your answer will be all the stronger if you have already uncovered what this position is all about and you match your desires and abilities to it.

(If you do not currently have a job)

Be honest, but be wary. The best reasons for leaving a position include:

  • The opportunity to increase your income
  • Moving to an area with family
  • The chance to move to a position of more authority and responsibility
  • The prospect of moving to a position with more opportunities for professional growth

No matter what, never lie about having been fired. Not only is it unethical to lie, it’s too easily checked and found out. More and more companies are finally seeing the light and performing those reference and background checks, so make certain you never lie about being fired. You can, however, try to deflect the reason from you personally if your firing was the result of a takeover, merger, division wide layoff, or reduction in force (RIF).

For all prior positions, make sure you’ve prepared a brief reason for leaving.

If you’d like to read more about how to prepare for your next job interview, check out The Inner View of Your Interview today and read the motivations behind and the best answers to the other 99 questions!

Editor’s Note: Ron’s book is a year and a half in the writing and over two decades in the making. It answers 100 tough interview questions and offers additional insights including illegal interview questions, background checks, how to dress for an interview, 10 cover letter tips, and 4 bonus worksheets. To top it off, Ron offers a 365 Day Performance Guarantee. This is a solid resource for those who are in a career transition and well worth the price of admission. I give The Inner View of Your Interview two thumbs up.


Published or updated March 1, 2011.
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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 LoveBeingRetired

I agree that negatives taint an interview and can make the hiring company question if you will say similar things about them at a later date. Over the past six years of my career, I have moved from job to job five times – twice due to reorganizations of the company and twice due to the fact that the company was being acquired. Even with solid explanations as to why the movement, I fear that a first glance at my resume puts me at a disadvantage when compared to others who have been at their position longer. I always expect to have to explain my movement but it is not the best way to start an interview!

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2 Ron

When you’re faced with that situation, I’d encourage you to assure your interviewer that you’re ready to settle down with a stable company. Most people in an HR department know what goes on in reorganizations and in acquisitions, so you might consider adding those facts to your resume. “Began work at Company Y after it merged with Company X” isn’t anything you caused (I hope!). Neither is an RIF (reduction in force) any one person’s fault.

And you always have the option of spinning a negative into a positive. For example, you have experience going through an acquisition, you have experience going through a reorganization. You’ve worked at various companies in your field and you’ve seen what works and what doesn’t. While you really wanted to continue working for the same company for many years, you’ve learned a great deal by being forced to take another route. Was it your preference? No, but sometimes life doesn’t abide by our plans and we have to adapt … and adaptability is something almost all companies want!

Good luck in your job search. I wish you the very best!

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3 Kevin H

Great post! I will keep this in mind when I transition out of the Big 4 Accounting.

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