Answering the Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Losing a job can be traumatic. Just like a breakup or dramatic incident, it can lead to buried emotion and long-lasting psychological pain.

Unfortunately, it's also something that every prospective employer will want to know about. It will come up in every interview and isn’t something you can bury and forget about. Unfortunately, to get another job, you’ll have to recount the details of how you lost your last one.

Of course, not every split from a previous employer involves a trip through the stages of grief. Sometimes, you make the call to move on for completely self-driven reasons. Other departures are mutual, like reaching the end of a contract project.

Those pleasant career breakups aren’t hard to talk about. But the other ones – the involuntary departures – are tough to relive and sometimes embarrassing to explain.

However, there are techniques to minimize the pain. Here are five things to keep in mind when it comes time to answer the question, “Why are you no longer with your previous employer?”

Don't Dwell on Details

There's a thin divide between fully answering the question and launching a rant. Don't tempt yourself to trip over that line.

Your interviewers don't need a play-by-play rehash of the run-ins you had with your boss over the last month at your former company. They just want a general notion of why you no longer work there. Keep your answer short and general. If the interviewers want more detail, they will ask.

Have a Prepared Answer

Don't just to expect to improvise your way through an explanation of why you left your last job. Before you go on any interviews, think about the best response. Practice it. Try it out on people and use their feedback to improve the answer.

Don't be afraid to come off like a politician. Better to seem a little pat or pre-programmed than freelance an answer in the moment and let your emotions take over.

Stay Positive

However upsetting the departure seemed at the time, try not to let that color your telling of the story. You don't want to look petty or come off as someone who complains.

Think about it like dating. No date wants to hear a lengthy rant about how terrible your ex was. They just want to hear that you're a normal, stable person. Speak well of your previous employers and you will look better as a result.

Look to the Future

When formulating your answer, focus on what you learned from your experience at the previous job. What will you take away from the position? What lessons did you learn that made you better?

Casting your previous job - even if it wasn't an altogether pleasant experience - as a source of knowledge makes you a better candidate for the current opportunity. You are someone with hard-won experience who can learn from situations and apply that knowledge to new tasks.

Pivot to the Current Opportunity

Don't get bogged down in the past. As quickly as possible, return the conversation to the position you are interviewing for.

Again, think like a politician. You want to pivot the conversation to what you want to talk about: Why you would be perfect for the current opportunity. Keep your reason for leaving your last job brief, and steer the focus back to the present.

Something like, “I had been with the organization for a number of years and wanted to experience a new environment to continue growing. That's why your job posting stood out to me.”

Transitioning to a new position after a difficult departure can seem daunting. A staffing firm can make the process easier. A top-flight recruiter like United Personnel can get you into the perfect situation for the next stage of your career. Contact us today to find out more.