Are you ready to discuss why you're available for employment in a job interview? Interviewers will typically want to know why you left your last job. Common variations of the question include:
- "Why did you leave your last job?"
- "Why did you quit your job?"
- "Why are you looking for a new job?"
- "Why were you fired?"
It's important to have a response prepared so you're not caught off guard by the question. When you respond, you'll need to give an answer that’s honest and reflects your specific circumstances but avoids negativity. That is, even if you quit because your boss was difficult or because you disliked the company, now is not the time to share.
What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know
Interviewers like to ask this question because it reveals a lot about you, such as:
- Did you leave this position voluntarily, or were you fired or laid off?
- Are you on good terms with the company you're leaving?
- Does your reason for quitting seem valid or reasonable?
How you answer this question offers a window into your on-the-job character and values.
How to Answer "Why Did You Leave Your Job?"
This can be a challenging question to answer. Perhaps you left your job due to long hours and impossible deadlines. If you do not phrase your explanation carefully, you might appear lazy or unmotivated, which is off-putting to employers.
Your best bet is to keep your answer short. Be honest, but frame it in a way that puts you in a good light.
Keep your response positive (no venting about your previous employer), and try to pivot to discussing why the job at hand is an ideal match for your skills, knowledge, and experience.
If you're still working but are about to quit, then alter your responses accordingly. Every situation is unique, so be sure to tailor your response to fit your circumstances.
Examples of the Best Answers
Review examples of answers, but be sure to tailor your response to fit your professional circumstances.
To be honest, I wasn't considering a change, but a former colleague recommended this job to me. I looked into the position and was intrigued by the role and by the company. What you're offering sounds like an exciting opportunity and an ideal match for my qualifications.
Why It Works: This is so flattering to the company! If you don't overdo the compliments, making it clear that this specific position brought you into the job market is appealing to interviewers.
I was able to take advantage of an early retirement offer due to company downsizing, and now I am ready for a new challenge.
Why It Works: This to-the-point answer gives the facts without any tinge of resentment or negativity.
I was laid-off from my last position when my job was eliminated due to downsizing, so I'm actively seeking employment.
Why It Works: This is another just-the-facts response that does a nice job of avoiding emotions or negativity.
I recently achieved certification and I want to apply my educational background and technical skills in my next position. I couldn't accomplish this goal in my previous job.
Why It Works: This answer makes the candidate seem like a real go-getter—eager to grow skills and to put those new skills to work. Employers find those traits positive.
I left my last position in order to spend more time with an ill family member. Circumstances have changed and I am ready for full-time employment again.
Why It Works: While often in interviews it's a good idea to avoid getting too personal, this is a good example of an acceptable reason to leave a company.
Other strong answers to consider:
- "I quit my job because my supervisor retired. After many years of working in the office, I felt that it was time for a change, and it seemed like the ideal time to move on."
- "I resigned to focus on finding a job that is closer to home and will use my skills and experience in a different capacity."
- "I didn't have room to grow with my previous employer."
- "I have been volunteering in this capacity and love this kind of work. I want to turn my passion into the next step of my career."
- "After several years in my last position, I am looking for a company where I can contribute more and grow in a team-oriented environment."
- "I am interested in a new challenge and want to use my skills and experience in a different capacity than in the past."
- "I am interested in a job with more responsibility."
- "I was commuting and spending an hour each day traveling back and forth. I would prefer to be closer to home."
- "The position seems to correlate with my skillset. Unfortunately, in my last job, I wasn't able to use my training and experience fully."
- "The company was downsizing and I thought it made sense to find another position before my job was eliminated."
What to Say When You Were Fired
If you were fired from your job, it's important to keep your responses as positive as possible. Try not to blame yourself or your previous employer. Give a brief answer, then move the conversation forward.
Here are some sample answers and tips for responding to interview questions about being fired.
Tips for Giving the Best Answer
There are all kinds of reasons to leave a job. Maybe you wanted more money, you felt the company was in constant chaos, your new manager never provided guidance or direction, or you were laid off. However, not all of these responses should be raised during a job interview.
You need to be honest, but also strategic in your response. Avoid any answers that reflect poorly on you.
Here are some tips on how to develop a response that will be well received:
Be honest: You don't have to tell the whole truth. Just be sure to focus on the real reason you are leaving. For example, you can say you were frustrated by the lack of opportunities. Start by describing some of the things you accomplished, and then pivot to saying you were roadblocked as far as being able to accomplish more. You'll score bonus points if you can tie your answer back to why the job you're applying for is a better fit because you'll be afforded more opportunities.
Keep it short and positive: This is one question where you might want to keep your response brief since there are a lot of minefields. A simple sentence—maybe two—is likely sufficient. If possible, try to frame your departure in positive terms.
Practice: Practice your responses so you come across as positive and clear. Practicing (especially in front of a mirror) will help you feel more comfortable answering this difficult question. This is particularly true if you were laid off or fired. In a situation like that, give a short, clear, and unemotional response.
What Not to Say
Avoid negativity: Do not speak poorly about managers, colleagues, or the company. You may speak negatively about a coworker only to learn that he or she has a close relationship with the interviewer. However, you can speak broadly about corporate goals or mention that you disagree with the direction the business is taking.
Be sure not to get personal in your response. Industries can often be small and you don't who knows whom.
Unprofessional comments: Are you bored at work? Underpaid or underappreciated? So sick of everything about the job? Now's not the time to let it all out. You don't need to overshare or get really personal about your motivations for departing the job. Make sure your answer is professional.
Possible Follow-Up Questions
- What can you contribute to the company?
- What interests you about this job?
- What do you know about this company?
A short and simple response is best. There's no need to go into extensive detail.
Be honest. If your references are checked, fibs may be uncovered.
Stay positive. Avoid complaints about the company, your coworkers and supervisor, or about the circumstances around your departure. An emotion-free, factual response likely works best here.