What to List as a Reason for Leaving on a Job Application

Reasons for leaving a job

Catherine Song / The Balance

There are all sorts of reasons, both good and bad, to leave a job. Once you’ve cut ties and moved on, your main priority is to develop a plan for discussing your previous position during a job search. This is especially true if you were fired, laid off, or quit without a “good” reason.

When you fill out an employment application, companies will often ask for the reason why you left each of your previous positions. Prepare now, and you won’t be caught by surprise when applying for your next job.

If employers don't ask, you don't need to provide any information on why you left the job.

Read advice on how to list your reasons for leaving a job on an application, along with tips for dealing with tricky situations, like being fired or quitting a job under difficult circumstances.

Tips for Listing a Reason for Leaving on a Job Application

Whenever you’re filling out forms or preparing documents for a job search, it’s important to be honest. That's because prospective employers may contact your former employers to verify that the reason you listed is accurate. If it's not, you may be removed from consideration for the job.

You will also want to provide a reason that puts you in a positive light. So, if you left a job because you were bored with your day-to-day work or simply hated the position or the company, you might want to rephrase your reason as something like "looking for new challenges.”

You may not need to include every job you’ve ever held on the application. Read the instructions carefully and follow the directions that tell you how much work experience you need to list.

Common Reasons for Leaving

Some reasons will be straightforward and easily accepted, like:

  • Career focus changed
  • Moved on to a position with more responsibilities
  • Offered a new position from another company
  • Lack of growth opportunities at the company
  • Laid-off from job due to corporate merger
  • Laid-off due to restructuring
  • Left for the beginning of the fall semester
  • Landed a higher paying job
  • Left to focus on varsity baseball during the spring
  • Left to devote more time to academics
  • Looking for a new challenge
  • Position ended after summer
  • Position was eliminated
  • Position was part-time, contract, or temporary
  • Went back to school on a full-time basis

In other cases, you may have had a less concrete rationale like:

  • Caring for a sick family member
  • Coping with an illness yourself which has passed
  • Moved to be closer to family
  • Spouse transferred to a new city
  • Stay-at-home parent for young children

Of course, you will want to mention reasons which don't reflect negatively on you whenever possible. This is where giving yourself the benefit of the doubt can come into play. For example, say you were laid off from an employer that was experiencing financial difficulties. Even though a secondary reason for your termination might have been that you were a lower-performing employee, it is fine just to cite budget cuts.

When You Quit Your Job

There are lots of reasons to resign from a position, but some of them sound better to future employers than others. Hopefully, you gave some thought to leaving your job graciously before you turned in your resignation. You probably had a good reason for quitting, but now you must explain to your potential employer in a way that you and your former employer will agree on, in the likely event that they check.

Some of the terms you could use instead of “quit” include:

  • Pursuing other opportunities
  • Resigned
  • Voluntary separation

Whatever the circumstances, try not to place blame on others at the company as it will only reflect badly on you.

When You Have Been Fired

Explaining that you were fired can be one of the most difficult things you encounter during the job search process. It’s likely an emotional issue for you, and even if it’s not, it can be difficult to explain while keeping your reputation untarnished. If you have to list a reason on a job application, it can be challenging to come up with an appropriate response that will be verified by your former employer.

To keep it simple you could say:

  • Involuntary separation
  • Terminated
  • Discharged
  • Job ended

If it was a situation where both you and your manager agreed that the job wasn't working out, you could say "mutual separation."

If you're asked a yes/no question about whether you were fired, it's important to tell the truth because the employer may check.

Here's a list of more reasons for leaving a job to help you answer the question in an

Tricky Reasons for Leaving

When you leave a job for a positive reason, it’s a simple thing to explain on your application and in an interview. Sometimes though, your reasons for leaving are a little more complex.

Perhaps you quit your previous position because you were unhappy—your boss was difficult, your job was going nowhere, or you had co-workers who were unbearable. Maybe you were fired because your attitude was problematic, you got in a fight with your supervisor, or you weren’t doing a good enough job.

Negotiating Your Departure

Keep in mind that when leaving a job, you can sometimes negotiate with your employer about how your departure might be represented to future employers. Doing this may help you avoid some of these tricky application issues.

Even after you've left, you can try contacting your former manager or human resources department, and asking if there is a neutral way that they can describe your departure from the company.

More Reasons for Leaving

Here's a list of more reasons for leaving a job to help you answer the question in an appropriate way. Regardless of the reason you list on the application, be honest, and do be prepared to explain why you were fired during job interviews.

Try to Keep It Positive

You should also avoid mentioning any reasons that reflect negatively on a former employer. You may have left the position because you did not get along with your manager or co-workers, but it's preferable to say that you wanted a new challenge, were offered a higher paying position, or that the company restructured.

Prospective employers tend to view employees who disparage their former colleagues, so keep any notation about less-than-optimal circumstances as positive as possible.

Stick to the Facts

Regardless of the reason you left your job, it's important to make sure that your previous employers can't factually dispute the reason you list on your application.

This is because your prospective employer can use any untruths on a job application or a resume as grounds for dismissal, even if they come to light after you have been hired for the job.