Interviewer Asked Me Why I Left My Last Job, But I Said Too Much!

Dear Work Coach,

UGH!

I just finished my second interview for a job that is perfect for me. I feel the interviewers really like me and it went really really well…except one thing…

I held a similar position about 5 years ago, and naturally the interviewer asked “how did the last job end with that organization?” To which I SHOULD have replied, “I resigned because It was time to move on” or something equally simple.

Of course, I didn’t.

I launched into something like “It was personal reasons. There was a lot going on in my personal life. Life was getting complicated back east, we owned a house that was too much house in the middle of the mountains. And my husband and I were having problems and we needed a change and we ended up both quitting our jobs and moving overseas to try and make our lives work. Which was successful…blah blah blah. My husband is a chef and works really really long hours”

Obviously I saw myself going down in flames and tried to recover but only made it worse.

NOW, my obvious concern is that the interviewers are thinking “HMMM. If she left that job for those reasons, what is to say she isn’t making the same mistake now?”

BUT I have an answer to that question…my husband is a student now and not working…but of course I didn’t make that distinction.

Can I fix this? I made an error by talking about my personal life…will I only dig myself deeper still by sending an email to talk MORE about my personal life?

I am one of their two final candidates, and would hate to lose this job from a nervous talking thing.

Thanks for your input!

Shannon

***

Hi Shannon!

First, let me assure you that most interviewers know people get nervous in a  job interview. So what seems like a horrible mistake to you, may not have left them with as bad an impression as you think.

Yes…you probably would have been better off with a simpler answer. But if you said “It was time to move on” and they asked “why?”, you might still have wound up giving them some of the same details anyway. So please don’t kick yourself.

Although I hope you get this job, in the future, good to prepare a simple answer that doesn’t leave room for “why?” Something like: I actually enjoyed my work, but my husband is a chef and we decided to move overseas to help him get experience that would help him here in the United States. We’re both VERY happy to be back (smile; you’re closing that door) and love living here. And I feel especially lucky to have found another job in my field that quite honestly feels perfect for me.

Career Reasons Why You Left Your Last Job

Note to my readers: In general, best to stay away from personal information and stick to more traditional reasons related to your career if at all possible. Things like:

  • There was no chance for advancement, so I needed to look elsewhere.
  • I was offered a job with tremendous growth potential.
  • I was offered a job that gave me a chance to learn new things.
  • I wanted to change my specialization.
  • I saw an opportunity to get into an area I love or care deeply about.
  • I found a job that offered me a chance to travel or to be more creative or to lead a project or to have more people contact (only of this job does, of course).

Personal Reasons Why You Left Your Last Job

But sometimes you really don’t have a good explanation other than a personal one, and, in that case, a simple answer that helps them understand it was NOT about something you did wrong at the other job is best:

  • I went back to school to get a degree in ____.
  • My husband was offered a big promotion in another city.
  • I had a one-time chance to help start a new company or my own business.
  • I wanted to spend a year volunteering overseas.
  • I was writing a book. (Especially good if it got published.)
  • I had to take care of a sick relative or child, but that’s not a problem now.

You don’t owe them the details. Just make sure you practice explaining why, at this moment, this job is exactly what you want, and that at this point in your life you’re able to commit to this new job with your whole heart. You don’t have to say it directly, but the idea is to assure them that all that other stuff is in the past.

Now back to your case, Shannon. As long as you’ve made it clear this is a job you really want and presented yourself well, there is a good chance they will see past the rambling answer. In fact, they may have gotten a kick out of your honesty!

By the way…knowing a person left a job at one point in their life to try new things. What matters is how you present yourself NOW. You don’t want to appear like someone who can’t commit, but when we hire someone (I’ve helped hire many), we don’t really expect them to be there for life. We know things happen. We just need to see some evidence of their being solid and able to commit to a job. And we need to believe they’re right for this new job and are looking to stay with us for at least a few years (hopefully longer).

I would definitely not try to explain anything more about your personal life in a note to them. If you haven’t written your thank yous yet, send a short note saying how much you enjoyed meeting them, and that more than ever you are excited about this job and very much hope to become part of the company (or some such thing). And that’s all.

Please let us know what happens. I’m hoping you’ll hear some good news soon.

Good luck!

Ronnie Ann

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. Ronnie Ann—What a great list of reasons to answer this potentially difficult question. Thanks! And Shannon, you may not have done yourself as much harm as you think. Worse answers could have included “my boss was a jerk” or “my fellow employees were idiots” or something else of that nature. Answers like that might flag you as a possibly difficult employee. Your own personal story shows that you worked through problems in a creative way, and the fact that you and your husband are still together says you hung in there when things got rough. Good luck to you!

  2. Thanks for the great comment as always Terry B. And you’re so right that there is a very positive aspect to the story Shannon told.

    Please let us know what happens, Shannon. We’re rooting for you.

    Ronnie Ann

  3. Hi,
    I left my job 8 months back because of personal reason ,actually my family wanted me to get married and because of that i wasted my 8 months but as i realised sitting ideal at home and waiting to get married was nt my cup of tea..so finally i moved on but i am nt getting correct way how to answer the intervier..
    Plz help me out n guide me ..
    Thanks

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Reedima,

      You’ve already have your answer. You left for personal reasons, and the situation has been resolved. So you are looking for a new job now.

      If they press for more details (which the probably won’t), tell them it was a family issue that is over – not your health or anything else that would impact your ability to do your job.

      Regards,
      Susan

  4. This is a great read. My position was terminated without cause but at the same time I was dealing with fall out in my marriage. No doubt it was noticed at work as I was under a lot of stress. I was off work for health reasons due to all this. There are some former colleagues who won’t seem to let it go and continue to dog me to potential employers. I’ve lost three potential jobs over being bad mouthed, two of them I had a verbal offer. This question has come up often in interviews and it is hard to deal with even though there was no cause for dismissal and reasons for me were very personal.
    My former employer is a large firm so it is difficult to not have someone who knows someone. It hurts that the hr didn’t respect my confidentiality and that they don’t see the positive things and growth I’ve experienced to pull through that stormy period in my life.

  5. i left my job 1 yrs back because i got married please provide me correct way how to answer the interviewer..
    Plz help me out
    Thanks
    Ruchika

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