Job Interview: How to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job When You Actually Quit

Hi Ronnie Ann!

My friend needs your advice. Recently she quit her job. One of the difficulties she is facing is answering the interview question “Why did you leave your job?”

She happened to leave the job as she was not given a promotion, she believed she deserved. She did not gave her employer the same reason for quitting the job. Now when she is asked the reason for quitting her job in interviews, she is not sure whether to tell the truth or give some other excuse.

She asked for my advice and I thought you would be the best person to answer this.

It would be great if you could help out.

Regards,
Jay

***

Hi Jay!

Nice of you to want to help your friend.

I just posted something that may not at first seem related since it’s about someone who was essentially forced to resign after 15 years at the same company:

Job Interview: Reason for Leaving Your Job After 15 Years

But the advice is basically the same.

First…when dealing with the reason you left your last position, stay positive about the last job – never ever talk about how awful they were or how badly they treated you or how you didn’t get what you deserved. That’s all sour grapes to a potential new employer and would only brand her as high maintenance.

As in the example, (although her answer would be a little different of course) when she answers the question, she should lead and end with positive strength.  In the middle, it’s usually good to talk about something like looking for new opportunity and challenges and in her situation, room for growth. And if she feels more comfortable with a shorter answer, then she can just talk about what she’s looking for which will cover most of it.

In your friend’s case, since she gave her other company a reason, and since there will be reference checks, it’s probably a good idea to make sure what she tells a potential new employer at least gels with what she told her last employer. Since I don’t know what it was, I can’t give you an example. I just hope she told them something that won’t trip her up – for instance that she wants to stop working altogether or leave the industry that she’s still interviewing in. But odds are, if she’s clever, she can make that work.

Now…although I said be clever, I want to emphasize I don’t mean slick. What she says has to ring true to both herself and the interviewer, or she’ll come across as two-dimensional and maybe even phony. Luckily, looking for new challenges and job growth are both excellent reasons for anyone to seek a new job or career.

I wish her much luck. She’s lucky to have a good friend like you, Jay.  Please keep us posted!

~ 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. I have a problem and a question. I was recently terminated from my job in November of last year due to a mistake I made the month before and thanks to a really great friend and previous manager I got another job at the beginning of December. I’m glad to be working but it’s only part-time and I can only do it for so long before I’m going to either need more hours or a new job. I’ve been working for the second company for over 6 years but it was mostly seasonal and I had other full time jobs in between but would come back when I had a day off to help out. I’m filling out applications left and right to get my name back out there but when I come to the part about whether or not they can contact my previous employers I get stuck. I know I can get a great reference from my current employer and the one I had before the company I got let go from but I don’t know how to determine if I should have my future employer contact the company I got let go from. I don’t know what kind of reference I’ll get from that company if they are contacted. And I also don’t know what to say about why my previous employer can’t be contacted. I’m stuck because I know that if I get accepted for a face to face interview that they will ask what happened at my previous company seeing as how I was only there for 7 months. I learned from my mistakes, the hard way of course, and I am the better for it but will a future employer see that? I’m just afraid that this company is going to be the reason I’ll only be employed part time at my current job for a long time without the possibility of full time or even advancement. I have good references to use but is that enough to counteract my termination?

    Thanks for your help!

  2. Hi Ronnie Ann,

    I made 2 moves within my company and this was right when I was due for a promotion , each time! The first time I moved, I was told about a wonderful profil in theo ther team, so I chucked the promotion and moved , however the role never came to me and I had to start from scratch to build my caree, which I did. Got pregnant which was used instantly to not to promote me. Had a baby and was asked to wait for 6 months for promotion. I couldnt wait that long as back then I felt i was growing old so I moved back to my previous team as I was told, they could give me a good role having known me /my skills eralier on. I was not given any work for close to 6 months as the “good role” was still on its way. then the folks who hired me started talking about the role for me, the manager who sat next to me knew the skills I had built in the earlier team were amazxing and she felt insecure and said, I had a small baby and she was not comfortable with me doing the “good role” and I was asked to start my career from “scratch”.
    When my peers who joined with me 8 years back are now managers, I am 2 levels lower. I am looking out but I have such low confidence. I blanked out yesterday in the interview when I was asked about my key strengths, what are leadership competencies?
    I have not really seen a true leader, how could I even asnwer that question though it was so simple.. rather seems simple today as I am no longer being interviewed.
    Then I read your article about key strenghts and there was so much I could relate myself to, so thank you for that.
    However, I dont really know what to say, when I am asked-why do you want to leave after 8 years at one organization? I obviously cannot say what I have been thru, and I feel so stupid when I say, looking for challenging roles etc.. when deep down I know thats not true. I want to leave as I feel so let down.I was to grow in my career, do well for myself with all the hard work I put in..but how do I say this?Please help.
    Thanks,
    Karen

    • chandlee says:

      Karen,

      When you’re in a job for a long time and have not been promoted as you would like, it can feel demoralizing. The key here, I think is to do a couple of things:

      1. Take stock of your strengths (sounds like this is already in process). Talk to people who like and support you outside of work if you need help. There are many tools on the web which link to quick strengths assessments that are free, you can also purchase a book that includes the Clifton Strengths Finder, a good quick assessment.

      Identify strengths you’d like to use in your next position — and market those when you apply for new jobs.

      2. When you look for a new job after 8 years there is no need to go into detail on why you are leaving. You certainly don’t want to go negative. Just say you are ready to explore working in a different type of role — using the _______ strengths that you have. You’ve certainly shown you have loyalty and can do your job.

      Good luck and all the best,
      Chandlee

  3. Good day;

    I recently was let go off a company after more than 14.5 years there. The reason I was given is that my performance was unsatisfactory. I was also told that I was placed into a dvelopment plan for a year and I did not pass. The issue is that I was hired intially for a totally diffrent position but that position was outsourced. So, I was placed into my last position which was completely out of my set of skills, very stressfull and on top on things I was put on the midnight shift. Now I have this job interview coming up in excatly the position which is my skills and specaility. The problem is I stated to this new company that I left last comapny on my own because the job was not within my field and on the midnight shift. And knowing that if called I will not get a good reference, I arrangend with one of my co-workers to act as my manager. This co-worker agreed to this since he truly belived that I was really good at even my last position and I was treated pretty unfairly. I am so concerend and scared that they will call my ex-company and find the truth. The problem is that my last company is so big and my salary was so high it is really difficult for someon (or anyone) to belive that anyone laeves it. Please help me ASAP. Many thanks

  4. Hi there

    I left my job four weeks ago and now I am going for job interview and the type of questions the interviewer ask me is that why I left mu other job, so I tell them that the role was not as challenging as I expected it to be and also the scope for growth is very limited. I would like to advance in my career and at Giant group (my previous company) it wasn’t a viable career so that’s why I left. The interviewer ask me without finding another job so I will tell them that I leave at home with my family so I have all the support I need. Please kindly advise how I can answer the interview question in a better way also if the interviewer was to ask me question what is your ideal role how can I answer please give example also if they were to ask me what will I remember you and what is your ideal sales role. How I can answer that too please advise

  5. I have a situation where there were unethical things going on with my former employer. I said something about it and was subsequently given an ultimatum and forced to resign. How do I approach this in an interview. I’ve had several temp agencies tell me different things. One said to just say I was presented with an ultimatum and chose the latter. The other agency said that’s too vague and I need to just say there were unethical things were going on and that isn’t who I am (which is true). But this goes against all that I’ve read. That you are supposed to remain/sound positive in and interview. How can I do that when my experience was so negative?

  6. Mr. Black says:

    After 10 years with a large U.S. wireless provider, I was let go for not making my goals. I took six months off, and now I am interviewing. I had an interview today that threw me off guard. The interviewer gave me the standard sales questions, then hit me with “I see that you were with your last job ten years, why were you not ever promoted?”. With all due respect, how would I know what my former managers were thinking? They would never consult or confide in me when it was time for them to make decisions.

    What should I have said?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Mr. Black,

      Good question! Do you know why you stayed in the same job for 10 years? Is it because other jobs you saw were not appealing? Is it because no one ever offered to promote you or because you never asked for a promotion?

      How to answer the question: You could say that you were happy with the job you had – the work, co-workers, managers, clients, etc. – with no desire to move up into management in that organization.

      That answer may cost you some opportunities in organizations that want ambitious people. But, it may make you very appealing for other opportunities where they want to see stability in someone they hire.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

  7. Please help i wish to look for a perm job .I was happy that I had finally found a perm job as all long the job I was being offered is contract job.However I am facing problem on what should l say when interviewer’s ask why do I left the current company. I been working this company only for 5 months plus however due to some issues in the company not able to work well with the admin manger I had resign. Please help on how to answer .

  8. Hello, My name is Ammi,
    I need your help.I had been working with an automation company from last 5 months as an HR trainee, but the work environment was so conservative and bad, My manager and senior always interfering in my personal life.After two months of my joining they start torching me with work pressure and mental harassment.So finally I decided to quit the job.Now I am searching for a new job,but the thing is I am unable to understand and think a positive and good answer for resigning from my earlier job only in 5 months although i was working as a trainee.Please advice me and suggest me some positive and good answers which could be acceptable in my interviews.

  9. Great article! Just wanted to add an example of what you could say if you want to leave your current position for a better one:

    “It’s important to me that I have the chance to grow and work for a company that offers the best opportunities in my profession. Although I’m doing well where I’m currently working, I’m really looking for a job where I have more opportunity to demonstrate and grow my skills.”

  10. Hi

    I left the organisation I was working for 3 years. The reason I left is that the organization is involved in unethical actions including fraud and corruption that I personnally do not approve. I left also because my director never agreed to review my performance and allow me for development.she screams,slamps documents on my desk,unstrustured work with no support, no growth.twice I ended up in a mental institution because I could not take it anymore.since I left I went to three interviews and I am told how great I am,but I never get the job.I am wondering if this question of why I left my previous employment messes my chances.please help.

  11. What should I tell to an interviewer to the question, “Why did you leave your job?”, I left my job because of health reason. Also, what should should I tell them if they ask follow up questions?

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Jaem,

      Tell them that you left your job because of health issues which have since been resolved (right?). And, now you are healthy and back in the job market looking for your next opportunity.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

      • Thank you Susan. I appreciate it. I got a text message today from a company saying that their recruitment team will call me within this day for screening and interview schedule. Thanks again.

  12. Hello! I recently applied for a position at an ex-employer. I have spoken to members of the team including the person I would be directly reporting into and they are very excited to [possibly] have me back. The problem is that they’re not paying as well as I’d hoped. Not by much – maybe 8-10% less. More importantly, my bonus at my current job is paid out in mid-January. It’s a decent amount and I would really hate to walk away from it… although I REALLY want to get out of this current role. I don’t think that the ex-employer would want to wait that long. Is it possible to ask them to pay the bonus amount to me so that I can start sooner? Or should I not even mention my bonus and say I’m not available until mid-January? I am excited about the possibility of going back there but I also don’t want to walk away from money I’ve already earned.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Alex,

      Tough spot! I agree that it is unlikely that this offer will stay open that long.

      My question to you is how certain you are that you will get a bonus in mid-January? If you are sure that you will get this bonus (something in writing from the company?), then you might (!) want to ask the ex-employer if they would consider either postponing your start date or giving you a “signing bonus” for leaving your current position before the bonus is paid out. Or, possibly make some other concession to get you “on board” sooner.

      I would approach this very cautiously, though! It could backfire on you, too, if they decide they are being “blackmailed.”

      The good news is that you are currently receiving a paycheck, and it looks like your skills are in demand.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

  13. Hello there
    I am currently unemployed. I quit my last role. The manager was weird. I am having a tough time finding work. There is a vendor offering me a consulting gig but the twist is he wants me to help him get the deal. It an indian technology firm and i do not know their reputation with the client so I do not want to go in there and make a fool out of myself trying to get this deal and representing them and I do not know reputation is. I will be remembered. I have big company experience. Plus I had to ask him to provide a contract for that work. Not cool. I told him no for now but I may get desperate that I need to this short gig. What do you think about that? I wanted to get your opinion.
    Thank you

  14. I would have preferred he have the deal and then just staff me on the project.
    Thank you

  15. I recently quit my job without notice in the middle of a day. I had worked there for 8 years and struggled with communication from my direct report. Although I had climbed the ladder to success each year,it was a struggle because of constant changes within the organization . You never knew what each week or even day was going to have a new goal. Although my position was to put accountability in place the decisions made weren’t always respected or supported. I just had a breaking point and couldn’t go through another year of it. Now I find myself trying to explain this in job interviews.

    Please help !

    I need some help with this interview question.
    Why did you suddenly quit a job after 8 years of employment and nothing in the pipeline.

  16. SAROJ KUMAR SATAPATHY says:

    Dear Sir,
    please help me when i face any interview , what are i talking
    actually i had joined in a finance co . (chit fund) as a branch operation incharge for 1.5 yrs. I left that co. because that co. shutdown.So help me what i will talking when face any interview -when interviewer talking me why you left your previous co.

  17. Hi Susan or Ronnie Ann,
    I recently left a job because the environment was highly dysfunctional. the manager was harassing and the VP of HR was harassing as well. I was at a director level. What should I tell the interviewers? This has come up as to why I left. I have indicated that the I left because the top down priorities were not in sync., I have indicated I left because the environment was not good. Should I state I was being harassed?
    thanks for your help.

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