Job Interview: Reason for Leaving Your Job After 15 Years

Dear Work Coach,

After over 15 years of service my employer decided to accept my resignation or terminate my employment. Of course I chose to resign. I was their top Project Manager, and after a customer complaint, which was my word against the word of the client, they decided to let me go. Now I’m having a hard time deciding the right words to use as a reason for leaving a company after 15 years.

Thanks!

Edwin

***

Hi Edwin!

First, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I only hope it will lead you to an even better job where you and your hard work are appreciated.

Usually the best way to answer a question like this is to lead and end with your strength. And never say anything bad about your former employer!Not saying these exact words, but something like” “I spent many happy years working for XYZ company and received many good reviews over the years from customers and managers alike (top project manager would go fine here), but I recently started thinking about what I want now in my life and I decided it’s time for a change. When I saw your ad, I got excited because I see a chance for me to take on new challenges such as ____ and _____.”

Now, let me say that interviewers, and I’m one myself on occasion, are slightly suspicious when they see a person has left a company. So I’m more concerned about your references. If your employer is going to badmouth you in a reference and make it seem like you’re a problem employee, your answer alone won’t cut it.

Good news is, nowadays, most employers prefer to just give a vague answer rather than try to keep the person from getting a new job.  Less good news is when interviewers hear a vague answer, we know there’s more to the story. So I hope, since you’ve been in only one job for so long, you have other excellent references from the company. And, if you haven’t already asked this and if it’s at all possible, it might be worth asking your former boss if he would at least be willing to give you a decent reference. Many do so.

Oh..one other bit of good news. Your longevity at your former company shows you’re steady and committed to your work, and it also shows you must have been liked well enough to be there that long. Interviewers know stuff happens sometimes that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad risk for them. If you bring your best game to the interview, and wow them with enthusiasm and readiness to take on a new challenge (so they don’t think you’re a “lifer” type who doesn’t work hard and was coasting through your job), few employers will care much about the precise reasons you left.

If any of my readers have good suggestions for Edwin, please feel free to share them with him. I want him to have the best shot possible at finding a new job he can love, maybe even for another 15 years!

Good luck, Edwin.

Ronnie Ann

***

In case you’re curious, this post comes from an October 2, 2008 comment on:

Job Interviews: Explaining Why You Left The Last Job So Soon

 

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. Hi Edwin (and Ronnie Ann)! While working 15 years for one employer is certainly admirable in this day and age, it may raise questions with potential employers about your adaptability. Some may be concerned about how you’ll manage a transition into a new role at a new company, especially if its culture is quite different from the one you were used to.

    To combat this, use your resume and the interview to cite how you adapted to certain changes, maybe in management, roles, and responsibilities. Both of you know things will be very different for you if you’re hired, but make it clear that you can adapt to change, even if it requires extra effort at the beginning of your new assignment.

    And, to echo what Ronnie Ann said: See if your former boss will give you a good reference. Don’t be afraid to ask former co-workers to act as references for you too.

    Best of luck!
    ~ Rick

  2. Thank you SOOO much for adding this Rick. I’m a big fan of your smart, practical Pongo posts, and this is a good example why.

    I actually thought of discussing this, but only wound up alluding to it in my “lifer” comment. Thanks for expanding so well on the thought. Showing adaptability and ability to tackle new projects successfully, especially within a long-term job, is pretty much always a good thing.

    Thanks again, Rick. And Edwin…go git ‘em!

    Ronnie Ann

  3. Hello,
    I’ve been unemployed for nearly 3 years. I left my last job, because I couldnt get along with my supervisor. Ive had several interview since, but when they ask why I left, I say, ” to pursue other opportunities” it never works. This is when the interview goes down hill.

    In the mean time I have been trying to get into another field (healthcare), by going back to school, but have ran out of funds and need to work.

    I have a telephone interview tomorrow, doing similar type of work as before, but I don’t know what to say when they ask why I left my last job and what have I been doing since then. My last boss and my former boss are friends.

    • Hi Jay,

      Stick as closely to the truth about what happened as you can, but don’t badmouth your former boss or former employer. And do show that you have learned from the experience.

      Say something along the lines of, “My supervisor and I had conflicting styles which made working there very difficult, so I decided the best thing for me to do was to leave the organization. It was a learning experience, and I understand much better how important it is to respect the people you work for and to be able clearly communicate with them about any issues I see. I will be more careful in accepting my next job to be sure that the supervisor is someone I can work well with.”

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

  4. Annabelle says:

    After ten years of loyal service, I too was let go recently. I was termitated for an error I made six months ago, during which time I was tasked with more responsibility than all three of my counterparts combined. Mistakes were bound to happen under those circumstances. When I disovered what I had done, my first instinct was to cover it up. But because I am always honest, I told my supervisor what happened, trusting that he would be undstanding. Instead, I was fired. The only thing I can figure, is that when I was so overwhelmed beyond reason, instead of making a fuss, I went to someone in HR that I had known and liked, trusted and respected during my entire tenure with the company. Clearly, this got me on someone’s “List”.

    I feel like I can express my ‘reason for leaving’ in a diplomatic manner during an interview. Where I am at a loss, is what to say on an application. Does “will discuss during interview” suffice? What I have put most recently is “looking for a position at a company whose values align with my own sense of integrity”.

    Any advice willl be greatly appreciated!

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi Annabelle,

      You’ll never know what really happened at your old job, whether or not HR was involved. It sounds like you did the right thing when you discovered your mistake, and your conscience is clear. Good!

      Regarding your “reason for leaving,” as Ronnie recommends in this post, emphasize that you worked happily for that employer for 10 years, but decided it was time to move on (don’t go into any details).

      If possible, find a co-worker or supervisor (not the manager who fired you) to serve as references for you and the quality of your work.

      I would drop the “integrity” comment. If I were the interviewer, I would wonder what you meant by that and if you would be someone who would be very judgmental and difficult to work with.

      Good luck with your job search!
      Susan

  5. I handed in my notice along with a grievance as a trustee who was acting as an interim CEO published a defamatory and libellous document about me for discussion at an upcoming board meeting on the organisations public server which I was shown by a colleague. My grievance has not been sufficiently investigated and the colleague has been fired. I was escorted off the premises, my keys taken from me and my email password changed so I could not access them. The board are refusing to give me a good reference and have drafted one that is very short and says nothing about my ten years of faithful service. My notice period ended yesterday. I have spoken to solicitor and intend to go to employment tribunal for constructive dismissal. Meantime I am applying for jobs and have been saying I am looking for a new challenge as I was employed to help the board achieve a vision which has now been realised, and I always planned to increase my hours this year as my children are older. This is actually true, I just didn’t plan on having to leave this way. Any suggestions about how to deal with prospective employers or is what I’m saying ok?

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