This question will most likely be asked in every job interview, so it’s a very good idea to have an answer prepared for each job you have had. Usually the question is asked only about your most current job, particularly if you stayed in that last job for more than three years.
If you seem to change jobs every few months or more than once a year for the last three to five years, have answers ready for why you left all of those jobs.
Why They Ask
The way you left your last job is a possible indication of the kind of “fit” you might – or might not – be.
They are mostly concerned that you might have left for a reason that indicates you are a “problem” as an employee, someone who won’t stay long, or someone who won’t be happy in any job.
Maybe you are difficult to work with. Maybe you are lazy or inept or not someone who can be trusted to do a good job. All people to avoid hiring, if possible. Having you fit well into their organization and stay for a reasonable period of time is very important.
How You Should Answer
Unless you were legitimately fired for doing something illegal, you don’t have any reason to feel defensive. But there are three cautions for your answer:
1. Don’t trash your former employer – your boss, the organization, the products or services, any other employees – regardless of how justified you may feel.
2. Don’t be dishonest. You don’t necessarily need to tell the whole truth, but don’t lie.
3. Don’t talk too much. A short, simple answer is all that is needed. So, make your statement, and then move on, perhaps asking a question you have about the job or the organization.
Remember that whatever answer you give may well be double-checked with your references, your LinkedIn Profile, and Google/Bing. You may certainly put a “positive spin” on the situation, but do not “twist” the facts.
[More: Why Do You Want to Change Jobs?]
Some Possible Answers
Do your best to put anger or hurt feelings aside, and focus on the simplest reason you left. Depending on your situation, these may apply:
- The company reorganized, and my job was eliminated.
- My job was out-sourced, and no appropriate jobs were available.
- The job location moved, and the commute became too difficult and unreliable.
- The job location became a little scary, and I wanted a safer place to work.
- My manager left, and the job changed substantially with the new manager [or after the reorganization].
- I really enjoyed doing [some aspect of your job], and want a job where I will be able to do more of [that].
- I needed to leave to take care of [a sick parent or spouse, one of your children, or some other family crisis situation].
- My spouse’s job moved, so we needed to relocate.
- I want to advance my career so I decided to go to school.
You may be asked follow-on questions inquiring about more details, but you may not. Being prepared with a good answer will help you reassure the interviewer that you had an acceptable, understandable reason for leaving and are a good candidate.
More About Answering Job Interview Questions
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.