There are plenty of good reasons for leaving a job — but communicating them to an interviewer can be a challenge. Maybe a bad boss is driving you to quit, or a ton of work is keeping you from having any semblance of work-life balance. While these are good reasons for leaving a job, stating them point-blank might set off alarm bells to a hiring manager, recruiter or new boss.
So, when you aren’t quite sure how to answer a job interview question with full, complete transparency, what can you do? This guide will help you prepare the perfect answer that will please any potential employer in a job interview.
Why Interviewers Want to Know Your Reasons for Leaving a Job
The question of why you’re leaving your job might seem invasive or unnecessary, but there are actually very good reasons that hiring managers ask it. For one, hiring managers want to see if your answer aligns with what else you’ve revealed during your interview. For example, if you say you’re leaving in order to make more money, but later on say that you’re not motivated by your salary, an employer will see that your answers don’t align — and that you might have a tendency to stretch the truth.
Of course, a hiring manager is also asking to see if you’re a fit for the job. For example, if you say you left your company because the schedule was inflexible, but the position for which you’re applying doesn’t offer any flexibility, you may not be a fit for this exact job.
And finally, interviewers are often looking for red flags when they ask this question. Someone saying they left their job because their boss was a total jerk could be an indicator that they are difficult to work with or, at the very least, a bit crude in their communications.
How to Answer Honestly — Without Losing the Opportunity
If you’re not leaving your job because you can’t wait to escape your current boss or because you hate your company, you have little to fear. In this case, you might say, “I really like the company I'm with, but they know I’m looking to pivot my career in a different direction, and they don’t have any relevant openings.” Why? This answer sends the message that you’ve addressed your career aspirations to your employer, which shows a potential employer you are communicative and transparent — two plusses!
But if you’re leaving your position because there isn’t enough money in the world to make you stay — whatever the problem may be — you have to find a way to answer the question honestly without coming off as a complainer, or someone quick to jump ship. So, instead of pointing out what you hate about your current company, consider framing your answer as, “my goals and the company’s goals aren’t aligned.” It’s honest, but vague enough to be safe. If pushed, you can share an anecdote about a difference you had with your employer, but be sure to communicate that you and your boss maintain a civil, respectful relationship.
And no matter what you do, don’t trash your previous company or your boss — if you do, the interviewer might suspect that you would do the same thing to them!
How to Explain a Layoff
Being “laid off” is often circumstantial, as business cycles and trends will dictate the workforce. Whether you’ve been laid off after three months, or 30 years, the same principles still apply!
Be factual: If the facts are credible, you should be able to easily articulate them. “Don’t get too emotional, show frustration or villainize someone,” says Alan Zel of Zel Human Capital. Rather, focus on what you’ve learned from your past, and how you can apply that successfully to your future. Say something along these lines as a jumping-off point for your conversation:
- “There was a restructure within the organization and unfortunately, my role was impacted.”
- “The business was going through changes, and there was no longer enough work to sustain my position.”
Layoffs are an unfortunate reality beyond our control, and most hiring managers will be understanding of that.
How to Explain Being Fired
What if you’re leaving because you got fired? If this is the case, first, you must know exactly what you can and can’t say per your arrangement with your former employer. Check with your HR department to see how the company will represent the situation and what policies it may have in place for disclosing any information; you can’t violate those policies at all, or else you risk financial penalty.
Then, be honest — but not to a fault. For example, instead of saying “I was fired,” you can use a softer phrase such as “I was let go” or “the company and I decided to part ways.” Then, make sure you have a brief explanation of what happened.
Consider saying something like the following in an interview:
- “Unfortunately, I couldn’t live and breathe the product line, and it made it difficult for me to translate the value to new customers. I now understand that wasn't the right fit for me, and what I’m really interested in is XYZ.”
- “I did not have the right skill set to succeed in that kind of role, so now I’m considering opportunities that would play better to my strengths — such as XYZ.”
Whatever the issue, you must be able to explain the problem, highlight what you’ve learned and assure the hiring manager that it won’t happen again.
In any situation, it doesn’t benefit you at all to speak ill of your past employer. You still need to come off as grateful for your opportunities and show that you left with strong relationships and a good attitude. Be careful with your language, as words can be a delicate yet powerful tool!
Keep It Short and Sweet
Whatever you do, you don’t want to ramble when you answer this question. There may be multiple answers to this question, but by going on and on, you could lose your potential employer’s attention, or worse, accidentally say the wrong thing because you got caught up.
Instead, practice a short and sweet response to this question ahead of time. Practice it until it becomes second nature. By rehearsing a response, you can deliver it with confidence and convey that you’ve invested ample time preparing for the interview. As long as you don't sound robotic in your recitation, you'll be fine.
5 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job — and 5 Bad Ones
Looking for some more examples of what you should — and shouldn't — say? Look no further.
Good Reasons for Leaving a Job
- Relocation: "My partner got an incredible job offer in Denver, and while I enjoy my current job, I want to move with her to allow her to explore this new opportunity."
- Following your passion: "I've always wanted to join an innovative, early-stage startup like this one, so when I saw you had a relevant role opening up, I knew I had to apply!"
- Upward mobility: "After five years and a couple of promotions at my current company, I've realized that the growth opportunities from here on out are limited. I'm hoping to find a new job that will help me develop new skills and move into a management position."
- Transitioning roles: "I've worked in sales for some time now, but I've realized in the last year that what I'm most interested in is marketing. I'm looking for a company that will help support this career transition."
- Culture fit: "Working at a Fortune 500 company has given me incredible experience, but it's also made me realize that I prefer to work at a smaller organization where I can have more of a direct impact."
Bad Reasons for Leaving a Job
- Insults or complaints: "My boss is a total control freak."
- Boredom: "To be honest, I get pretty antsy any time I stay at a company for more than a couple of years."
- Want an easier job: "My current job is pretty intense. I'm looking forward to a job where I won't have to work so hard all the time."
- Want more money: "My boyfriend and I are moving to a nice new apartment which my current salary can't support."
- Poor performance: "I missed quota the past couple of quarters in a row, so I'm trying to find a new job before they let me go."
Now that you can answer this question with confidence, here are some other resources that will help you as you leave your job and search for a new one.