“Why did you leave your previous job” is one of the most common job interview questions.
And rightfully so!
If you left your job without a solid reason, chances are, you might do the same in the job you’re currently applying for.
And since replacing an employee takes time, effort, and money, it only makes sense for the recruiter to want to be sure that you’re not going to quit on them, too.
So, you may be wondering, what’s a good reason for leaving a job?
Well, we’re about to answer that question!
- Why Do Interviewers Ask “Why Did You Leave Your Job?”
- Top 11 Reasons for Leaving a Job
- How to Explain Why You Want to Quit Your Job
So, let’s get right to it!
Why Do Interviewers Ask “Why Did You Leave Your Job?”
How you performed in your last company is a good indicator of how you’ll perform in the next. And, considering how expensive replacing an employee is, who can blame recruiters for wanting to hire the right candidate?
As such, they ask a lot of questions related to your past experiences, one of which is “why did you leave your last job?”
Now, there are three things recruiters are looking to find out with this question:
First, they want to know if you were fired (and if so, why?). After all, being fired is quite a red flag for most recruiters (even if you got fired unjustly).
Second, they want to understand why you quit your last job in case the reason you quit is something that applies to the company you’re applying for, too.
For example, if you were overqualified for your last position, you may be overqualified for this one too.
And third - they want to understand what you value in a job and what your aspirations are.
E.g.: if you quit your last job because it didn’t allow you to grow as a digital marketer, the recruiter understands that this is your #1 priority right now. So, if the role you’re applying for is about digital marketing, you’ll probably enjoy it and be a good fit.
Sounds fair enough, right? Now, let’s talk about the most common reasons for leaving a job (which you can answer if you get asked this interview question).
Top 11 Reasons for Leaving a Job
#1. The Job Didn’t Align With Your Career Goals
Even if you loved working this job, you might’ve discovered that it just didn’t align with your career goals.
Maybe one day you just woke up and decided that you want to be a C++ programmer (as opposed to being a web developer).
Or maybe you learned everything you could from your current role, and just stopped growing as a professional.
Whichever the case is, here’s how you can tell the recruiter about this reason for leaving a job:
- I felt like the job didn’t align with my career aspirations. I decided that I wanted to work as a C++ developer, but the job I worked was that of a web developer.
#2. You Were (Unjustly) Passed Over a Promotion
You worked so hard for years, hit and exceeded KPIs, and led projects proactively…
But when the time came, you didn't get promoted.
Maybe they hired someone externally, or they promoted someone that wasn’t as qualified as you are.
Whichever the case might be, it’s a completely valid reason to want to switch jobs.
In such a case, when the interviewer asks “why did you leave your last job,” answer like this:
- I excelled at my last job, achieved all the KPIs, and managed to complete Project X successfully and on time, all this over the 5 years I was working there. Despite it all, I didn’t get promoted to the management position, which I found very demotivating.
- I realized that Company X wasn’t giving me the growth opportunities I need at this stage of my career.
#3. You Got a Better Deal From Another Company
Leaving an employer because you got a better offer from a different company is a valid reason to quit your job.
Whether they offered a better salary, benefits, or just a good working arrangement, you can use this as a reason for answering the “why did you leave your job” interview question.
As for the answer itself, go for something short and sweet:
- I left Company X because Company Y offered me a better position.
#4. You’re Looking for a Different Work Arrangement
There are a ton of reasons why you might want to look for a different work arrangement:
- You had a child and want to work from home or on a freelance basis.
- You want to have more free time so you can pick up new skills, and hence, want to switch to part-time.
- You want to move to a different country, so you’re looking for a remote job.
If that’s why YOU left your last job, you can answer the interviewer as such:
- I recently had a child and wanted to free up my time by switching to a freelancing arrangement.
- I wanted to move to Jackson, Wyoming, and so I looked for a company that offered the option to work remotely.
#5. You Don’t Get Along With Your New Boss or Supervisor
You had the most amazing boss ever.
They were compassionate, charismatic, with good leadership skills, and they trusted you to manage your work.
But then they quit and were replaced by someone the complete opposite.
Your new supervisor tends to get angry too easily, micromanages all your work, and is generally not too pleasant to work with.
Soo, you decided to switch jobs.
We don’t blame you - life’s too short to work with unpleasant coworkers!
In such a case, you can use the following answer for leaving your job when asked in the interview:
- When my supervisor left the company, the work environment was just not the same. Their replacement was a bit too micromanaging, which is not something I like in a job.
#6. You Had Personal Issues to Deal With
Family and health always come first before work.
If you had a personal emergency and had to quit work for a while, it’s totally acceptable.
If that was the reason you had for leaving your job, answer the interview question as follows:
- I had a family emergency and had to take care of my mother full-time for a few months.
#7. You’re Overqualified for the Job
Let’s imagine you’re THE perfect sales guy:
- You close every other sale call you get on.
- You haven’t missed a sales KPI in years.
- In your previous roles, you were always up on the Employee of the Month board...
But the job you recently started doesn’t take advantage of your skills.
Instead, you’re sitting in the back seat, warming up leads for other sales staff (instead of doing what you do best).
If this isn’t a good reason for leaving a job, we don’t know what is.
Is this your case? Here’s what you can answer the interviewer:
- The role didn’t exactly match my expectations, and I believe that I was significantly overqualified and underutilized. Instead of focusing on what I’m good at - cold, outbound sales - I was tasked with warming up leads for sales staff that weren’t as qualified to close them, which led to a lot of missed sales for the company.
#8. Company Dynamics Changed (In a Bad Way)
Like people, companies tend to change over time.
Maybe you were working in your dream company, but after it merged with another company, things just weren’t the same.
Or maybe, a new management team stepped in and completely changed the company culture.
Whichever the case might be, it’s a very valid reason to leave a job.
So, if that’s why you switched jobs, answer the interview question like this:
- The company turned very autocratic after the new management took over, which I personally didn’t get along with.
#9. The Job Didn’t Match Your Expectations
You find an ad for the PERFECT job - it’s challenging, interesting, has competitive pay, amazing benefits, and the like.
But when you start working there, you come to realize that not everything is as you’d imagined.
The tasks you’re working on are boring, uninteresting, and unrelated to your career path. The supervisor is micromanaging you at every step, and the company culture is just… well, not it.
This, too, is a valid reason to leave the job.
In such a case, you can answer the interview question as follows:
- The job didn’t actually match the job description. I was expecting to work as a React developer (which is the skill I wanted to develop), but it instead involved working with a very obscure framework that is not related to my desired career path.
#10. You Were Laid Off
Yep - it’s OK to be up-front about this.
Layoffs happen, and in a lot of cases, it’s something that’s out of your control.
Maybe your company got acquired, and the buyer decided to downsize. Or maybe the company revenue fell significantly because of outside factors, and they had to cut costs.
In any case, it’s OK to let the interviewer know about it.
Here’s how you can answer the interviewer:
- The project I was working on got canceled, and as the company didn’t have any openings in other projects they had to let me go. That said, I’m still very close with the management team at Company X, and if you’d like, I can provide a reference.
#11. You Were Fired
OK, this one’s a bit tougher than the rest of the reasons.
Let’s start off by saying this: getting fired is OK. A lot of people out there have gotten fired.
In some cases, you’re fired at no fault of your own - the manager didn’t like you, or the expectations for your role were too high.
Even if that’s not the case, as long as you learn from your mistakes and from the experience at the company that fired you, you can still make a compelling case as to why your next employer should hire you.
What is NOT ok, though, is lying about why you were fired (or about being fired in the first place).
Here’s how you can answer the job interview question in case you were fired:
- I was fired because of a mismatch between the job and my understanding of it. I expected for the role to be more focused on illustrations (which is what I excel at), but I ended up doing a lot of UX/UI work instead, which isn’t necessarily my strong suit, nor what I want to do with my career. As such, I underperformed at the role, and the management just didn’t like my output.
Struggling with finding the right job? Check our article on 35+ Essential Job Search Tips for 2023.
How to Explain Why You Want to Leave Your Job
You’re going to get asked why you want to leave a job in 3 different contexts:
- You’re filling in a job application, and one of the questions is “why do you want to quit your current job?”
- You’re at a job interview and the recruiter asks you “why did you leave your last job?”
- You’re about to quit your job, and your current employer is asking “why are you making this decision?”
Here’s how to explain each of these 3 situations:
#1. How to Fill In “Reason for Leaving a Job” In a Job Application
No, you don’t have to specify why you quit a job in a resume.
However, sometimes, if you’re filling in an online job application for a specific company, you might find the question “why are you leaving your current job?” as one of the fields.
In such a case, here’s how to answer:
First, make sure you are consistent with your work history. If you say that you quit because you hate UX/UI, but your past 3 jobs were doing UX/UI, things are gonna get a bit awkward.
Second, keep in mind that the recruiter will ask this question again in the interview. So, your answers need to be congruent. If the two answers differ, that’s gonna be a red flag for the recruiter.
#2. How to Answer the Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
When asked this question on the interview, keep the following tips in mind:
- Answer the question gracefully. Don’t start badmouthing your employers or assigning blame. If there was something wrong with the last company, say so in an objective manner.
- My manager was micromanaging the team’s work too much, which led to decreased productivity.
- My manager was so unprofessional!
- If you got fired or laid off, don’t lie about it. The interviewer WILL find out eventually, and you’re better off being up-front about it.
- If you got fired, be specific about why, and explain how you learned your lesson and treated the whole thing as a learning experience.
And finally, this interview question isn’t end-all-be-all.
Want to make sure that you’ll ace the interview and land the job? Make sure to prepare for the most common job interview questions:
- Tell me something about yourself.
- How did you hear about this position?
- Why did you decide to apply for this position?
- What are your biggest strengths?
- What are your biggest weaknesses?
- What do you know about this company/organization?
- Why should we hire you?
- What are your salary requirements?
- Do you have any questions for us?
- What are you looking for from a new position?
- Are you considering other positions in other companies?
- What is the professional achievement you’re most proud of?
- What kind of working environment do you work best in?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
#3. How to Tell Your Current Employer Why You’re Quitting
Finally, the last case where you have to give a reason for leaving a company is when you’re about to quit, and your employer wants to understand what led you to this decision.
Here are some tips on how to answer them:
- Most importantly, be respectful. Even if you’re quitting because you don’t get along with your manager, don’t badmouth them or start going on a tangent about how much you hate them.
- Give specific information and feedback. This is going to help your employer make the workplace better. Sure, you don’t really get much out of this, but you don’t need a reason to do good!
- Potentially, work with the employer to remedy the issue. Sometimes, your boss might give you a counter-offer or suggest working with you to fix the problem. If you’re open to this, go for it! If not, quit as intended - no harm no foul.
- Don’t burn any bridges. You never know where life will take you; you might just end up back in the same company.
Now that we’ve taught you all you need to know about how to answer this tough interview question, let’s do a small recap of everything we’ve learned so far:
- Interviewers ask “why did you quit your last job” because it tells them a lot about the candidate.
- Specifically, they learn if the candidate got fired, what motivates them, and if their reason for quitting also applies to the company they’re interviewing for.
- In case you were fired or let go from your last company, make sure to tell the recruiter up-front. They’ll find out anyway, and it’s better to do it on your own terms.
- You may be asked “why did you leave your last job?” in three cases: when filling in the job application, during an interview, and when submitting your resignation letter.