RockIt Careers

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Brian Young
RockIt Career Consultation Services

This is a question that is bound to come up when you have some gap in time between your previous job and the one you’re applying or interviewing for. It sounds like an easy question to answer, doesn’t it? Most of the time, it probably is. However, there are times when it presents a challenge to a job applicant.

You see, not everyone leaves their previous job on good terms. When that’s the case, this question can feel a smidge dangerous to answer honestly. Then there’s the applicant with several shorter stints with various companies. Now you look like a job hopper who can’t commit.That’s tough to overcome.

So what do you say to this question when it comes up? It depends a little on the person, but we have a few general recommendations to follow when putting together your answer.

1. Keep It Positive

It’s not going to do you any favors to talk about the bad environment that you worked in at your last job. No matter how bad the management was, or how poorly the team worked together, or how stressful the job itself was, as soon as you go negative into a story, the person listening to you associates you with negativity. Plus, they will start to think about how you’re going to talk about your next employer if you’re bashing the previous one. Even if your last job was truthfully the worst place on earth to work, actually talking about it in those terms is only going to hurt you.

So, focus on the silver lining to that experience and talk about the best aspects of the job. Talk about how you learned something new there. Discuss how you enjoyed all the customers you worked with. Give some details to the projects you successfully completed. You don’t have to be exuberant about your employer, your boss, or teammates, just don’t talk in negative terms. Then give a reason that sounds reasonable, such as that there weren’t enough growth opportunities there. You aren’t lying. In all likelihood, you weren’t going to stick around long enough to get promoted anyway.

2. You Didn’t Get Fired, You Parted Ways

Here’s a secret I’ll share with you. There’s very little chance that the Recruiter or Hiring Manager will ever truly know why you left your previous job unless he or she knows someone who works for the company who can get the inside scoop. Most of the time, when a background check is conducted, the only information the company gets are your employment start and end dates and your job title at the time you left. Most employers are fearful of defamation suits, so that is all the information they are willing to share about you.

Knowing this, if you happened to have been terminated, you don’t have to give them the entire story. You can just tell the person interviewing you that you were either laid off or you parted ways. In effect, the end result is the same – you’re no longer working there. Getting laid off or leaving on your own terms doesn’t sound quite as bad to a Hiring Manager as getting fired. As soon as you say you were terminated, they are going to want to know why. At which point, you’ve just tanked your interview.

3. Focus More on the Future and Less on the Past

At every chance you get, you want to steer the conversation towards your vision of the future, and not let the interview stay stuck in the past. Sure, talk about your past experiences, but always do so in reference to the opportunity you came in to discuss with them. Don’t let the interviewer keep picking at it. You have the ability to actually lead the discussion if you remain focused on how you are going to do amazing work for them once they hire you. When you accomplish this, whatever you do, don’t accidentally circle back to leaving your past employer at a later question. As a Recruiter I saw many people make this mistake. They were doing so well and then shot themselves in the foot with an unforced error.

4. Address It Before the Interview

As some sports strategists believe, sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Take this off the board by addressing it in the cover letter and resume.

If there are perfectly good reasons you went through several jobs in the last five to ten years, explain it. Honestly, Recruiters and Hiring Managers are a little more forgiving than job candidates give them credit. We’ve all had a rough patch in our career where we couldn’t get our footing for some reason. Don’t be afraid to put it out there in plain terms and let them know what happened. Why? Because you can’t hide a red flag like that. The best you can do is rationalize it for them before they count you out.

Finding a new job is never easy and knowing what to say in these types of situations doesn’t make it any easier. Don’t despair. Despite what you think your employment record might appear to someone else, you’ll eventually be given a chance. When you do, make it count and do your best to show them that the risk they took on hiring you was a good one!