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Job Interview Tips

#ToughQuestions: Answer this, "Why Did You Leave Your Previous Job?"

By Krisha Maclang on August 8, 2015

Chances are you’ll encounter some of the most uncomfortable questions at job interviews.

From “Do you have a boyfriend?” to “Do you drink and smoke?” to “What was your salary at your previous job?”, these questions can definitely be intrusive (and sometimes, inappropriate) but serve to help companies get to know their hires better.

In this edition of #ToughQuestions, we’re helping you answer, “Why did you leave your previous job?” For the most part, answering why you left your previous job shouldn’t be too awkward. After all, many people leave their jobs for new positions all the time. However, it does take some finesse and smart maneuvering to answer this without being too negative toward your previous employer or compromising your personal reasons, whatever the case may be.

Here’s how to answer a few scenarios below:

If you left your job because you didn’t get the promotion or salary raise:

Quitting because you didn’t get that promotion or salary raise you wanted happens quite often. However, the risk in mentioning this in an interview might make the interviewer assume that you’re a sore loser or that your loyalty to the company will end when you don’t get your way right away.

Say this instead:

“I’ve worked at ABC Incorporated for four years where I received excellent training needed to build a proven track record in being an efficient and productive member of my team. After much thought, I’ve decided to look for new opportunities where I would be given the chance to grow personally and professionally. I want to not only improve my skill set but also get the chance to hone my leadership skills as well.”

If you left your job because of your boss, co-workers, or company culture issues:

Don’t be negative about your previous job. If you’re leaving your job because of issues with your boss, co-worker, or company culture fit, it can be tempting to trash them during the interview. Resist the urge to do so. No matter what happened at your previous job, it will still reflect badly on you if you blame the company. Be honest about your situation but avoid dragging your company’s name through the dirt.

Say this instead:

“I’ve spent some three years at XYZ Corporation and have grown through my work experience there. But after spending some time there, I realize that the next few steps that I want to take in my career will not be suited to XYZ’s organizational culture and work methods. I would like to stay with a company long-term and I believe that I will be better suited to a company that matches my career aspirations and fosters positive employee relationships and career growth.

If you left your job because you were bored:

While it may be true that you were bored at your job, it will not benefit you to speak ill of your former employer. Your interviewer may either think that a.) Your boss didn’t trust you enough to let you handle bigger roles in your company or b.) You were uninterested in the company’s goals and you had zero initiative to get things done. Either way, it reflects badly on you, even if either scenario isn’t true. “I was bored and wasn’t being challenged” won’t cut it.

Say this instead:

“Acme Company was a great company to begin my career with as a fresh grad. They gave me valuable training that has helped me immensely and they always made me feel like an esteemed member of their team. My managers guided me as I consistently hit my sales goals by more than 8% each year. However, I believe I’m now ready for new challenges in my career. I believe your company can help me explore new avenues to grow as a sales professional.”

If you got fired:

We won’t lie. This one is very tricky. Whether or not you feel that your termination was justified, explaining away the reason/s why you were fired can be risky. Don’t play the victim and don’t make your employer out to be the villain. This will just make you look bitter about the decision and might convince your interviewer that firing you was the right thing to do. What you can do is to stay honest yet positive and emphasize what you’ve learned from the experience.

Say this instead:

“Unfortunately, I was let go from my previous job. While I did work hard in my previous job, my boss felt that I was not a good match for the position. Since then, I’ve used this experience to reflect on how I could improve my work performance. I believe that I have grown meaningfully as a professional since then.”

Remember that the key to answering this question is to tell the truth (always, always tell the truth at interviews!) but to frame it in a way that will present your reasons in a positive light. Always remain neutral about your previous employment. This will say a lot about what kind of employee you are and interviewers will be sure to pick up on it. You will want to be the employee that they can count on to stay at their company for the right reasons and can champion the brand wherever you go.