CEO Insider

Answering The Awkward ”Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?” Question

Young woman shakes hands at job interview

This is a question that there is no way you can avoid. There is nothing more logical than being asked about your most recent job. The HR Department is not there to dig into your past; all they want is to find out what kind of people they are hiring in the company and whether they will be a good fit. There is absolutely no reason to become defensive or aggressive, even worse when they turn their focus on that subject. A cool reaction will calm them down and is highly recommended. T

Today we will focus on the characteristics your answer has to carry, not to leave space for doubts and second thoughts.

  1. What are they really asking?
    The interviewer is mainly curious to find out your situation. There are three possible scenarios, and they want to know which one is your case. Scenario No 1 is that you are still employed and in search of another job. The other possibility is that you have already left your last job and you are now applying to other employers. The third case, which is also the most difficult to handle, is that the previous company had to release you from your duties and show you the way to the door. Getting fired can be the outcome of several conditions, and you have to be careful which version of the story you will let them know.
  2. The way you put things
    Let’s say you have decided to be honest with the interviewers and that you have nothing to hide regarding your last job opportunity. While this is a good thing, you don’t want to change the whole atmosphere you have so hard struggled to create, meaning you don’t want to sound unprofessional and get too comfortable with the people who are having this interview for you. Because the question requires a piece of honesty and makes you want to defend yourself, a lot of people get confused and start to express themselves inappropriately. Answers like ”I got bored” or ”That was just not for me” or, even worse ”I have had enough” are not on the list of accepted answers. Keep it professional, and don’t get carried away in this critical point of the interview.
  3. What you choose to say
    As always, we never advise people to say lies when they are in the process of giving an interview or writing a resume. The key here is to understand that all you have to do is find which things you will mention and which ones you are not going to comment on. To do that, keep a golden rule in your mind: Hard questions demand short answers. If you let yourself be exposed for a long time to the interviewer, you increase your chances of ”getting caught.” You can choose one of the reasons you decided to leave your previous jobs or one of the reasons that you were fired. No one is forcing you to talk about all of them; all they want from you is to give a solid answer to each of their questions. You choose the reason that makes you seem better and communicate this aspect to your future co-workers. Besides, this is what all of your competitors will do, and you don’t want to be the last in line to give the wrong answer to this essential question.
  4. The positive conclusions of your experience
    Another hint has to do with how the team will evaluate and translate your answers to their questions. An experienced employee takes control of the conversation and helps the interviewer put the puzzle pieces together. Your response should be divided into two parts. The first part refers to the facts and the truth about why you left your job. The second part talks about the positive conclusions one can reach based on your answer. For instance, ”I was searching for something more challenging in my career and ambitious as I thought I should look for something that would be a better fit for me in a world full of amazing opportunities.” This answer implies that you are an ambitious person who only has a positive attitude towards life and will manage to pass this spirit in the current company.
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Sophie Ireland
SVP for News and Editorial Director. As CEOWORLD magazine's senior vice president for news and editorial director, Sophie Ireland oversees CEOWORLD magazine's journalism and journalists around the world and across platforms. She leads an award-winning team of journalists and newsroom executives who are committed to excellence, innovation and the highest quality reporting and storytelling. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or connect on LinkedIn. Email her at