How to answer the interview question: ‘Why did you leave your last job?’

If  you’re interviewing for a role, I can guarantee you will be asked the above question. Below are example scripts of what to say, and more importantly, when to say it…  

If you voluntarily leave a company:

You may be leaving because your previous role was Internet Explorer-level awful, but positivity is key – every answer has to have an optimistic perspective and never blame others. Often it is good to tailor your answer to the type of company and opportunity you are interviewing for. Never lie, but remember to put a positive spin on your answers. Here’s how…

Going from a big to small company:

Instead of saying: ‘I was bored, the work wasn’t interesting.’

Say this: ‘I wanted more ownership and to make a bigger impact.’

Going from a small to big company:

Instead of saying: ‘Things were too chaotic and unclear at startups.’

Say this: I want to work in a more structured environment which has the potential to have more resources and achieve bigger goals.’

Changing industries:

Say something that interests you in that industry. For example, if you’re moving from enterprise software to advertising, you could say: ‘Enterprise software has been interesting but I’m looking for an industry I can be really passionate about. I recently took an online course in the psychology behind advertising and I’m fascinated by all the moving pieces that make advertising so influential.’

Interviewing for a similar role:

Find something positive instead of saying: ‘I don’t like my manager, and I’m looking for a salary bump at my next place.’ Here’s some examples…

Talk about how you’re interested in working on a new product and say what interests you about the product. Also, talk about how you’re looking to find a company that is a culture fit for you. Name something culturally about the company that stands out.

If you were laid off: 

Fully explain the situation. Focus on an organisational issue over an individual or team issue. This doesn’t make you sound bitter, and it shows this was largely out of your control. 

If you were fired:

Firstly, know that being fired is okay, I’ve had to fire many good people in my career, and I’ve also been fired. Being terminated doesn’t mean you don’t have the ability to be an exceptional employee, instead there was something about your situation that made it not the right fit. But certainly do take it as a learning experience and make sure you focus on finding the best possible opportunity for you next time.

Phrase your answer in a way that you agree with being terminated, like it made sense for everyone. It may sound strange but framing it as ‘mutual breakup’, will help to show that you are self aware and hold yourself in high regard. You only want to be a part of a company where you can add maximum value and are set up for success.

No matter what, never bad mouth a previous employer! Take responsibility of every situation. Here’s an example of how to be honest about a horrible boss, and expressing it in a way that is positive and doesn’t make you come across as a victim.


About the author: Madeline Mann is a people operations leader in the blockchain industry and the creator of Self Made Millennial Youtube channel, which provides rapid-fire, battle-tested advice on how to find your career and excel in it. Here’s a playlist of all her favourite job interview tips, including her secret weapon for onsite interviews! 






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