One of your first interview questions will most likely be regarding your previous employment. Not just what your title and job duties were but why you left—or if you’re still employed there, why you’re looking to leave.
While you’re busy trying to formulate a polite and professional response, remember that the interviewer is really trying to figure out the following:
- Did you leave voluntarily?
- How likely are you to jump ship?
- How do you handle feelings about past employment?
Even if your first instinct is to talk about how much you think this new job is such a great opportunity, don’t avoid the question—chances are, if you had a completely positive experience you’d still be employed there.
So why did you leave your last job?
You didn’t like your boss
Nor did you like your coworkers, management team, and come to think of it you weren’t too thrilled with the receptionist either. Most employees leave a job because of dissatisfaction with the people they work with. Think about why you didn’t see eye to eye. Was there no room for innovation? Was there low accountability? Identify what it was and put a spin on it—talk about how you’re looking forward to seeing that improvement in your new job.
“When new management stepped in, I realized that the company was going in a different direction than I was. I’m very interested in working as part of a team where fresh ideas are welcomed. It was a hard decision because I was invested in the mission of the company, but I know in the long-term this is the right choice for me.”
You weren’t being challenged
Every work opportunity is a chance to learn something new and build on your skills. But when you’ve stopped learning and stopped becoming engaged, it is time to move on. Employers look for employees who are motivated and willing to grow with their company, so use this to your advantage.
“After working at Mahalo Airlines for five years, I had the opportunity to work on multiple projects and develop a skillset for project management and strategic planning. But I realized that I was no longer being challenged the way that I used to be and with limited opportunities for growth, I decided it was time for me to find a position with upward mobility.”
You were let go
If you were fired, own up to it and tell them why. Did the company have a phone policy that you violated? Were you not a good fit with the rest of the team? Talk about it and tell your interviewer what you learned from the experience.
“My previous employer had a very strict tardiness rule that I broke twice during a twelve month period. Getting my children up and ready in the morning was more difficult than I had anticipated. To ensure this isn’t a problem again, my wife takes them to school now in the morning since her work schedule is more flexible.”
Your circumstances changed
Life happens—people move, have children, go back to school, need to care for aging parents. No employer is going to frown upon a life transition, if you tell the truth. Be honest about what happened and where you are now.
“My husband and I moved from Kapolei to Kaneohe to be closer to my parents who agreed to help us out with day care. As much as I enjoyed the work, the commute took away an extra two hours each day which wasn’t going to work out for what my family needed in the long-run.”
The trick to acing this question is be honest about your situation while also being tactful. Instead of blaming your old job and all its quirks, address it, point to the positive, and move on.
Preparing for a big interview?
Check out our other tips:
- How to Answer the Question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
- How to Answer the Question: “Why should we hire you?”
- How to Answer the Question: “What is your greatest weakness?”
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