How to Successfully Answer the Question, "Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?"

Sue Smith Blog

woman talking with an individual in an office

Interview preparation is a critical component of the job search process. Focusing on responding to common competency-based questions is good practice and where many of us tend to focus most of our efforts. However, one question is often overlooked during preparation. That question? "Why did you leave your last job?"

For individuals who've been let go from their roles, answering the question about why you're looking for a new position can be quite daunting. But with some careful thought and preparation the answer is relatively straightforward.

Most individuals going through career transition have not left their last role by choice; rather they have had to do so, as their role simply no longer exists. So how should you respond to this? One way is to position the answer around the organization and your role as opposed to focusing on yourself, for example:

“As you may be aware, ABC Company have been going through some significant changes recently. This resulted in a restructure and my role was eliminated.”

Remember, it is never you that was eliminated, it was your role. That said, be prepared to expand further on this if probed, responding positively to what the experience has enabled you to do. An example of this could be:

“This has given me the opportunity to explore my strengths and experience to identify where I can make a key difference to an organization, hence my application for this particular role.”

So how can you handle questions around voluntary separation? Offering voluntary separation to impacted employees is a common practice during downsizing programs. Should you have opted for voluntary separation you should be prepared for questions as to why you made this decision as opposed to looking at internal opportunities for redeployment. Remember, the secret in responding to this type of question is to remain positive and avoid any negativity, especially towards the organization or managers. Negativity reflects badly on your attitude and may call into question your motivations for applying for the new role. A response to this question could be:

“There were lots of roles available, but as I had been with the organization for a number of years in a variety of roles, I took this opportunity to really look at what motivates and excites me. Upon reflection I felt that the available roles would not have provided me with the level of challenge and responsibility I am now looking for. Therefore, I decided to look externally and this role looks to be a very good match to my values and drivers.”

In general, most interviewers will only probe two levels on most questions unless they suspect you are holding something back. So if this question concerns you, preparation is your best course of action to avoid stumbling or giving mixed messages on the day of your interview.

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