How to Explain Why You Left a Job

Sally Painter
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The way you respond to an interview question about why you left a job is just as important as any qualification listed on your resume. Your explanation can determine if you move forward in the interview process.

Don't Air Dirty Laundry

No matter the circumstances, never complain, whine, or express anger towards your former company. Even if you have a legitimate grievance, refrain from making disparaging remarks. Never lie but frame your response to end on a positive note.

Reasons and Answers

Prepare your responses before the interview.

Company Changes Resulted in Layoffs

A layoff reason is usually acceptable, but recruiters don't like one-word explanations. Give a short summation.

  • Answer: "The company made a lot of changes that were necessary for it to remain in business. Part of those changes included layoffs in my department. I was one of the last hired. With the least seniority, I was one of the first laid off." Conclude with, "I appreciated the opportunity I had there and learned a lot that I can bring to your job, such as… (give examples)." This answers the question but shifts the focus to your value as a potential employee.

Merger Caused Layoffs

A common reason for layoffs is company buyouts.

  • Answer: "Company B purchased Company D, and my job was redundant under the new company, so my position was eliminated. I was offered a nice severance and HR is providing excellent outsourcing for those of us laid off. I'm really grateful you could talk with me today. Your job seems like a perfect fit."

Fired

The toughest question for anyone fired is giving a reason without looking bad. It feels like a sure way to disqualify yourself. There is a right way to approach the answer for this question.

  • Reason: You were fired for tardiness.
  • Answer: "At the time, I wasn't really aware how being late impacted my team. I didn't take steps to correct my tardiness on the job like I should have." (Insert relative information, such as "I now have a backup clock to ensure I don't oversleep," or "I now have reliable transportation.") "I learned a tough lesson. I now understand why I need to be on time. Others depend on me and I don't want to let anyone down ever again."

Explaining conflict:

  • Reason: Conflict with a co-worker resulted in being fired.
  • Answer: "I was wrong. I should never have argued with my co-worker. I should have gone to my supervisor to discuss the problem and tried to find an agreeable resolution instead of taking the matter into my own hands. I understand now there are appropriate steps to finding conflict resolution. I even took a class so I could learn how to avoid making that kind of mistake ever again."

Explaining job performance issues:

  • Reason: You were fired for poor work performance.
  • Answer: "It was a difficult time for me, and I should have reached out to my supervisor or HR to let them know I was having problems. I was too proud to admit I needed help. I have learned from that mistake though and should I ever run into any issues that could possibly interfere with my job performance, I know now the preventative channels to take."

Quitting a Job

If you quit a job, you will need to answer quite a few questions surrounding this action. You need to frame your response as honestly as possible and present your reason(s) in a positive light.

  • Reason: You quit and didn't work a 2-week notice.
  • Answer: "I felt it was best for the company and for me that I simply quit. I offered to work a 2-week notice, but my employer rejected my offer."
  • Answer: "I quit during my 90-day probation period, since it's a mutual period for employers and employees to see how good a fit we are."

Quit After Short Time on Job

Sometimes people take a job but once they get inside the company, they discover things they couldn't see from the outside and decide to quit.

  • Reason: Company was not as portrayed.
  • Answer: "Once I started work, I realized the job wasn't the challenge I thought it would be. I discovered there wasn't a real career path for growth. I decided it was best to leave now so the company could find someone else."
  • Add a positive to this. For example, you may have recommended someone for your position or offered to assist in finding your replacement. Say, "I worked a two-week notice and even recommended a couple of candidates for my position. One was hired."

Reasonable Explanations

When preparing for job interview questions about why you left a job, form your responses within an honest, professional and positive framework. You want to give just enough information to answer the question while remaining a viable candidate.

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How to Explain Why You Left a Job