The modern economy and job market almost demand that skilled workers move from job to job to earn as much money as possible and maximize their career potential.
Yet it can be tough to answer that inevitable question at a job interview: why did you leave your previous job?
You don’t have to worry if you encounter this question, however. There are many good reasons for leaving a job, including personal and professional reasons.
Today, look at some of the most common reasons so you know what to say if a new job recruiter asks why you left your previous position.
Why do you need a “good” reason for leaving a job?
When you sit for a job interview, one of the most common questions interviewers will ask is, “Why did you leave your previous position?”
Prospective employers want to know why you are looking for a new job and why you aren’t still at your old job if you are currently out of work.
Why? Your answer can tell a potential employer much about who you are as an employee and what you seek.
For instance, telling the employer that you left because you were bored is not a good sign that you can be trusted to stick with a new company through thick and thin. It’s a bad sign, indeed.
However, a positive response, like you were looking for a more significant professional challenge, indicates to a prospective employer that you are a go-getter looking to develop your career in more ways than one.
Because the answer to this question can sway an interviewer one way or the other, you need to have “good” reasons for leaving your previous job.
This doesn’t mean lying, of course. But it does mean highlighting the elements of your decision that will be most attractive to a job recruiter or HR specialist. If you have a good reason for leaving your previous job, it can make you more likely to acquire a new position at an excellent company with good pay and fantastic perks.
You need a good reason to leave a job so you don’t enter the competitive job market without cause.
Even if your current job isn’t the best paying or professionally fulfilling, it could be worth sticking around for a better economy or different opportunities instead of submitting your resignation letter.
Bottom line: you should always have an acceptable reason for leaving a job, assuming you still need to work for a living.
12 good answers to “Why did you leave your last job?”
Since you know why having a good reason to leave your previous job is crucial, take a closer look at some excellent answers that recruiters and interviewers typically love. As a bonus, these answers can also be good personal reasons for leaving a job.
1. Company mergers or acquisitions
Of course, if your company merges with another or is acquired by some other enterprise, it’s a good reason for you to be looking for another job. Even if you haven’t been let go yet, most mergers result in some employees being fired to save money because both companies have duplicate employees in the same positions.
Explaining this to a prospective employer in a matter-of-fact way can be an excellent explanation for leaving your last job.
Even better, it doesn’t ascribe blame to anyone – you could have been a rockstar employee at your previous company and just have been let go because of logistics purposes.
2. Company went out of business
Similarly, if your previous employer went out of business, it only makes sense that you left your last job out of necessity.
Whether you were let go right at the end, or decided to take your leave before the doors closed, explaining this to a new employer is an excellent answer to that dreaded job interview question. Layoffs or restructuring at your current company happens all the time.
Still, be careful to highlight that you were not responsible for the company going out of business in any way.
Point to your references from previous employers or supervisors to show that you are an excellent candidate and that your last company went out of business for reasons utterly unrelated to your performance.
3. Career advancement
Lots of up-and-coming young professionals leave their current jobs because they want to advance their careers.
If there isn’t a lot of advancement potential – for example, your previous job didn’t have any open slots for a higher-paid position – it could make sense for you to leave that job in pursuit of other options.
Stress this to your employer, especially if you are trying to be hired for a better position than you previously filled.
Done right, this can show an HR specialist that you are committed to progressing your career, making you look like a rockstar employee that can provide a lot of value to the following organization that hires you.
4. Professional development
In keeping with the above, maybe your previous employer didn’t offer sufficient professional development resources. Professional development resources can include training modules or mentorship programs.
If you are a high-energy employee and want to progress your career as quickly as possible, this is a valid reason to leave a job in pursuit of a different opportunity.
If this is your reason for leaving your previous job, ask a prospective employer what development resources they have. After all, this can affect whether that employer is a good choice for your needs and career ambitions.
5. Looking to try a new industry
Alternatively, you may want to try out a new industry. This reason for leaving a job is more common among professionals in their 30s or older.
For instance, maybe you got a degree in one field and want to try a different field because you discovered that your previous industry wasn’t right.
This can be a great answer to why you left your previous job. Just be sure to highlight your accomplishments and accolades. Stress that you want to bring your diverse, unique talents to your new organization or industry for their benefit.
A career change from your current role to a new full-time position is an excellent reason to start a job search if you have the right skills.
Most hiring managers will want to know about your career goals, so be prepared to explain how your current employer/former employer didn’t provide you with the right development opportunities.
Of course, many people leave a job because it doesn’t pay well enough. Employers know this, and they don’t want you to lie and say something like money doesn’t matter.
However, if compensation is the real reason you left a job in the past, you must be careful when broaching this topic with a new prospective employer.
You should state your salary expectations upfront or on your job application. Mention that you left your previous position because you aren’t paid highly enough; you can reference things like city living costs or student loans. However, don’t make it seem like you only care about money for a new opportunity.
To make this answer work, choose some of the other reasons for leaving your previous job, even if, deep down, it was just about money.
That way, a recruiter will come away understanding that money is essential to you, but you are also looking to work for their company for a variety of other, more long-term reasons. That’s what most hirers look for in a job candidate.
7. Family reasons
No employer, past or future, will degrade you for having to leave a job for family reasons. If this happened, feel free to say you left a previous job because of a family member, but don’t elaborate.
Any employer worth your time and labor won’t press, so you don’t need to worry about providing them with extensive details or airing dirty laundry.
However, you should also clarify that the family reasons that caused you to quit your previous job no longer affect you. After all, no employer will want to hire you if there’s a chance that your family may call you away from your job responsibilities sometime soon.
8. Health reasons
You can leave a job for health reasons, like suddenly becoming ill or injured. You may even leave a job because you were injured at work and were not adequately supported by your employer.
Again, no employer will have a problem with this. But if you did leave a previous job for health reasons, you may need to provide some details.
For instance, are your health issues chronic or consistent? Will they affect your job performance if the prospective employer decides to hire you?
Having ready answers to these questions will maximize your chances of getting a desirable position even if you had to leave your previous job because of health problems.
9. Leadership reasons
Sometimes, companies of all sizes are steered in the wrong direction because of bad leadership.
This might have happened to you in the past. In that case, feel free to express your disappointment with previous leadership, but without going into too much detail or outright lambasting your former boss.
Even if your boss was terrible and did a lot to make your life miserable, no prospective employer wants to hear about how much you hate them.
Instead, you can point to specific things your boss did wrong, like not tracking your schedule or not ensuring employees were paid. This can be an excellent way to highlight that you are only looking for a reasonable supervisor or boss, nothing too crazy.
If you’re getting a new role, you must be on good terms with your current position’s boss. It’s the ideal way to show that there aren’t red flags in your past.
10. Unchallenged at a previous job
Some people thrive under pressure and quickly become bored if they don’t have enough to do. If you fit into this group, you can say that you left your last job because you were unchallenged.
Your career growth was stymied, leading you to pursue better opportunities and a new career path.
Maybe you didn’t have enough responsibilities, or perhaps you weren’t given enough work to fill in the day’s working hours. Whatever the case may be, employers usually love this answer. It shows them you are willing to work hard and seek new challenges.
Recruiters may suggest some challenges you’ll face at a new position, allowing you to respond positively and highlight your fit. Highlight your willingness to learn new skills and take advantage of growth opportunities.
11. The work environment or job culture
You might have left a job in your past because of a toxic or subpar work environment and company culture. For example, maybe all the employees were constantly in races against each other for limited resources, resulting in unhealthy competition and no collaboration.
Just don’t be too negative. Don’t badmouth any former employees or outright blame anything on them, but you can say you left your last job because the workplace culture “wasn’t a good fit” or something similar.
12. Issues with hours/working schedule
Every job has to balance getting projects done and providing employees with a work/life balance.
With that in mind, you can state that you left your previous job because you had issues with the hours or working schedule. Maybe you had to work too many hours to go to school or care for your family, or perhaps you weren’t provided with enough hours to meet your financial obligations.
Whatever the case, feel free to get as specific as you like. This is an excellent opportunity to ask a recruiter how many hours you can expect should you be accepted for a new open position and if you can work a flexible schedule.
Then you can make a more informed decision about whether you want to continue the interview or seek a different job elsewhere.
How to talk about your reasons for leaving a job
Having a good answer to why you left your last position is only half of the battle in an interview. How job seekers explain their reasons to future employers is just as important as their reasons.
To that end, you should:
- Be very clear about the reasons for wanting to leave your previous position. Highlight your values and your work opportunities. This will impress your employer if you pick one of the reasons above.
- Be positive rather than negative. Even if you left your previous job because you had a terrible boss and bad coworkers, focus more on spinning that information into a positive light.
Say, “I felt I could be more fulfilled at a different position,” instead of, “My coworkers were total pains, and I couldn’t stand them.” The former shows you are a team player with an optimistic, positive outlook, which could make you a good candidate for a new position.
- Keep your answer short when possible. Interviewers will expect you to go into some detail but don’t drag the answer out. Keep the information to a minimum while satisfying the interviewer’s desire for additional details.
- Always be honest. This can be a tricky balance to strike, especially if you are also trying to be detailed. But you can be honest and straightforward at the same time. This is preferred since going into too much detail could cause you to unintentionally elaborate and drag the interview out too long or introduce half-lies into your answer.
If you remember these strategies, any answer you give an interviewer will be direct, effective and flattering. In other words, it’ll be a perfect combination for ensuring you get the job position you applied for.
How should you discuss why you left your last job?
As you can see, you can leave your job for various reasons. Be honest and remember the tips above, and you’ll ace your next job interview.
Check out Entrepreneur’s other articles for more information about resignation, job interviews and other professional topics.