Whether it is planned in advance or happens suddenly due to necessary or unforeseeable circumstances, you will eventually have to answer, “Why did you quit your job?”
Variations of this same question can include:
- “Why did you leave your last job?”
- “Why are you looking for a new job?”
- “Why were you fired?”
- “Why are you currently not working?”
The answer you give your friends and family may be slightly different from the one you give in an interview, and that is OK. However, in both situations it is really important to be honest while also being strategic about your answer.
“Why did you quit your job?” is similar to “Why do you want to leave your current job?” but has a subtle nuisance that can’t be ignored. It is much more common to look for a new opportunity while you are still employed rather than quit first and look second. If you are still working you can focus on the new horizons you are seeking.
If you have already left your job and are point blank asked “Why did you quit your job?” you can’t ignore it and you definitely shouldn’t be vague. Expect the question and be prepared for it.
Either way, just because you have an answer ready, you don’t have to feel obligated to offer an explanation if you are never asked. In other words, don’t bring it up first.
Why do Interviewers ask “Why did you quit your job?”
Understanding why the question is being asked and knowing what insight the interviewer is hoping to gain can help in formulating your answer. So, before we discuss how to answer this question, let’s look at why they are asking.
Typically, this question is asked in order to find out things like:
- Were you fired, laid off, or did you leave on your own?
- Did you leave on good terms?
- Do you have a good reason for leaving?
- How are you going to talk about our company if you leave?
- How do you discuss your bosses, managers, and co-workers?
- Are you a team player or a gossip?
- How do you handle problems at work?
- Are you more of a positive or negative person?
- Do you blame others or take responsibility for yourself?
- Are you a good fit for the culture of our company?
Before The Interview
Before you step foot into one single interview, take some time to write a list of the reasons you quit your job. Typically it is not one single thing or incident that causes someone to quit. Be sure to include all the reasons, even if some of them aren’t reasons you’d share with someone else. Getting it all out is part of the process of closure from moving from one job to the next. It also helps you get clear about what you are looking for in your next position.
Once you have it all down, organize it in order of importance. Cross out or delete all the reasons that are not appropriate to include in an interview setting. You can use what you are left with, in combination with the following advice, to craft the perfect response. Or least one that will get you a second interview.
What NOT to Say
It is never a good idea to badmouth or overly criticize a previous employer in an interview, no matter how justified your reasons for quitting are. You always want to keep it professional and above board. A good rule to stick to is to not say anything to a potential employer that you would not want your previous employer to hear.
You never want to say things like:
- “I just couldn’t take it anymore”
- “They expected way too much from the staff.”
- “My Manager was unbearable to work with.”
- “I hated the work.”
- “I was bored.”
- “I hated my boss.”
- “I want more money.”
- “No one listened to me.”
- “I never got a raise.”
- “I wasn’t appreciated.”
You get the idea.
What TO Say Instead
Here are some overall strategies and some very specific answers to common situations for leaving a job. Hopefully you will find one that applies to your situation and you can tweak it for your purposes.
In General, Replace “Because of” with “In order to”
Eliminate the word “because” in your interview answers, especially when you reply to difficult questions. The word because implies blame or an excuse – even if that is not your intention.
If you move into language like “In order to…” you are leaning forward. You’re visioning something bigger and new without bashing your current company.
Not Great – “Because I was not challenged in my previous position I decided to seek new opportunities”
Much Better – “In order to learn things and advance my career I have decided to set new goals and see new opportunities?
See the difference there? It can be subtle, but it shifts your answer from a negative to a positive.
General Advice for Answering Interview Questions
- Be honest and positive
- Don’t be too vague with your answers
- Keep your answers short but informative
- Practice before your interview
- Don’t blame a previous boss or coworker
- Don’t make it just about money
- Be very specific about your current career goals
For more information about finding a new job check out 9 Effective Tips to Find a New Job After a Career Break.
The following responses can be used both for your current situation or when discussing a previous situation you left for a different one.
“I have advanced in my career and have new goals for expanding my experiences.”
Showing that you are always thinking ahead and working on creating and achieving new goals shows initiative. This answer is a good way to keep the focus on you and not the negative aspects of your previous job. Follow up with one or two specific goals you hope to achieve with the position that you are interviewing for. This will really demonstrate you have done your homework and are thinking of how you can add to their team.
“I learned a lot in the many years I was with the company, but I feel ready for a change.”
This answer only works if you were in fact there for a few years. It is completely understandable to want to move on after being somewhere for a long time. You can use this opportunity in the interview to convey some of the key things you learned there and what you are looking forward to learning in the new position.
“A new manager was hired and I felt it was the right time to leave.”
One of the most common reasons to leave a job is a manager who is hard to work with. You can love your job one day and hate it the next with a new boss. When it’s not a right fit anymore you decide to leave. Just be very careful to NOT say anything negative. Just focus on the things you are looking forward to in a new position.
“I left my job to focus on some family obligations. These have been sorted out and I am now able to resume full time work.”
If you left because of family obligations it is perfectly fine to be honest about this. Most people have times in their lives when they need to pause work and focus on something else. You don’t need to give details and a very simple and straightforward answer is best.
Other Reasons to Leave a Job
There are many reasons to leave a job that don’t include being unhappy where you were. It is still important to provide short, specific, positive answers.
Here are some examples:
- “I had a really long commute and am now looking for an opportunity closer to home.”
- “My spouse/partner/family moved and I am looking forward to starting a new job in my new home town.”
- “My company downsized and I was laid off. I am looking forward to bringing my knowledge and expertise to a new company.”
- “The company I worked for went out of business which is unfortunate, but has offered me a great opportunity to grow with a new company.”
- “I left my job to start a family and now that my children are older I am very eager to continue my career.”
If you Got Fired
You may be tempted to lie in an interview or make changes on your resume after being fired. The hassle and stress of being asked about being fired is never an ideal situation. However, if you lie it is likely to cause further problems.
Getting fired is tough. However, it helps to remember that you’re not the only one in this situation. You have many talents and experiences that are worth hiring. Being fired does not have to define your career. How you react to being fired is the most important step in the process of recovering from your dismissal and getting a new job.
It is important to be honest during your interview about being fired. Keep your answers short and factual and then move on to the positives of your accomplishments rather than dwelling on the situation.
A Note About Social Media
Just like in an interview, you also do NOT want to complain about an employer (past or present) on social media.
Keep your grievances with an employer off the web. Nothing is secret on the internet and no matter how long ago it was, it could come back to haunt you. Employers and hiring managers will check your social media accounts before hiring you. They won’t just call your references to find out about you.
If you have a long rant about what your old boss did and how it was their fault you left, your next employer is going to pause before hiring you. If you include their name in your post, someone could find it just by Googling your name and the name of the company.
In fact, it’s probably not a good idea to air any grievances on your social media. If you’re ranting about something personal, a company is going to wonder if their private information is safe in your hands.
However, it’s not just about negative talk. It’s also a good idea to check for misspellings and grammatical errors too. Even though it is just social media and people to use a lot of shorthand, you still want to seem professional while job searching. Check your past posts for silly things like using the right “your.” Do you think someone is going to hire you if your posts are riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes? A few here and there is understandable, a lot could lose you a job.
Go easy on the swear words and party pics too. You might think you’re being funny, but an employer might think you’re being crude. They might see any behavior you exhibit online as the behavior you will exhibit in an office or work environment. A swear here and there is ok but don’t be crass. It’s also not a good idea to have inappropriate language in your About section or in your profile picture. This is someone’s first impression of you. It can reflect who you are while still making a good impression.
Instead of posting party pictures or political rants, use your social media pages to share work and accomplishments that you’re proud of. Treat it as sort of a portfolio. Share writing you’ve done or designs you’ve created. Make your pages reflect the tone of what you do and your future employers will be impressed.
If you need to, take some time to clean up your social media and delete any posts that may hurt your career changes.
Quitting a job is a stressful situation, even if it is for all the right reasons. Having to explain it to a potential employer can be equally stressful but only if you aren’t prepared. If you practice your answers, remain truthful, positive, and forward thinking, you will be able to navigate this challenge and land the job. Good luck. You’ve got this!
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