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After You Quit, Answer the Job Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Job?

By Alan Carniol

So you quit your job. You’re not alone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2.5 million Americans are quitting their job every month.

Maybe you were forced to resign, a coworker or boss made your life miserable, your personal life was overwhelming, or you’re workload was unsustainable. Maybe, your reasons were more positive: your spouse got a new job and you had to relocate. Or you were ready for a career change.

But, what can you say in your next job interview, when faced with that dreaded question:

"Why did you leave your job?"

How can you deliver an answer that makes the hiring manager feel comfortable? You want the interviewer to think, “Got it. That seems reasonable.” Their attention can then be focused on assessing your talent.

What to Know

You need to understand, really understand, that --

1.  You are not damaged goods.

Many people who have a hiccup in their job history feel nervous.

They are afraid that this is a “black mark” that will keep them from getting hired again.

But, in a post-"Great Recession" world, if everyone who had an imperfect work history couldn’t get hired, there would be a huge talent shortage.

So, quitting your last job doesn’t make you unemployable.

The key to getting your next job will be to focus on how you can create value for their organization. Yes, you might have to calm their fears about why you left your last job, but that’s secondary.


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2.  A short answer is best.

Why did you quit? You don’t need a lengthy explanation. Usually you can provide a clear, simple answer in less than 4 sentences.

Here’s are some examples:

"I really enjoyed working at Company & Co and serving our clients. About a year ago, a new management team came in, realigned my division and shifted my responsibilities. I decided to leave so that I could focus on finding a position where I could do my best work. Based on what I’ve learned so far, this seems like a strong fit."

"A new senior manager joined the organization, and, as a result, the management philosophy changegd substantially. Because of the change, I was no longer a good fit for the team. I felt that it was better for all concerned that I move on. Based on what I've learned so far, this seems like a strong fit."

"I decided to further my education. To do it more quickly and efficiently, working full-time was not an option. I've enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the logistics industry [or whatever you did while attending school], but I graduated and am now ready to move on with my career. Based on what I've learned so far, this seems..."

"Our department had a very high turnover rate, and I began to understand that there were some issues that I didn't feel I could overcome. Based on what I've learned so far..."

"I felt that I would have more opportunity for career growth as a [whatever you want] if I worked elsewhere. Based on what I've learned so far..."

Remember the longer your answer, the more attention you are bringing to what can be a sensitive topic. If you try to share the more complicated version, you’re more likely to create doubt. Keep it short and simple.

3.  Confidence is essential.

Quitting a job can be messy. Just thinking about the events leading up to your quitting, you may feel frustrated, angry, embarrassed or anxious. That’s normal.

But in an interview, these negative emotions are bad news. If you sound stressed while talking about your separation, even with a great answer, you’re interviewer will feel stressed about you.

You need the interviewer feeling confident. You need to feel confident. And that means you have to feel okay about the circumstances around your quitting.

Sometimes, you can forgive the people who made your life difficult. Other times, you can separate the negative people from the overall situation.

Take the earlier example. This job seeker didn’t mention that the new management team acted like jerks. Instead, the answer focused on the bigger issue of being in a job that no longer fit.

I encourage you to do the same. Close the book. Acknowledge the courage it took to take the leap. Focus on now, why you are excited about what’s next, and on what opportunities you now have that weren’t available in your last job.

When it comes to tough questions, coming across confident and positive in your answers is just as important as your words.

4. Be ready.

A bad answer to this question can cost you the job offer. So be ready for it. Take the time to prepare and practice a well thought out response.

Like in the example above, explain the background situation, summarize the change that motivated you to quit (without getting personal or negative), and express enthusiasm for where you are going next. Keep it short and simple.

Prepare extensively for the rest of the interview as well. Identify what they need and how you can solve their problems. Recognize your strengths and accomplishments.

Bottom Line

By preparing the right way, you will feel confident and be ready for whatever questions the interviewer throws at you.

Answering Other Awkward Job Interview Questions


About the author...

Alan Carniol helps job seekers feel calm as cat in their interviews. His site Interview Success Formula teaches teaches how to conquer those “gotcha” interview questions that employers love to ask. Alan has been quoted and published in Forbes, US News and World Report, Mashable, Chicago Tribute, The Ladders and dozens of others. Connect with Alan and Interview Success Formula on Twitter @interviewsucess, LinkedIn, Google+, and Facebook.


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