One question you can almost always count on hearing in an interview is why you left your previous job. Whether you were laid off, fired, or left by choice, the question must be answered thoughtfully because the reasons for leaving a past job are used as a gauge for your stability in future jobs.
Prepare an answer that will draw positives from the experience and tie that to how you are the best candidate for this job. Pay special attention to your body language and tone when answering.
- Never badmouth your previous employer. There are a million reasons why this shouldn’t be done, but one of the most convincing is your interviewer will wonder what you might say about them in the future.
- Explain truthfully why you were let go or left
- Do not lie; this will inevitably be uncovered
- Keep the explanation short and to the point
If you were fired for cause:
- Tell why you did not meet your previous employers requirements and, most importantly, what you learned.
- If you don’t believe the cause was fair, avoid negativity! Instead of how your abilities were misperceived, explain how you will avoid that in the future.
- Emphasize how you’ve grown through this episode.
- Example: I struggled with a challenging project and, when it failed, I was let go. I learned that I need to ask for support sooner and be clear when a project is not on track.
- Example: I wasn’t effective at conveying the long-term value of my sales strategy, which cast doubt on my abilities and I was let go. I learned that I need to be far more clear about my objectives and the time frame for meeting them.
If you were laid off in a reduction in force:
- Briefly explain the challenges the company faced
- Put your layoff in the context of the bigger picture. For example, how widespread the layoff was or how hard the economy hit your industry but keep your explanation brief
- Focus on the positives of being able to explore new opportunities. Never say you now realize how much you disliked the past job or how relieved you were to be let go.
- Example: I was laid-off from my last position when our department was eliminated due to corporate restructuring
- Example: The leisure industry was battered by the economic downturn. After surviving two rounds of layoffs, I was ultimately laid off when my entire department was eliminated.
If you left because you were not happy at the company:
- Do not go into details about your issues
- Give a simple explanation of your desire to go in a new direction and to look for different type of growth
- Example: Working in an environment with high standards around ethics and product quality is a priority for me. I left my last position to explore opportunities where I can use my skills in an environment that matches that priority.
- Example: Top leadership had ideas about what it would take to succeed that didn’t match with how I want to be using my skills so I chose to leave in order to find a better match.
Craft each answer to bring out your ability to solve problems and create value for this employer.
How you answering this interview question can set the tone for the rest of the interview. Set a positive tone by coming prepared with answers that will represent the value you will bring to the company.