Why Did You Leave a Previous Employer: Tips on Answering This Question

If you have any professional experience, there’s a good chance you left an employer at some point. Sometimes a separation happens voluntarily. Sometimes it’s not so simple. It’s no wonder that one of the trickiest interview questions to answer is “Why did you leave your position at…?”. It’s hard to think back on when we left employers or were separated. But, it’s necessary to know how to answer this question for any interview process. The why did you leave question doesn’t have to be awkward or difficult to answer. If you understand it and follow a couple of general conventions, this question is easily answered.

ways to answer why did you leave

Understanding the Why Did You Leave Question

For you to understand how to answer this question, it’s helpful to know why and how your interviewer is asking it.

Why Ask this Question?

Your interviewer can gauge a few character traits based on your answer to this question:

  • Tenacity – A prospective employer aims to understand if you left due to circumstances. Did you succumb to pressure? Was there nothing that could be done? Was it something your employer could have solved?
  • Repetition – No one wants to set a new hire up for failure. An employer might ask this as to avoid repeating the same situation for you.
  • Risk Aversion – The employer might look to understand if you are willing to take a risk for the opportunity to grow your career based on whether or not you’ve done that before.

How to Answer Why Did You Leave

The most important thing is to turn a negative into a positive in your answer. Here are are a few general conventions to keep in mind when crafting your answer:

  • Be honest. It’s okay to honestly talk about what prompted a change. Of course, when relaying that information you should communicate professionally. Only discuss the facts, don’t elaborate if it’s not necessary. Remember to tell the truth. There is a chance an employer verifies your previous experience. Don’t cast doubt on your candidacy by concealing information.
  • Don’t talk negatively about past employers. Never speak negatively of your past employers. This can make prospective employers view you as less professional and they may even wonder what you could potentially say about them in the future.
  • Turn your negative into a positive. We all have difficult seasons in our employment experiences. By showcasing your ability to learn and grow, even a negative separation can be a positive growth opportunity. Show your interviewer that you learn from your experiences.

Prepare for the Questionwhy did you leave

Before you interview, sit down and look at your resume and think carefully about your employment experiences. Know exactly how you will answer why you left for each employer listed on your resume.

While it’s not likely a hiring manager will go through each of these, it is important to know how to answer for each experience just in case. The last thing you want to do is hesitate to answer this question.

Don’t be Offended

This can feel like a very personal question, but do keep in mind the employer is asking in order to understand you better as a prospective candidate. Try not to take this personal question personally and instead view it in perspective of a validation exercise. Remember, your prospective employer is trying to get to know you and any time you do that, the process can be uncomfortable. An interview is an evaluation after all.

The Takeaway

The why did you leave question doesn’t have to feel intimidating. Own your employment story and experiences, even the hard ones. Growth is a wonderful thing and being able to speak to that and map that to your experience shows great qualities in a new hire.

Stay tuned for more tips on answering those tricky interview questions, choosing the right agency for you, crafting an elevator pitch and cover letter and networking with the right people. If you have a question you’d like to submit for us to discuss, send it to us here.

Be sure to follow us, we’re on:

Instagram @leadingedgepersonnel

Twitter @leading_edge1

Facebook @leadingedgepersonnel

We’re also on LinkedIn, Youtube and Pinterest! When you follow us, be sure to say hi- we’re social people, we love it when you say hi!