Common Interview Questions #3: Why Did You Leave That Job?
Common Interview Questions #3: Why Did You Leave That Job?
January 31, 2017
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Thea Kelley
Thea Kelley
Job Search Strategist / Job Interview Coach / Profile and Resume Writer, Thea Kelley Career Services
How do you answer the interview question, "Why did you leave that job?" 

This post is the third in a series of excerpts from my upcoming eBook, Get That Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Interview, to be published January 4, 2017. You can pre-order it as an eBook now or get the softcover in January.

Does your departure indicate a problem that could derail your interview?

If you left and immediately started a new job, it's no problem: you left for a better opportunity (or what you thought was a better opportunity, even if it didn’t work out).
On the other hand, leaving without a new job lined up is generally a red flag, so this question is tricky.

The key is this: although one reason may dominate in your mind – probably the most emotional one, such as a personality conflict or issue with the boss – usually there are more reasons. List them all on a piece of paper. Then see which of these reasons makes the best impression.

Here's an example. 

Joe quit his job for the following reasons: (1) his boss was a micromanager, (2) the company, a hospital, had toxic office politics, (3) the circumstances made it difficult or impossible to move up into a better department, (4) he couldn't stay until he found a new job because the job left him no time or energy for job search, and (5) he also had an itch to move into the pharmaceutical industry.

Reasons 1 and 2 are a minefield that would be hard to discuss without presenting himself as a complainer who badmouths his former employer. But he doesn't need to go there; he can build a truthful answer out of reasons 3-5:

"While Bayworth Hospital is a great institution in terms of patient care, and I had three excellent years there, with strong accomplishments like the ones we've discussed, there really wasn't a path upward for me there any more (reason #3). It was time to leave and pursue my longtime interest in pharmaceutical companies (#5) like this one. The job was intensely demanding and it didn't leave me the energy to conduct a search. (#4) So I gave notice, helped the department make a smooth transition, and then left to devote myself to a full-time process of transitioning into doing what I'm most passionate about."

Why does this answer work? Because it's true, tactful, brief (30 seconds) and focused on the positive. It's also a great example of the "sandwich technique": surrounding a negative (the fact that he left) with positives (his respect for the hospital in certain ways, his accomplishments and his passion for the current opportunity).

What if Joe had been fired? In a past chapter I said "Never volunteer a negative." Joe doesn't need to say he was fired, unless specifically asked. His answer could be the same as above, with a slightly different ending:

"…It was time to leave and pursue my longtime interest in pharmaceutical companies like this one. Since then I've devoted myself to a full-time process of transitioning into doing what I'm most passionate about."

Because this subject is emotionally charged for Joe, he would be wise to rehearse this answer with great care.

Joe also needs to be prepared for the likelihood the interviewer will ask additional questions that will reveal that he was fired. Then what? I've discussed this in an earlier blog post.