How to Handle Difficult Interview Questions #4

Why did you leave (or want to leave) your most recent position?

One of the questions that is usually asked during a job interview is “Why do you want to leave your job?” or “Why did you leave your last position?”, if you have already left.
Interviewers like to ask this question because it really reveals a lot about you, such as:
  • Did you leave this position voluntarily, or were you fired or laid off?
  • Are you on good terms with the company?
  • Does your reason for quitting seem valid or reasonable? Your answer offers a window into your on-the-job character and values.
  • Prepare answers to typical job interview questions like this one, in advance.  Practice your responses so you sound positive and clear, about your circumstances and your goals for the future.
Tips for responding
There are all sorts of reasons to leave a job. Maybe you want a higher salary, thought the company was in chaos, despised a new manager, or were laid off.  Not all of these responses should be shared during a job interview, however.  Be honest, but also strategic in your response – avoid any answer that reflects poorly on you.  Here are some tips for how to develop a strong response:
Avoid negativity:  Do not speak negatively about your former company or colleagues.  According to every survey, speaking negatively is the number one turn-off for hiring managers.  They assume if you say bad things about your former company you will broadcast bad things about your new company.  And frankly, people want to associate with positive people.
Be honest: You don’t have to be career suicidal, but you should tell something that reflects the real reason you are leaving.  Explain, in positive terms, the reason you left your position. Your situation may fit one of these answers:
  • I’m looking for a new challenge and to grow my career and I couldn’t job hunt part time while working.
  • Due to the current economic conditions in the industry, the company eliminated many positions, including mine.
  • I left my last position in order to spend more time with an ill family member. Circumstances have changed and I’m more than ready for full-time employment again.
  • To be honest, I wasn’t considering a change, but a former colleague recommended this job to me and was intrigued by the position and the company. It sounds like an exciting opportunity and an ideal match for my qualifications.
Practice, practice, and practice some more:  This is an answer that you want to be prepared for.  Don’t just go in and “wing it”.  You want to be honest, but not overly frank, so make sure you have prepared the answer this question in advance.  Keep the answer short and unemotional, it is natural to feel awkward talking about these issues, but you want to be sure not to sound defensive.
Final thoughts
Keep this answer short. Tell the facts but don’t elaborate or you will begin to sound defensive.  Interviewers are often more interested in how you react to the question than your answer.  Look the interviewer in the eye when you answer.  Interviewers are skilled at reading “between the lines” and will note any sign that you are uncomfortable with the answer.
This is the fourth installment in a series devoted to answering the difficult interview questions.
Below are links to the first three:

Rick ChristensenRick Christensen: Director, Career Transition Practice

Rick has been a career consultant for over 20 years, serving a very broad-based and diverse clientele. His specialties include effective group facilitation, one-on-one coaching and consultation at all levels including senior executives.

Rick’s passion is coaching individuals through career transitions, developing career management strategies and in identifying and sharpening competencies to open doors to new opportunities. His efforts have assisted thousands of individuals achieve their full potential.