Job Interview

How to Talk About The Reasons for Leaving a Job at Interviews + Examples

interview question leaving a job

So far so good! Your interview is going well. The conversation is flowing at a nice pace between you and your interviewer and you seem to be connecting positively on so many levels.

That is until the interviewer pauses, takes a breath and ask that one question that you have been dreading this whole time. The one question that you hoped wouldn’t be brought up and had so far been avoided.

“Can you tell me why you left your last job?”

What is the best way to respond to this question that still leaves you in a positive light? What is the right (or wrong) thing to say here? Do I give up now and admit defeat?

Let’s take a look at some of the ways you can answer this awkward question without it negatively affecting your interview.

Be honest with the interviewer

Firstly, there will be no point in lying about why you left your last job, especially if you were fired and left under a cloud.

Most employers will check your resume and references with your previous employer before an interview is arranged. Your previous employer may have disclosed why you were cut from the company, so it is important here to be honest with your interviewer.

If you were terminated from your previous post, it will be good for you to check with your ex-employer to find out what reasons they are giving for the termination.

This will help you to match up your response to be the same. The last thing you want is to give a completely different reason for why you left to that of your previous employer. It can create confusion, suspicion and doubt about your truthfulness and trustworthiness.

Decide how you will answer this question before your interview

By far the best way to handle this question is to be prepared for it. Simply going along for the interview and hoping the question will not be brought up isn’t going to cut it.

Not being able to respond in a professional and controlled manner will make you look flustered and unprepared. Not a good first impression to give to a potential employer!

Depending on the circumstances of how you left your last job, you may want to decide on taking any of the following approaches:

1: Answer quickly and move on:

If you find it painful to talk about leaving your last job, then often the best thing to do is to rip off the band-aid and get it over with as quickly as possible.

2: Keep your answer simple:

Keep your answer short, sweet and to the point. There is no need to elaborate on the details or draw out your answer. Just state the facts behind the termination and don’t let your emotions rule your response.

Cutting your answer down as short as possible will give you more time to focus on other questions and leave a better impression at the end of the interview.

3: Raise the subject before the interviewer does

Bringing up the fact that your previous job was terminated before being asked is a way for you to take control of the question and deliver your reasons for your departure on your terms.

4: Use positive reinforcement

Try to avoid answers that will make you look less qualified to take on this job. You don’t want to imply that you left your last job because you were not qualified or lacked the skills or experience to do it.

Instead, focus on using more positive phraseology. Don’t mention the word ‘fired’, but instead say that you were ‘let-go’ because the job wasn’t the best fit for you and your future career plans.

Don’t play the blame-game

While it can be very tempting to shift any blame from your shoulders on to your previous employer to make you look better, pointing blame is never a good idea.

An interviewer never likes to see job candidates disparage their former employers. It is not professional or respectful. In a lot of cases, the interviewer may well know and be on friendly terms with your previous employer, especially if they have a B2B relationship with them.

By blaming an ex-employer for your job termination and trying to make yourself look completely blameless, they will wonder what negative things you may say about their company should your employment not go well with them.

Blame is a negative no matter where it is pointed. However, you shouldn’t blame yourself either. Blaming yourself will make the interviewer doubt that you would be a good employee.

Simply say that the job wasn’t a good fit and it was mutually beneficial for both you and your previous employer for you to move on.

Turn a negative into a positive

Answering this question in a way that paints you in a good light is what you need to do here.

Try to avoid mentioning any shortcomings that would cast doubt in the mind of your interviewer. Stick to referencing the good parts of your previous job that you did well with and achieved positive results.

Even though you left your previous position for valid reasons, not every single aspect of the job was difficult for you. Talk up the positive aspects of the previous job and what you enjoyed about it can be an effective way to answer the question and leave a positive impression with the interviewer.

If you feel like things are not going your way, it can be wise to learn how to reverse a bad job interview beforehand so you can turn the interview back in your favor.

What are good reasons for leaving a job?

Let’s take a look at some working examples and scenarios where you can put the above tips into action:

Example 1:

You were let go in your previous job in sales for failing to consistently meet with your set sales targets.

However, part of your job was to help resolve customer issues by using their product. This you excelled at and you were recognised for your ability to talk to unhappy customers and explain how to use the product properly.

Your strengths would enable you to thrive in a technical support role, so you should demonstrate to the interviewer that you have valuable skills to bring to the company sales team despite your previous job termination.

Example 2:

You were terminated from your employment because you lacked essential skills that negatively affected your performance.

The company didn’t offer any in-house or external skills training courses, so you felt compelled to seek training at a local college to brush up your skills.

You can explain in your interview how you have since addressed this issue by yourself and would now be able to meet with all competency tests in the same job.

Example 3:

Your previous company went through a period of restructuring that resulted in your job becoming obsolete.

A lot of jobs are lost through downsizing and restructuring and often it can be no-one’s fault when they are let go.

Going for a job at one of your previous employer’s main competitors can be a good move here. You would be working in the same sort of environment that you were used to and you will be bringing valuable industry skills with you that the company wants.

Make a positive pitch to reinforce this and the fact that you would need zero training or input from the company to train you up for the role (if you were working the same job in your previous position).

From the interviewer’s point of view, your appointment would be swift, smooth, create minimal upheaval and have zero integration cost to the company.

Remember to finish your interview on a positive note and try to close your job interview to make it memorable so that you stand out in the interviewer’s mind.

Use your termination as a learning experience

Being fired for a reason can be one of the hardest issues to overcome during your interview.

Always remember that you should take this experience as a learning step. You can use this opportunity to reassess your qualification, skills training or work experience.

Assess your strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you had your heart set on a role in sales where you could earn a healthy commission and enjoy competing with your colleagues over smashing sales targets.

However, in the real world of hard sales, you found your strengths were actually better in sales support and resolving customer complaints.  Realizing this can make you choose to move in a different career direction. One that is better suited for your talents.

Changing career direction doesn’t mean you need to swap your industry sector. Remember that you will have gained a lot of insider industry knowledge of your chosen sector.

This can be a very valuable experience to take with you to another employer, even though it may not be in the same role as you had previously. Remember this and recognize that you do have great value to offer despite being let go from your last position.


  • Elena Prokopets

    Elena runs content operations at Freesumes since 2017. She works closely with copywriters, designers, and invited career experts to ensure that all content meets our highest editorial standards. Up to date, she wrote over 200 career-related pieces around resume writing, career advice... more

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