How To Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?” (With Examples)

By Ryan Morris
Aug. 3, 2022
Articles In Guide

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When you are in an interview, the interviewer is going to want to know why you left your last job. It’s not a trick question, but it may seem like it at times.

We’ll cover why interviewers ask this question, give tips on how to answer it, and provide a few good and bad sample answers to help see all our advice in action.

Key Takeaways:

  • Interviewers ask about why you left your last job to find out if you quit voluntarily or were terminated by your previous employer.

  • It’s important to be honest about why you left your last job, because the interviewer will find out if you lie.

  • Be positive about why you left your last job and don’t talk negatively about your last boss or the position.

How to Answer

How to Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

The best way to answer this common interview question is with (tactful) honesty, believable positivity, and a forward-thinking attitude. Here’s a four-step process for answering questions about why you left your last job:

  1. Start with a main point that connects to the new job. Whether it had to do with personal or professional reasons, you want to have a clear and coherent answer.

    Just as important is giving an answer that can easily segue into why this job you’re applying for is perfect in contrast to the less-than-perfect fit with your former employer.

  2. Limit the details. You don’t need to overshare, and you certainly don’t need to volunteer information that makes you look bad. Of course, if you were fired, that automatically looks kind of bad, but the goal is still to minimize the negativity. Be accountable for your mistakes and talk about what you learned from the experience.

    If your reasoning was personal and you left voluntarily, consider how you’ll phrase your answer and do your best to limit it to facts that would interest the interviewer. If you were laid off, think about an intelligent way to describe what was going on with the company at a macro-level that led to lay-offs.

    Whatever your answer, fix the important details in your mind and stick to them. Going off-script might result in you accidentally bad-mouthing someone, which we want to avoid at all costs.

  3. Be positive. Hiring managers and recruiters will see negative talk about your former workplace as a red flag — whether that’s fair or not. Instead, frame the experience positively, regardless of the reasons for your departure.

    Companies aren’t hiring for hard skills and qualifications alone; soft skills matter, and your capacity for diplomacy, tact, and careful communication may be just as important for your job as your technical abilities.

  4. Be forward-thinking. Always bring your answer back around to your enthusiasm for the job and company you’re currently interviewing with. Some answers are easier to segue into this sort of thing than others, but the opportunity is always there.

    If you were fired, you can talk about how you want to put the lessons you learned into practice. If you were laid off, you can discuss how you’re excited to move into an industry that’s growing so rapidly.

    If you quit because of collaborative issues, highlight how great it is that teamwork is one of the company’s core values. If you quit for a better work-life balance, mention how the flexible schedules are really attractive for you.

    Whatever the reason, an answer that emphasizes your excitement for the future rather than dwells on the past will impress interviewrs.

Example Answers to “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Below are some overly honest answers, what your hiring manager may be hearing when you give that answer, and some, shall we say, creative ways you can reword these answers into something that would sound better/less overtly alarming.

  1. Example Answer 1: The Last Job Wasn’t Challenging

    “I quit because I was bored,”

    Or alternatively;

    “I just wasn’t being challenged enough.”

    What the interviewer hears: “I’m a fickle person subject to naught but my own whims, and I could quit at literally any time. I might quit on day one if the office coffee is cold. In my mind, I’m already quitting the job that you haven’t even offered me yet.”
    What to say instead: The problem here is that telling a hiring manager that you weren’t being challenged enough might make him or her concerned about your attention span.

    They’re looking for someone who’s more than just capable of doing the work, but who’s also interested enough in the work that they won’t be back on the job hunt as soon they get hired.
    Emphasize that what you’re looking for is a new experience, but that you’re still capable of making a commitment to a new organization. Talk about why you’ve chosen to apply to this company in particular. What interests you about them specifically?

    At the end of the day, it’s fine if you were bored and wanted to shake up your life a bit.

    You just want to be a little diplomatic about how you frame this to a hiring manager.

    Try something like,

    “I worked for [X] company for [X] number of years, and it was time for me to make a change.”

  2. Example Answer 2: You Want to Work With Better People

    “I quit because my boss was a (and/or coworkers were) moron(s).”

    What the interviewer hears: “My boss was a jerk and I’m not intelligent or articulate enough to be nice about it. Also, I may or may not be a rude, boorish fool myself. I probably am.

    You have no way to know for sure, as you and I are strangers. My inability to think of anything nice to say about my previous employer is, in any case, a serious red flag that you should definitely hold against me as an interviewee and potential co-worker.”

    What to say instead: Again, there’s no way for any hiring manager to be sure you aren’t the one who’s the jerk. First impressions can be deceiving, after all.

    In fact, if you didn’t like them, try not to mention your boss or coworkers at all. Instead, focus on the company at large; you can disagree with the general direction of the company without sounding mean.

    It can be a really great jumping-off point for talking about reasons you’re excited to join this new company specifically.

    If it’s specifically a newer boss that you disliked at a company you’d already been working for a while, a good option here is to talk about your old boss.

    Discuss how it didn’t make sense for you to continue working at the company after she or he left, or how their leaving helped you realize that it was time for you to move on as well. This is a reasonable answer to a common enough situation, and perfectly sidesteps the issue of talking about your newer (idiot) boss.

    “I had a great relationship with my former boss, and when she left to work for XYZ Inc., she motivated me to also seek a role that better suits my skill set and values.”

  3. Example Answer 3: Your Last Company Downsized

    “I was laid off suddenly,”


    “I was laid off for no good reason.”

    What the interviewer hears: “I didn’t think I would get laid off and wasn’t really prepared for it to happen, financially or otherwise, which is actually fine and doesn’t make me a bad person or anything, but it’s probably not something I should be telling you as a potential employer.”

    What to say instead: Not an example where lying is required, but specificity is. You want to talk about precisely what happened. Was your company relocating, or merging with another? Were you overstaffed, or was your company cutting costs?

    Be as specific as you can be about this. It’ll show any potential hirers that you understand the complex reasons why a company may conduct layoffs.

    Showing that you have no hard feelings about this will demonstrate your ability to remain civil when this kind of unavoidable evils of the business world ends up affecting your livelihood.

    “My last company was facing stiff competition from newer and more agile companies in the area, and they were forced to downsize certain departments. Marketing was especially hard hit, and the company laid off around 50% of the staff working there, myself included.”

  4. Example Answer 4: You Were Fired

    “I was fired.”

    What the interviewer hears: Actually, probably just what it sounds like. Sorry.

    What to say instead: It’s tough to get around this one. Obviously, it’s not ideal to tell a hiring manager that you were fired, as this is perhaps the reddest of all red flags.

    However, lying about this is a terrible idea; it will almost certainly come up at one point or another. Any hiring manager can discover this about you with a minimal amount of digging. All that they have to do is call your previous employer, and suddenly your secret is out.

    So, you have one shot here to convince your interviewer that despite being fired, you still deserve a shot. Your instinct here may be to trash talk your previous employer, which may make sense — if the reason you were fired because your last boss was terrible, this will clear up the issue right away.

    But if you do this, no matter how justified you are, you’ll end up running into the same problem of the hiring manager not knowing who to believe in this scenario. Even if you’re right, it’s tough to look good to a stranger while trashing your old boss (even if they were bad); you’ll come off looking righteously angry at best, but cynical and mean-spirited at worst.

    Part of this depends on how you left things with your last place of employment. If you can cite your last boss as a reference, that’s the best of all possible worlds. She or he can go to bat for you at your new place and tell them all about how wonderful you are, and any fears a hiring manager might still have can be squashed right away.

    Of course, there are some of us who live in our own darkest timelines, and we don’t all have the luxury of being on perfect terms with our previous employers. Sometimes in life, we’re forced to leave quickly instead of giving a more traditional two weeks’ notice.

    In cases like these where the only person in your corner is yourself, it’s all on you to think of some method of framing the experience in such a way that a hiring manager would be willing to give you a shot.

    First of all, tell them that you were “let go”; then follow this up by talking about what you learned as a result of the experience, rather than spending your time focused on the firing itself.

    “I had trouble keeping up with deadlines at my last editing job, and I was let go as a result. Since then, I’ve been freelancing a bit, and it’s really helped me stay organized and on top of everything. I now keep a spreadsheet of all my tasks with urgency and importance levels assigned to each, and it’s made a big difference in my time management and planning.”

Tips for Answering “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job”

There are two main tips to keep in mind when you’re talking about why you left your last job:

  1. Don’t hate on your old boss. The trick is to be honest without being a huge downer about your last boss.

    • After all, what the person interviewing is looking for is just a good reason why you’re no longer working for your previous employer, not a Russian novel detailing your every grievance.

    • Even if your boss was a grade-A jerk, it’s difficult for the interviewer to take you at your word. They don’t know you, and it’s just as likely that you were the difficult one to work with, not your boss.

    • Additionally, they’ll be thinking about the kind of things you might say about the company you’re applying to, should you manage to get the position.

    • Will you still be tactful about your new position if things don’t pan out? Or will you just be saying the same sort of unpleasant things in your next interview, somewhere down the line?

  2. Be creative when discussing negative experiences. There are a lot of very good reasons for you to have left your previous position, and almost all are good to share with your new boss and work friends. Just, perhaps not immediately.

    • You want to keep in mind that this person who’s interviewing you is meeting you for the first time as well. Even if they seem polite and understanding in person, once it comes time for them to make hiring decisions they may not feel able to take a risk on someone whose background sends up too many red flags for them.

    • If they know that someone they’re looking to hire had a terrible relationship with their last employer, then the immediate concern for them is not a potential hire’s boss, but their potential new employee (aka you).

    • Think about how you can frame your more honest answers about why you left your previous position into something that employers are looking for.

      This is one situation where, because of the stigma associated with bad-mouthing any previous employer (no matter how bad), you may want to lie if your answer is anything less than flattering to your last boss.

    • However, you also don’t want to inadvertently bad-mouth yourself, either. If your last employer was perfect (or if you at least make them sound like they were), then the fact that you are no longer working there could be a red flag if you don’t have a good reason prepared for why you left.

    • The point here is to show your ability to be tactful about your previous work relationships without sending up any red flags to a potential employer. You want to show that you’re aware of what a good, healthy employment experience consists of without giving hiring managers any reason to be concerned about your ability to play nice with others.

    • Depending on your reasons for leaving, this may require you to be a teensy, tiny bit dishonest. Or, at the very least, not perfectly frank.

Why Interviewers Ask “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Interviewers ask about why you left your last job to find out if you quit voluntarily or were terminated by your previous employer. When hiring managers and recruiters hear that you left voluntarily, they also want to know what prompted you to do so.

  • They’re looking for the truth, but you always want to give a story that makes you look like a solid and reliable employee who is seeking greater challenges and a better outlet for your skill set.

  • Interviewers also hope for a bit of insight into your loyalty and professionalism. Ideally, you gave plenty of notice and helped with the transition. This will put the hiring manager’s mind at ease about how considerate and dependable you are.

  • If you were fired or laid off, interviewers want to hear the truth of the matter (to a certain degree). They want to see that you understand the circumstances that led to your termination and that you don’t hold a grudge.

  • If you were fired for something that was your fault, they also want to hear what you learned and how you’ve grown from the experience.

  • Ultimately, they want to hire an employee who can remain diplomatic and has stayed on good terms with their former employer, regardless of the circumstances.

Common Reasons For Leaving a Job

Here are some of the most common reasons for leaving a job:

  • The company you worked for went out of business

  • You feel undervalued in your current position

  • You are overworked and underpaid

  • The scheduled hours don’t fit your current needs

  • You don’t fit in with the company culture

  • You have a better job offer

  • You wanted to work in a different industry

  • You went back to school to get a degree in a different field

Final Thoughts

Let’s start this section with a short recap. When asked why you left your last job, you should keep the following points in mind:

Be nice about your previous employer, even if they were a jerk and a half.

Keep the focus on what you learned as a result of your previous employment. Be honest about why you left, but try not to linger too long on the leaving.

When in doubt, keep to the age-old mantra; if you can’t say anything nice, yadda yadda yadda. You get it. Be nice. Get the job. Have fun.

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Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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