Why did you leave?

Posted by Justyn Makarewycz on November 04, 2008

Every now and then, when I ask a candidate why he left his previous positions, there’s one instance that he isn’t too proud of.  Off the bat, he starts his explanation with something like “So, OK, here’s what happened,” and I’m taken on a whirlwind response for ten minutes about how this guy did this, that project wasn’t interesting, there was a personality conflict from day one with her.  I’m suddenly confused, doubtful, and wondering what really happened.

We all leave a job at some point and time.  Sometimes we leave on our own, sometimes we’re laid off, sometimes we’re fired.  The facts of why you left your positions are just that – facts.  Don’t be ashamed, don’t try to make them something they’re not.

Make sure you’re able to answer why you left a position in a cut-and-dry, confident, brief response.  If it wasn’t a perfect fit, and you left on your own, just say it.  If it was a downsizing, just say it.

Here’s some explanations that are cut and dry, and work really well:

  • I was not growing, and there was nowhere for me to go in the company.  It was time for a change, and that’s when I found my next position.
  • My position was eliminated, and I was laid off.
  • The position stopped being a challenge to me, and I decided to leave the company to look for something more in line with my goals.
  • I was let go.

You’ll avoid painting a really complicated picture that probably doesn’t need to be that complicated.

Let the interviewer ask any follow up questions if they want more information.  At that time, you can go into what details the interviewer wants to know.  As always, make sure to remain positive in your response; don’t ever speak poorly about a past company, manager or coworkers.  And make sure to close your responses by pointing to what lessons you took from the experience that apply to where you’re going next.  Your interviewer will come away with a confident and focused idea of who you are, where you’re heading, and hopefully, how you’d fit in on their team.

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