When you're switching jobs, whether you're laid off or simply making a career change, a very common question you'll have to answer is your reason for leaving the job. You'll hear it at most stages of the job interview process, as well as from your friends and family. Putting in your two weeks notice will also most likely trigger your boss to ask why you're leaving, either directly or through an exit interview.
While you might think it'll be easy to speak truthfully and professionally to the question, it's one you want to rehearse and work out your phrasing ahead of time in order to cast yourself in a positive light — which is essential if you're on the job hunt, and if you want to leave your current job on a good note. It takes tact, and sometimes, a bit of wordsmithing for the most appropriate response.
Luckily, we've compiled the best answers for you to tailor to your situation.
What you should say (good reasons for leaving your job):
- I'm looking for an increase in responsibility and there isn't room to grow at my current company.
- I'm transitioning careers from [current position] to [prospective position] as I'm passionate about [skillset related to prospective position].
- My current job focuses on [an industry or project] and I'd like to pivot to [industry or project at the company you're interviewing with].
- I was hired to do [list of job tasks], but I ultimately ended up working on [different job tasks]. I'd like to work on [job tasks related to the position you're interviewing for].
- I've always wanted to work on [name the company's project or mission]; while I love my current company, I couldn't say no to a potential opportunity to be a part of [company name].
If you were laid off or fired, this is what you can say:
You absolutely should be honest about losing your job as most companies will call references and find out the truth eventually (and you don't ever want to get caught in a lie!).
That means when asked, you can give one of these simple, acceptable explanations (and that should be sufficient for most interviewers):
- My company downsized and my team was laid off.
- My position was eliminated when the company restructured.
- My role was made redundant when my company was acquired.
- The company went through a management change and I was laid off with the restructuring.
- I was let go [insert reason why, and a brief explanation that highlights what you learned from the experience and how it's not an issue now].
- I was fired because I failed to make [a sales goal amount or some other quantifiable objective]. You can add a few quick sentences about why that happened, and what you learned from the experience.
The key to answering why you were fired without making yourself look bad is to be honest but brief, and end on a positive note; that means explaining what you learned and how you've grown from the experience. It may be simply that you realized you'll no longer work in a certain industry or role again.
For example, you could say:
"I was fired from the position of sales development representative when I failed to reach my assigned quarterly quota. What I learned from that role is cold calling and sales are not my strengths; I'm much more passionate and skilled at [insert requirement from job description] which is what led me to apply to this company."
What NOT to say when asked why you're leaving a job:
- I hated my boss.
- The company was toxic.
- I was bored by the work.
- I didn't like my coworkers.
- My commute was too long.
- I worked too many hours.
- I was underpaid.
- I didn't do well in the role.
- I didn't enjoy the position.
- I was at the company for too long.
- I only took the job as a temporary gig.
- I was late too often, and that created friction with my boss.
- I didn't agree with company rules and policies.
- I was too slow with the work I was assigned.
- I had to do my coworker's job on top of my own.
- My boss wasn't a good mentor.
- My boss was a micromanager.
Of course, one (or more) of those answers might be the honest truth about your situation, but it won't reflect well on you to say that. You'll likely sound immature and unprofessional from the interviewer's perspective. And, believe it or not, most people have worked in those same situations at some point of their lives; while you might think that the inteviewer would be sympathetic to your situation, most people see it as complaining — whether that's right or wrong.
So, to go with an old adage, less is often more. What you say or don't say can insinuate the truth, such as "the work-life balance wasn't conducive to my best work." An interviewer reading between the lines can probably pick up that it was a high-intensity environment, or possibly toxic.