Job Interview Question

Why did you leave your last position?

How To Answer Interview Questions Series

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The underlying questions behind “Why did you leave your last position?” are, “Is there something wrong with you?”  “Did you get fired for a reason?”  “Will I regret hiring you?” Those are the concerns that you need to address when you answer this question.

It’s important that you don’t say anything negative about the company you were with because any negativity reflects very badly on you, but you still have to give them a reason why you’re no longer with that company.  Your answer will depend on what happened, but there are ways you can talk about it to put a positive spin on it.

If you were laid off, and you can truthfully say that it was a mass layoff, like they laid off 40% of the sales force, or they laid off 10% of the workforce and the newest employees went first, then say that.  It will make them feel better to know that it wasn’t just you.  They will understand a mass layoff situation, because so many companies have cut back on their numbers the last few years.

If you weren’t part of a mass layoff—maybe it was a restructuring, maybe it was just a much smaller number of people, it’s very important that you be able to offer references who can speak to your skills and your character.  The very best reference in this situation is your old boss.  That will ease a lot of doubt.

If that’s not possible because you were in fact fired, don’t try to act like you weren’t.  They will almost certainly call your references and your old company to find out the truth.

You can say something like, “I have to be honest with you here.  That was kind of a bad situation that I’m embarrassed about.  It wasn’t a good decision to take that job—I did it for the wrong reasons, it wasn’t a good fit, etc.  I can only say that it was a brief bump in the road of an otherwise great career.  I would love to have you speak to some of my references, including my former employer John Smith (who is going to be your boss from a job you’ve had in the past).  They will be able to speak to my qualifications for this job, and my work ethic.”

And then make sure you prep and coach those references.  They need to know they’re about to get a phone call, and they need to know what’s most important for them to speak about.  Your references are an ideal resource for you to utilize in this particular situation.


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