Because people typically don’t leave jobs they are happy with, potential employers want to know what your reason was for leaving your last (or current) job. Is there an issue with you that will cause them to regret hiring you?
Overall, it’s important that you keep this answer positive. Anything negative that you say will make it seem like YOU are negative. So, say what happened, but with as positive a spin as possible.
The Ideal Answer
Of course, the ideal answer is that you were very happy and successful where you were, but this opportunity was just too good to pass up (because it’s a perfect fit, because it is such an exciting opportunity, and so on.)
If You Were Laid Off In A Group
All layoffs are not the same, and employers are well aware of this. If your layoff was part of a mass layoff (as in 30% of the company/division/department), then say so. They will understand. The same thing goes for a smaller number of people, if it was an impersonal selection (such as a cutback of 10% and the last hired were chosen to leave). Any way you can show that it wasn’t a personal thing that targeted you is something you want to clearly point out.
If You Were Laid Off In A Smaller Group Of People (Or If It Was Just You)
If there’s any way to show that your layoff had very little to do with you or your job performance, then say that. Otherwise, your best bet is to offer references that can speak to your skills and character. The best reference is always going to be your most recent boss, but any past managers, supervisors, or bosses are wonderful to have. Other good references are past co-workers or managers you didn’t report directly to but worked with. (Don’t say this about your references in the interview.)
If You Were Fired
It’s never a good idea to act as if you weren’t fired if you were. Getting caught in a lie will be worse than being fired. Many, many people have been fired and recovered from it better than before.
Here’s how to be honest (yet positive) when answering this question:
“That was a bit of a bad situation that I’m embarrassed about. It wasn’t a good decision to take that job—[insert something here like, ‘it wasn’t a good fit’ or ‘I took it for the wrong reasons’]. I can only say that it was a brief, regrettable bump in the road of an otherwise great career. I hope you will speak to some of my references, including my former boss, Ann Smith, who can speak to my qualifications and my character.”
Never forget that references are powerful, and former bosses are the best references of all.
Always be sure to coach your references by telling them about the job you’re interviewing for, and even reminding them of some things you did or stories they could tell that you know would help your cause. This is a help to them, because it reduces the time they need to dedicate to it, and it’s a help to you because it will be a better, more targeted reference.
Find 100 more job-winning answers to interview questions in How to Answer Interview Questions: 101 Tough Questions That Could Kill Your Interview Chances—Answered!, available on Amazon.
About the author
Career Coach – Peggy McKee is an expert resource and a dedicated advocate for job seekers. Known as the Sales Recruiter from Career Confidential, her years of experience as a nationally-known recruiter for sales and marketing jobs give her a unique perspective and advantage in developing the tools and strategies that help job seekers stand head and shoulders above the competition. Peggy has been named #1 on the list of the Top 25 Most Influential Online Recruiters by HR Examiner, and has been quoted in articles from CNN, CAP TODAY, Yahoo! HotJobs, and the Denver Examiner.
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