Some of the most popular questions in a job interview include "What are your weaknesses?" "What are your goals?" and "Why should we hire you?" according to Monster. Another popular — and potentially tricky — question is, "Why did you leave your last job?"
Depending on your circumstances, there could be a number of reasons why you left your previous position, or want to. Maybe the job wasn't fulfilling enough. Maybe it wasn't your choice to leave at all. Whatever the case, there are smart ways to answer this question.
"If you were terminated due to poor performance," says Salemi, "you do not say that."
Don't lie, she says, but it's fine to omit some details. She suggests saying something like, "I knew it was time to move on to a new role," or, "I was ready for the next step, and though I was grateful for my time there, it was apparent that there was no room for growth."
"Take that experience and just brush over the surface," says Amanda Augustine, career expert at TopResume.
Video by Courtney Stith
This question is an opportunity to point out both how you've grown from the experience of being fired and how you're moving forward in your career as a result. "You don't give them any more details than they probe for," says Augustine.
Acknowledge that you're no longer there "and then shift the conversation to more about what you learned," she says.
"By definition, 'laid off' means it was out of your control and it had nothing to do with your performance," says Augustine. "It's something that you don't want to feel ashamed about because so many people have experienced it, especially in the last year and a half."
Give some context as to why your position was cut, such as your department was downsized after a loss of business during the pandemic, and then pivot: Explain what you were able to accomplish or learn in the time you were there.
You could say something like, "At the time that I was laid off, I was actually beating this goal, had just made improvements in this area, had been promoted three months earlier," says Augustine. "Whatever it is, you're trying to find that one positive brag point that you can lean on that shows that, 'I'm good at what I do.'"
In the last few months, millions of people have quit in search of something better either in their own field or in another one altogether. Whether you left your previous job without anything lined up or you're interviewing while you're still at that role, focus on explaining that you're looking to develop your career.
Try saying something like, "I'm looking for another growth opportunity at another company to challenge myself," says Sage Quiamno, a workplace expert and advocate for women of color. "I've accomplished the things that I wanted to accomplish within that role."
"I would highlight what you have gained from your current employer and what you're looking to gain in the next role," says Angelina Darrisaw, a career coach and founder and CEO of C-Suite Coach. "Really keep the focus on what you think this will do for your career."
Video by Courtney Stith
Whatever the reason you find yourself between jobs and interviewing for a new one, remember to stay positive. Don't talk disparagingly about your last employer. And focus on your process for figuring out what's next.
"I was always impressed in recruiting when there was some soul searching or internal dialogue going on and the candidate said something like, 'I realized that I wanted to pivot in careers because my real passion was XYZ,'" says Salemi.
When people took the time as they were looking for work to really figure out what was of interest or pulling them, she says, they seemed like their skills and experiences could be a fit and they seemed truly excited about the role. "And that's what you want," she says. "You want someone who's an engaged worker."
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