Why did you leave your last job? How to answer this tricky interview question
Author: IntaPeople | Date published: 02/12/22
STEM roles are increasing all the time, in fact the number of roles is set to double, creating 142,000 new jobs in STEM by 2023. Yet a shortage of qualified and skilled candidates is making it harder for employers to fill those roles. That means more opportunities for candidates like you! With January just around the corner now is the perfect time to brush up on interview preparation techniques and skills so you can land your next role.
While each role you apply for requires tailored research and preparation there are many generic interview skills that can be practiced and learnt ahead of time, helping push you ahead of the competition.
For the most part, job interviews should be a positive experience and opportunity for you to sell your skills and abilities to a potential employer.
However, there is one question that many candidates struggle to answer; ‘why did you leave your last job?’ or even ‘why are you looking to leave your current job’. It can be a hard question because it means discussing a situation that may be negative. If you are leaving a position there was, or is, something unsatisfactory about the role.
While daunting, even negative experiences can be handled in a way that lets a positive aspect shine through – for instance it can be an opportunity to demonstrate what you learnt through that experience and that you have been able to apply since.
How to answer: ‘why did you leave your last job?’
As with many questions that naturally err towards possible negativity, try to use it to leverage your strengths. A lack of career development in your last role might translate as you look for greater opportunities to grow professionally, learn new skills and advance your career
Remember these tips:
- Turn negative in to positive
- Stick to the facts
- Be succinct in your explanation
- If you have experienced something negative, offer a learning experience. Try to demonstrate what you will use from that experience moving forward
- Use affirmative language wherever possible – I can see, I learnt, this offered me…
And refrain from:
- Negative language
- Bad mouthing colleagues, managers or the organisation itself
- Being overly detailed, the longer you discuss a situation – no matter how much positively you’re throwing in – you’ll increase the chances of something negative creeping in
- Failing to take personal accountability and therefore the opportunity to evidence personal and professional growth
Why did you leave your last job sample answers:
Let’s look at the top 10 reasons people give for leaving a role and see how we can turn those into positive, affirmative answers to the question, ‘why did you leave your last role’:
- Career growth and opportunity/outgrown role
- Better work-life balance
- More competitive salary and benefits
- A desire for a new environment and/or challenge
- Management or team clash
- Lack of belief in the current organisation
- Location change
- Career change
- Family leave
- Sacked or redundancy
Using some of the above examples, here are some suggestions of potential answers you can give to that tricky question:
1. Leaving for more opportunity
Whether you were passed over for promotion or you had reached the end of the ladder in a small company, there’s no need to go in too much detail. Keep it simple. Organisations are always impressed by someone who is looking to grow.
“There weren’t the career progression opportunities to match the level of growth and development I was looking for. I feel this role and organisation has greater scope for improving my skills and advancing my career.”
2. Personality clashes with management or colleagues
This is a scenario where you want to avoid giving too much detail. Instead of focussing on personal clashes and issues instead explain how team dynamics or a lack of collaboration made it difficult for you to flourish. Don’t waste time talking about a poor manager, instead describe your ideal scenario!
“I am looking for a role which is more focussed on collaboration and team building.”
“I’m looking for a management structure that will help me develop my skills and pushes me to achieve my goals. I’m passionate about new challenges.”
3. Seeking a new environment or professional challenge
Chances are your previous role left you feeling under-utilised, bored or static. Rather than express it in those terms, flip it more positively.
“I felt I had taken the role as far as I could and am looking for new challenges to build on the skills, I have developed throughout my career so far, and gain new ones.”
4. Experiencing redundancy or dismissal
Some negative experiences cannot be avoided! Don’t go into too much detail but be honest. Employers are likely to seek references and evading the truth might mean Being caught out in a lie. Focus on what you learnt from the experience as a result and demonstrate any skills or areas you have worked on and improved since.
“X happened and I left the position as a result, since then I have learnt what I need to work on in order for this situation not to happen again.”
“I felt I took on too broad a challenge at that stage in my career. Since then, I have undertaken courses and developed X skills in a more suitable environment.”
Some general interview preparation tips:
Part of having a great interview is the attitude with which you conduct yourself, as well as your specific answers. This includes verbal and non-verbal communication, how you carry yourself and the first impression you make. These can have as lasting an impact on your interviewers than can your actual answers.
A huge part of this is how comfortable you feel – the more relaxed and prepared you are the more confidently you will come across.
1. Prepare, prepare, prepare
This can’t be emphasised enough! Good preparation is the surest route to feeling comfortable in an interview. Research the organisation and the hiring manager or interviewer so you understand all you can about them and answer appropriately. Have some pre-prepared questions based on this information. Read over the job description to help you prepare answers to potential competency-based questions which are likely to come up.
2. Eat and sleep well in the lead up
This might seem elementary (or even unimportant!) but eating and resting well will put you in the optimal physical and mental space for an interview, which will contribute to feelings of calm and confidence.
3. Dummy-run the journey
Do a trial run so you know how much time you realistically need to get you there without the need to rush. If using public transport, try out the earlier time than you think you need, and find a good spot you can spend in if you’ve too much time on your hands before you’re there. If your interview is remote practice using your set-up beforehand so you can be confident in your equipment.
4. Don’t cram
Use the time before you need to leave for a hearty breakfast, or a coffee.. Lay out your outfit and gather any notes together the night before. Last minute preparation might seem a good idea but runs the risk of adding stress and anxiety when you need to keep a cool head!
If you are a STEM candidate looking for a new role – we can help!
At IntaPeople we care about our candidates. Not only do we match you with your ideal role, but we offer advice and support to you at every stage of the recruitment process. From CV feedback that will help you stand out to prospective employers to preparing for your interview, we’ve got your back!