Why did you leave that job?

  | James Innes

     

Why did you leave that job?

Alternative and related questions:

Have you ever been made redundant and, if so, why?
Have you ever been fired?

The meaning behind the question:

This question is distinct from “Why do you wish to leave your current position?” that we covered in the previous chapter in that it’s not exploring your current motivators in changing jobs; it’s exploring your previous reasons for having left a job.

The interviewer might also be hoping to turn up any skeletons you may have in your cupboard, for example dismissals.

Your answer:

We’ve already covered the topic of changing jobs in detail in the previous chapter under “Why do you wish to leave your current position?” – and much of that same advice will apply to this question. However, here I’d like to focus on two special cases: two more negative reasons why you might have left a previous job:

  • Being made redundant
  • Being fired/sacked

I would immediately like to apologise to any readers who have been made redundant. It is in no way my intention to cause any offence by listing redundancy as a negative reason for leaving a job. I fully appreciate that redundancy is a difficult time and that there’s often little justice in an employer’s choice of who to make redundant. I empathise entirely. However, my reason for including it in this list is not to suggest you’ve been made redundant through any fault of your own – but because your having been made redundant may unfortunately be perceived in a negative fashion by a prospective employer. It is therefore a hurdle you need to deal with – and which I will show you how to deal with.

Redundancy hurts. There’s no two ways about it. However, you must conceal any bitterness and resentment you may feel and instead convey to the interviewer that “such is life”, “these things happen”, it wasn’t your fault. It is the position that is redundant, not the individual person. Under no circumstances should you criticise the employer that laid you off. Rather than dwell on negative aspects, you must aim to emphasise any positive outcomes – for example that it gave you the opportunity to undertake some valuable training or that it meant you were able to move on to a new and better position.

Example:

Unfortunately, a major client, that my department was responsible for supplying, decided to withdraw completely from the UK and close all their branches. It appears they had over-reached themselves in deciding to expand beyond the USA. Almost everyone in my department was subsequently made redundant. However, with hindsight, it all worked out very well in the end because I was able to secure a new – and more senior – position within just a couple of months.

If you’ve been fired from a previous role then this is a tough one to deal with – it’s hard to put a positive slant on such matters.

There are two points I need to make about how you should handle this. Firstly, you must be truthful; it’s all too easy for a prospective employer to check these sorts of detail. Secondly, you must convey the circumstances as calmly and dispassionately as possible, acknowledge responsibility for the causes of your dismissal and, above all else, convince the interviewer that you learned a great deal from the experience and that this will never, ever happen again.

There are various words and expressions which can be used to describe your being dismissed from a job – sacked, fired, etc. However, these have more negative connotations than simply saying you were dismissed. You should therefore avoid using them in your answer.

Example:

I was only in that job for a couple of months and I unfortunately left it sooner than I would have liked to. I had an initial probationary period of three months and, during that time I regrettably had an argument with a customer. I felt they were being extremely unreasonable and, rather than pacifying them, I let the situation escalate. It turned out that they were a long-standing customer and they used their influence to insist that my manager dismiss me. I was young and inexperienced and I learned a great deal from this. I would certainly never now argue with a customer; I know that there are much better ways to resolve such a situation.

The Interview Question & Answer Book

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