Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Many interviewers ask this question: “Why did you leave your last job?” It’s reasonable for interviewers to want to know what started you looking for a new job. I expect to hear things like this:

  • “I was looking for more challenge.” I then follow up with a open-ended question, “Oh, tell me about your job. What wasn’t challenging enough – where were you looking for more challenge?” I almost always follow this question up with “What did you do to try to create more challenge in your job?” (Because I want people who have high initiative.)
  • “I was laid off.” or the company shut down, or something beyond the candidate’s scope of control.
  • “My significant other accepted a position here so we moved here.”

I don’t expect to hear people complain about their previous managers or projects. If things were toxic at the last company, I’d rather hear, “The culture wasn’t a good fit for me. I’m used to (fill in the blank): more responsibility, more flexibility, more rules, more something.” Then I’ll ask about what the candidate tried, to get more of whatever the candidate was looking for.However, some unsophisticated candidates will say, “My last boss was a dodo bird,” or something equally negative. Some candidates are so frustrated by their situation that they don’t realize how negative that statement is.

If you run into negative-sounding candidates, ask more questions, and see where their negativity ends, or if it’s pervasive. If they had a problem they couldn’t overcome, see if your environment is suitable for them, maybe by asking more behavioral or open-ended questions.

Candidates, if you’re negative about your previous position(s), practice alternative ways of discussing the problems so you don’t sound negative. Otherwise, you’ll prevent yourself from seeing or obtaining other alternatives.

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