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How do I answer the question, "Why did you leave your last position?"

Why did you leave your last job? What happened? After dealing with the immediate issues of your own feelings and those of people closest to you, prepare a written explanation of why you left your job. Friends, family members and interviewers will ask you these questions very early in the process. Having a viable, truthful, consistent and positive story about why you left your job will help you in that potentially awkward moment as well as on the front end of many communications ahead. Examples of statements include:

  • If your job significantly changed due to internal reorganization or changes at the employer, highlight your desire for new challenges and opportunities to grow and learn. You want to avoid sounding like you do not adapt well to change, because job roles always change over time, but that the organizational changes limited your growth potential with the employer.
    • I have worked with this company for many years and have learned much as I progressed through financial, market research and marketing positions. However, the recent corporate shift to "matrix" management has lifted many responsibilities I previously held to higher levels within the organization. As this has reduced my opportunities to grow personally and professionally, I am seeking new opportunities outside the company.
    • Over my career, I have gained expertise in starting new ventures—establishing processes, building reporting mechanisms, hiring and training staff, and doing the other activities necessary to get a new program off the ground. My current employer recruited me to launch a groundbreaking drug study. I created a plan to enroll patients in our study, structured cross-functional teams, established marketing activities to increase patient awareness, and established procedures for quality assurance. Now that the program is up and running—we met our enrollment goal within our deadline—I am in more of an operational role overseeing the day-to-day activities of the program. I am very proud of what my team and I accomplished and believe my experience as a startup executive can be better leveraged in a new role.
  • With mergers and acquisitions occurring at an increasingly rapid pace, most employers understand that job elimination is a part of the process of integrating two distinct organizations. The following statement provides a framework for you to draft your own “explanation for leaving” statement.
    • My company was acquired a few months ago. At the time of the acquisition, the acquirer announced its intention to take over all Human Resource activities, with the exception of field HR managers. I stayed on a contract basis to assist with the integration of the two companies; now that most of that work is done, I am looking to leverage my HR experience in a new company.
  • If you and your manager did not get along or had different approaches to achieve results, discussing your reason for leaving can be challenging. Potential employers want to know you are flexible and able to adapt to different management situations. The key to your answer: acknowledge the other party’s perspective, doing so calmly and showing respect. Don’t focus on who was right or wrong.
    • My superiors and I agreed on aggressive financial objectives. However, it became apparent over time that the methods and management style I used to achieve these objectives in my local markets differed from ones they would employ. Recognizing and understanding their position, I decided to pursue my career and personal development goals elsewhere.
    • I am a creative and entrepreneurial person, always looking to create new ways to do things that increases profitability. However, management and the company are trying to build a more conservative culture and environment – one that favors a steady pace and compliance with rules and procedures. My immediate manager recognized the value of my ideas and saw how they could positively impact the organization, but after a year of trying to be heard at senior levels I decided to use my energies in an environment where they will be more welcome.
When drafting your statement, please remember these points:
  • Keep it short. Generally, the more you try to explain, the more difficult it gets. You will be prepared to answer follow-up questions, but only if they are asked.
  • Be as positive as possible. Negative statements about your former boss or employer will only hurt you.
  • Put your best foot forward but be truthful. There are a number of factors which result in an individual’s leaving. Pick the one that is most positive and easiest to explain.
  • With these thoughts in mind, try your hand at drafting your "Explanation For Leaving" statement. It is usually helpful to begin by jotting down some points you want to include. Then start combining the thoughts into sentences.
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