Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?


Oh goodness... Here it is!  The dreaded interview question for many.  "Why did you leave your last job?" As a recruiter, I ask this question approximately 40 times a week.  I thought I might illuminate the many reasons I ask this question, and this might help you figure out how to answer it. 

Reason Numero Uno:  Do you talk smack??

Circa 2012, I received what might go down in history as the greatest answer to this question in the history of the world.  Allow me to recount the conversation: 

J7:  Why did you leave your last job?

Candidate:  Someone threw a ream of paper at my face.  

Now, the candidate thought he was giving some color to the fact that it was an unhappy work place and he had to leave.  But all I could think was, "Man alive, what did you do that drove someone to throw something at you?" 

You see, I've worked in a lot of office settings and I know that people don't just go around throwing things at people's faces... There is usually a moment right before the paper ream gets thrown that is pretty unbearable.  

So the candidate thought that by talking smack about his previous employer was a good thing, making it a good reason to leave, but I thought two things.  This person creates drama and this person does not know how to contain drama.  Also, generally speaking, people often focus qualities in others that they possess themselves.  So the candidate ended up looking pretty bad in my eyes rather than like a stable, placeable candidate. 

Reason Numero Dos:  Do you know how to corporate speak?

We all know the biggest skill in a corporate environment is the ability to express yourself in a non-confrontational, non-emotional way.  So, I'm asking this question because I want to hear how you craft your answer.  There is a difference between "I got laid off, it was really unfair," and "Unfortunately, the company had to make a strategic decision to let 20% of the headcount go due to funding.  I was the most recent hire on my team and so, I understand my manager had a hard decision to make.  I worked through the transition so set my team up for success and now I'm looking for a new opportunity."  

If you express a lay-off in this way, in a way that recognizes the goals of the business, I know you can go into another company and make a positive impact. 

Reason Numero Tres:  Are there opportunities for me?

If there was a big lay off at your company, there might be candidates out there for me to place.  Or if you tell me you were head-hunted out of your previous role into your new one, I know your current employer uses headhunters and that might be business opportunity for me.  I'm letting you in on this little recruiter secret to take the pressure off.  

Essentially, I am a talent-broker.  That means any market knowledge about the talent market is valuable to me.  It's not all about you, and you don't have to feel like I'm judging you by asking.  I have to ask, it matters to my goals, as well. 

Alternatively, if you say that your current employer didn't have any head-room for you. Meaning, that the higher levels of the company were fairly stagnant, I can keep that info in my back pocket when talking to candidate who are considering companies like yours.  

With those three reasons in mind, you can craft an answer that 1) shows you and others in a positive light, 2) proves that you can communicate in a professional way, and 3) answers some of my general questions about the talent market in our area. 

I hope this helps!