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December 5th, 2008
Job Interviews: How to Answer ‘Why did you leave your last job’ question

Not knowing how to answer ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ question during a job interview is daunting. Just as well, if you have been made redundant or taken voluntary redundancy from your last place of work, it could be challenging to deal with any questions tied to the situation. Explore how to answer  ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ question during a job interview.

Job Interview_Answering 'Why Did You Leave Your Last Job' Question

By Catherine Adenle

Knowing how to answer why did you leave your last job question during a job interview is vital especially if you have been made redundant at work.  Believe it or not, this is a question that, following redundancy, many job applicants worry about as they apply for jobs. They struggle to figure out the best answer or comprehend how answer why did you leave your last job question without saying anything that could affect their chances.

In most cases, candidates stumble around verbally during an interview with an attempt to convince whoever is interviewing them that they actually planned and wanted to leave their last employer when in fact they know that it was due to redundancy. While it is true that many people in this situation were indeed ready to leave at the time that redundancy hits them, the discomfort derives from knowing that given the choice they would probably not be sitting in that room in front of someone interviewing them at that particular time of seeking a new job. Even if true, many candidates still believe that redundancy equals failure in the eyes of many interviewers – this is a wrong thing to believe!

Redundancy is common than ever before

Frankly, redundancy does not visit the untalented, unskilled or only the un-ambitious. Indeed, it visits everyone! Knowing what to do, doing an outstanding job or being an excellent team member will not prevent you from redundancy if your organization finds the cheapest way to do business.

In organizations, continuous improvement is the order of the day. Change at work is now routine and it is constant in all workplaces. Regardless of what you do, how good and engaged you are at work, you cannot stop change from affecting you or what you do. Technology, innovation, mergers, acquisitions, offshoring, outsourcing, global industrialization etc., will affect what you do one way or the other and at some point.

Many professionals find themselves in this position, many times by design. The truth is, redundancy is just one way by which people leave an employer. The world of work is changing rapidly and the human resource requirement is changing equally as fast. The capabilities required by an organization last year may differ significantly this year. There’s no need to be ashamed if your employer can no longer use the skills you offer. Interviewers too are aware of this. The answer is to move on to an organization where you can add value and where they will keep your skills constantly up to date so that you are never caught with skills that are no longer required at all.

Work is changing

No job is for life anymore – those days are long gone. These days’ people are leaving The City and all those high flying positions, even the civil service following re-structuring. Many have been with their employers for upwards of thirty years and now find themselves entering the job market for the first time since leaving school. When they joined, they would have been very safe in the knowledge that if they’d wanted to spend their entire working life with the organization, they could have done so.

Whatever the causes – technology, new systems, new strategy, the demands of shareholders, it is clear that organizational change happens now more quickly than ever. Change happens because organizations need to remain highly competitive and efficient and it therefore tends to be driven by operational need especially cost reductions or a need for increased revenue. If it is operational efficiency that is driving the change it may well be that whole layers of management or functional areas are removed, perhaps outsourced. This inevitably leads to greater pressure on those that remain who often find themselves with an increased workload. Furthermore, morale is quite often on a downward slope during the period leading to redundancy announcements; performance is often poor and bonuses are reduced.

In redundancy cases, it’s the justification of your role that is under scrutiny, not you, your skills or talent. You may be the best Project Manager or HR Manager the organization has ever employed. However, that won’t guarantee that you keep your job if the decision has been made to outsource all Project Management or HR activities to India or China.

The “flattening” of organizations also increases the desirability of redundancy. Knowing that where there might previously have been two or three people competing for the next job up the ladder, with flattened structures there may now be ten or more people reporting into a single line manager. All of a sudden the chances of promotion are greatly reduced and the desire to leave increases. Are you still uncomfortable about the idea of being made redundant? You should not be. It is a common occurrence these days.

How to answer ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ question during a job interview


In spite of the fundamental changes to the way we work and the massive increase in corporate change and therefore redundancy, many people still feel ashamed about being made redundant. Their greatest fear is that they are seen as having failed. “If I was any good they’d have kept me in some capacity” is often the way the thinking goes – Not so. Your position is only secure in any business only if you own the business.

Down-sizing due to the downturn in the economy should not be difficult to explain. So, explain it as such and don’t make things up. Say that you enjoyed your past employer and the position you filled for them and that you understood why they had to let you and others go. In these trying times, any hiring manager will understand and look at this as an opportunity to get a quality employee that they wouldn’t have otherwise had the chance with if they weren’t laid off.

  1. Be prepared with a well rehearsed answer – Knowing how to answer the ‘Why did you leave your last job?’ question during a job interview if you were laid off means crafting out three or four good sentences and rehearse them in order to answer the anticipated question well. If they asked you, say  “I was thrilled to get the job at …… because I am enthused by how they……………(mention something they do well), and I was eager to use what I’ve learned in University or my previous job for them. It was great while it lasted. The organization merged with another …………(tell them what happened and necessitated the redundancy) which meant they found better and cheaper ways to ……………….(explain), with the understanding that some positions were going to be redundant. Unfortunately, mine was one of the positions, but I’m thankful for what I learned there and the growth the experience gave me.”

Be quiet, give the interviewer a second to absorb your answer, and then launch into “My favorite project that I led when I worked there was…. and it helped the organization to …………”

Be prepared and know how to answer the “Why did you leave your last job?” question during a job interview because it pays to be upfront and truthful. What were the reasons for redundancy? What were the reasons why you left? You can keep it simple – If it was corporate change or cost cutting, tell them that the organization underwent a big change and give the reasons. Explain that as part of the change, a number of positions were identified as no longer being required including your own, and that redundancy was offered. If you lost your position after a merger, you can talk about how you were better suited to the role that was outsourced. You might be asked to expand upon this so do prepare for this possibility.

2. Be honest, there is no reason not to be – Don’t hide something like this during a job interview as there is no reason to not tell them why you left your last job. If you left because you wanted to do something more challenging, then say so. However, you have to demonstrate that you are responsible and reliable. Tell interviewers that you gave the right notice and explained to your manager that you needed another challenge. It is also advisable to do some work for charity if you are unemployed for more than few months if you don’t want gaps to appear in your CV.

3. Focus on the positive and keep it moving – Get over any disappointments or unnecessary guilt that you feel due to redundancy. Hold your head high, and focus on the positive things that you did for your former employer and the transferable skills that you can apply to another role.

Knowing How to Answer_Why Did You Leave Your Last Job_Question


Remain positive

Knowing how to answer the ‘why did you leave your last job?’ question will help you to ace any job interview if you can craft and rehearse your answer well before a job interview. However, you must be positive about your previous employer. Nobody wants to think that when you leave them there is a possibility that you might bad mouth their organization.

Explain that while you might have been disappointed that they had to make many people including you redundant, you understand and accept the situation. You might say that you consider the outcome to be right for both parties and that you see it as an opportunity for you to face new and exciting challenges. However, whatever you decide to say, be truthful and don’t be ashamed – don’t stop looking the interviewer in the eye, and don’t go on about it for too long! Treat the issue as if you have no problem with it and therefore you see no reason for why the other person should have a problem with it.

See 10 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job

If you are dismissed or fired from work

Career expert and author, Joyce Lain Kennedy, shares her twelve best job interview answers to the question “Why were you fired?”

Joyce Lain Kennedy’s sample answers to the interview question “Why were you fired?”…

  1. Being cut loose was a blessing in disguise. Now I have an opportunity to explore jobs that better suit my qualifications and interests. My research suggests that such an opportunity may be the one on your table. Would you like to hear more about my skills in working with new technology?
  2. My competencies were not the right match for my previous employer’s needs but it looks like they’d be a good fit in your organization. In addition to marketing and advertising, would skills in promotion be valued here?
  3. Although circumstances caused me to leave my first job, I was very successful in school and got along well with both students and faculty. Perhaps I didn’t fully understand my boss’s expectations or why he released me so quickly before I had a chance to prove myself.
  4. The job wasn’t working out so my boss and I agreed that it was time for me to move on to a position that would show a better return for both of us. So here I am, ready to work.
  5. After thinking about why I left, I realize I should have done some things differently. That job was a learning experience and I think I’m wiser now. I’d like the chance to prove that to you.
  6. A new manager came in and cleaned house in order to bring in members of his old team. That was his right but it cleared my head to envision better opportunities elsewhere.
  7. Certain personal problems, which I now have solved, unfortunately upset my work life. These problems no longer exist and I’m up and running strong to exceed expectations in my new job.
  8. I wanted my career to move in a different direction, and I guess my mental separation set up the conditions that led to my departure. But by contrast, the opportunity we’re discussing seems to be made for me and I hope to eventually grow into a position of responsibility.
  9. I usually hit it off very well with my bosses, but this case was the exception that proved my rule of good relationships. We just didn’t get on well. I’m not sure why.
  10. My job was outsourced to India. That’s too bad because people familiar with my work say it is superior and fairly priced.
  11. I outlasted several downsizing but the last one included me. Sign of the times, I guess.
  12. I was desperate for work and took the wrong job without looking around the corner. I won’t make that mistake again. I’d prefer an environment that is congenial, structured and team-oriented, where my best talents can shine and make a substantial contribution.

Kennedy also says, “Practice in advance what you’ll say. Then keep it brief, keep it honest and keep it moving.” That way, you’ll get past the sticky issue of getting fired and can move on to your skills and why you’re qualified for the job.

"Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?" - Interview Question and Best Answers

See HOW TO ANSWER: Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Now that you have explored knowing how to answer the ‘why did you leave your last job?’ question during a job interview, what can you add to the tips above? Leave your comments below.

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