I'm having a really difficult time handling the "why did you leave your last job" question during interviews.

I resigned several months ago. It was voluntary, but only because it was clear that my life was going to suck hard if I stayed. The problem primarily revolved around my relationship with my director which in turn led to other issues. It was painfully clear that either my boss or I had to leave (and they didn't actually care which). When I mentioned resigning they quickly offered me a severance package to encourage me and I took it because the future was looking rather dark. However my severance pay checks, and therefore technically my employment, ended about 2 weeks ago.

Up until now I just sort of implied to employers that I still worked there knowing HR wasn't going to contradict me if called. Now that I have an end date on my most recent job I need to explain it, usually during the initial phone interview. I totally flubbed it the first couple of times and I need to get my answer straightened out ASAP.

I tried the standard "looking for more opportunities" approach but stumbled when pushed on it. This is especially difficult because many of the jobs I'm applying for offer less opportunity than my last one. I hesitate to insinuate a problem with my boss because I don't want to give off the vibe that I can't get along with others. To make things more complicated, my severance agreement states that I'm not allowed to discuss anything involving the events leading up to my resignation or the agreement itself. So even if I wanted to be totally honest, I don't have that option. The only info HR gives if called is dates of employment and last position held. If the director is called he wouldn't trash me but would understandably be less than enthusiastic.

Also, one company I'm interviewing with thinks I still have a job. I just found out I made it to the third round of interviews. I originally applied about two months ago and listed my last employer as current since I was still on the payroll. I don't want to be intentionally dishonest but should I just keep my mouth shut at this point?


jhack's picture

There are many truths.

You need to dig deeper and understand [i]why[/i] your previous position didn't work out. You don't need to discuss details, but you need to honestly assess what went wrong. It takes two to tango, and while it's not always easy or fun, you have to look at your behavior.

In what ways were your effective work habits at odds with the processes in place? What choices did you make that could have been different (like choosing to leave a year ago, or choosing a different career)?

Most importantly, what did you learn? This is almost like the weakness question in that regard. Not just what went wrong - what are you doing to address it?

That's what the recruiter is really looking for.


TomW's picture
Training Badge

I'd leave it as "It just was not a good fit for me."

As John mentioned,you can say what you learned from is and what you now know you want in a company.

Right now, it's more important for YOU to know why you left and what went wrong than for anyone else.

A little side-document I keep with my resume/career management document is a "what I learned" document, in which I list the personal, professional, and technical lessons from each position I've had. This would be a great example of an entry into that document.

Something more descriptive than "it would have sucked hard" though... ;-)

bda72's picture

Thanks for the replies. For the record, I absolutely admit that I had an equal role in the situation. My director didn't create this situation by himself and it could certainly be said that I'm automatically wrong simply because he's the boss. I've learned many lessons, both personal and professional. The biggest one is that I should have left a while ago when it was clear things were not going to improve. I stayed thinking I could "rescue" the job when I should have moved on.

My question isn't so much about how I got here as it is about how I handle this topic with recruiters and interviewers. If I can keep it simple with something along the lines of "It just was not a good fit for me", it could work out. I'm probably overthinking the whole thing.

Also, you can cancel the last question about the company that thinks I'm still employed. They called ten minutes ago and said they decided to skip round three and hired another candidate now. :cry:

asteriskrntt1's picture

Tom and John are spot on.

Don't make this a big complicated issue. You are not the first and certainly not the last person to be in this situation.

I didn't see a fit going forward and thought the best career management decision I could make was to start exploring other options. That is what brings us together today. (and smile)


jhack's picture

You should be prepared to answer the follow up question: What made it a bad fit, and what kept you from making it work?

You need to answer honestly, without placing blame. If you're a meticulous "cross every t and dot every i" analyst, and your boss wanted quick, from-the-gut answers and move on, then you should be able to say that. After all, you don't want to be in the same situation again, so you should position yourself as a details, numbers guy (for example). If they need a detail guy, you're in good shape. If they want a "just do it" guy, then you're not, and that's a good thing.

Use this question to [i]indirectly[/i] identify strengths and how you can best contribute.


bflynn's picture

Brilliant John -

I'm in some what of a similar situation. Shortly after starting, I have a new boss and I'm not crazy about my work situation. While I can explain the management change, its not nearly as strong an answer as why I don't like this new situation.

The why might get me disqualified from the next job. But that would be a good thing because chances are I wouldn't fit there either.

Job interviewers are trying to figure out whether you will work out and how. Use this to talk about your personality and help them.