35 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job (+15 Bad Ones) [2020 Updated]

reasons for leaving a job

Everybody has to leave a job or position for one reason or another at least once in their life. It’s a very normal part of having a career. When it comes to including a reason for leaving a job on an application, some precautions need to be taken. Just as well, you’ll need to have a specific reason for leaving your current job when interviewing for a new one.

In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you need to know about giving good reasons for leaving a job, what not to say, and everything in between.

First, let’s look at why a specific business or hiring manager would care so much about why you left your last job.

reasons for leaving a job

Table of Contents

Why Do Companies Care Why You Left Your Last Job?

There are several reasons why a business would care about why you left your current employer or your last job.

First, your prospective employer is trying to see if the reason you left your last job could be a reason you’ll eventually leave the position you are applying for. For example, say you left your current position because of a lack of pay increases. If this prospective position does not offer many opportunities for growth, your employer wants to know if it is even worth bringing you on.

Another reason why employers want to know why you left your last job is to see if it was a “good” reason. When we say “good,” we mean a reason that is understandable, such as an injury, relocation, or change in position. A “bad” reason could include workplace drama or communication issues between you and your previous manager.

Pro fact: Deloitte suggests that 43% of millennials ages 21 to 38 will quit their jobs within the next two years. Meaning, employers will rely more on the reasoning for leaving a job.

For the most part, your future employer is interested in knowing why you left your last company because they care whether or not you are bringing additional emotional "baggage" along with you in your new role. It exudes either good professionalism or bad professionalism depending on your answer. For example, if the answer to the question was, "I left because I didn't like anyone there." Do you think the interviewer is going to take that as a sign that you are going to be a good fit with the rest of the employees? Probably not.

What Does Your Answer Communicate to Future Employers?

Your answer can say a lot about who you are as an employee. It can communicate whether or not your reason for leaving will become a reason for leaving this new job. It can communicate what your values and boundaries are when it comes to leaving a job. And it can communicate how you carry yourself as a professional.

While it is important to be honest about why you left a position, it is also important to express why you left with tact, detail, and assurance that you don’t plan on leaving this new position anytime soon.

How to Ensure Your Answer is Going to Make a Positive Impact

It is vital to ensure that your answer has a positive impact on your hiring manager and to know when it will be asked.

Hiring managers will usually ask you why you left a position during initial interviews, so be prepared to know what to say. On specific job applications, there may also be a spot to briefly explain in a few words or a few sentences why you left a particular job. You will probably be asked to elaborate on this during an interview, so be prepared to go in-depth on your reason for leaving in person or over the phone.

Pro tip: In a study performed by HireRight in 2018, 55% of companies say they struggle with employee turnover. Meaning, they are more concerned about why you left your previous job.

The main goal of answering this question is to leave a positive impact. You can do this by being honest and open about why it didn’t work out. If it was a less-than-understandable reason, be sure to explain the situation without badmouthing your old boss, coworkers, or company.

5 Good Reasons to Leave a Job

Let’s look at some great reasons for leaving a position and some example answers to use as a template for your next interview.

Answers: Changing Directions

Sometimes one simply wants to leave a position because they want to change career directions. This is quite normal and also quite common, so it is very likely that your hiring manager will understand your reasoning. However, it is important to make it clear that the position you are interviewing for is different from your previous position, and is also the direction you want to go in your professional career.

Consider using answers like these involving direction changes when answering why you left your old job:

Answers: No Upward Mobility

Sometimes a business simply does not offer the opportunity for upward mobility. If you’re looking to improve your career potential, it will make sense to any prospective company that you want to reach your goals. Make sure to do some company research beforehand to make sure the prospective employer you are being interviewed by has better mobility opportunities.

Consider using answers like these involving a lack of upward mobility when answering why you left your old job:

Answers: Family and Health

A crisis can happen at any moment. For many people, that crisis can involve a family death or life change, or perhaps a recent health diagnosis. Depending on the situation, it can result in someone leaving their job to take care of a family member or because the job is too physically demanding for them with their chronic illness. In most cases, a prospective employee will understand why this is an issue. It would be wise to verify before that your particular family or health issue will not cause problems with this position.

Consider using answers like these involving family or health issues when answering why you left your old job:

Answers: Location Change

Perhaps you had no choice but to move to a new city, state, or country. Maybe the business you were working for relocated to another city, state, or country. Sometimes businesses will ask you to relocate for them and you simply cannot do it. All of these are valid reasons for leaving a job, and a prospective employer will certainly understand. Be sure to double-check that this employer does not plan on relocating any time soon and also does not require you to relocate or travel with it.

Consider using answers like these involving a location change when answering why you left your old job:

Answers: Job Function

Sometimes job functions disappear from a company due to automation or a change in organizational direction. Organizational restructuring could lead to people with certain skill sets leaving or being laid off. Be honest about this and let your hiring manager know that your skills and experience will definitely align with the prospective company’s needs.

Consider using answers like these involving job functions when answering why you left your old job:

3 Bad Answers to Avoid

Let’s look at some not-so-good reasons for leaving a position and some example answers to avoid completely for your next interview.

What a Bad Answer Usually Contains

A bad answer usually involves some personality issue or incompatibility with being in a workplace in general. These answers will usually involve blaming coworkers for being rude, hating your boss, or citing some sort of conspiracy against you.

Sometimes answers like these are true. We’ve all been at a job that we hated because the customers were awful or our boss was genuinely not great at their job. Still, this shouldn’t be brought up in a job interview. You should avoid giving out too much information or badmouthing your previous employer to your new one. It comes off as greatly unprofessional.

Note: It can be a pretty big red flag if the reason you give your hiring manager for leaving completely doesn’t match the reason your previous employer gives. Your prospective employer will more than likely contact your previous job as a reference. This is why even if you left on less than great terms, you should form your answer to be as close to the truth as possible.

Bad Answers: Drama

This can come off as extremely immature to a prospective employer. Citing drama as a reason for leaving says that your communication skills are less than ideal and that you can’t handle collaborative or team-based workspaces.

Avoid these bad answers involving drama when answering why you left your previous job:

Bad Answers: Boss Issues

Sometimes a manager is just not a good manager. If you left your last job, for this reason, it may be better to frame it as if you wanted to experience a “different company culture.” Either way, going out of your way to gossip about your boss looks extremely tacky.

Avoid these bad answers involving boss issues when answering why you left your previous job:

Bad Answer: It Was Everyone Else’s Fault

Not only is this a bad answer, but it is also rarely true. There aren’t many situations where the person fired was at the center of some strange company-wide conspiracy. Even if you had a rough time getting alone with multiple people at your previous job, avoid these bad answers at all cost.

Avoid these bad answers involving your coworkers when answering why you left your previous job:

What The Interviewer Will Be Evaluating

Indirect interview questions such as this one are often asked to see how you answer the question versus only seeing what your answer is. They are looking at your demeanor while answering, looking at your comfort, body language, tone of voice, and much more. They want to know if there's something more to the story you aren't saying. And evaluating whether or not the reason you are giving is true or false. Interviewers know most candidates will not give a completely honest answer to this question, so they must use their observation skills to evaluate you as a candidate. Keep that in mind when answering. It is about your delivery, not just your answer.

Here's what the interviewer will be looking at:

Where To Be Prepared To Be Asked This Question

Most commonly, companies will ask you to put your reason for leaving your last employer on your job application. But more recently, it is starting to be asked when you are having your initial phone interviews and on-site interviews. In order to best answer this question in person it is recommended that you decide which "good" reason is the best fitting for your situation. If you used our guide above, our answers are short. That is intentional so that you can memorize a good answer and be able to repeat it in person.

To recap, the places where you might be asked this question will be:

The longer your answer is when explaining your reason in person, the more it will communicate, through body language, that you aren't telling the entire truth. The interviewer will be evaluating your body language, the time it takes you to answer the question, and what your answer is. Keep it short so that it doesn't appear you have more emotion about the situation than you are trying to explain.

Reasons for Leaving Your Last Job FAQ

Frequent job seeker questions and answers regarding the explanation of their last job to a hiring manager.

Should I say that I left my last job for professional reasons?

No. That's not very descriptive and it sounds like you are evading the question that the hiring manager is asking you. Instead, say it simply didn't work out. That's a valid reason for wanting to leave your last job.

Should I mention anything about the working conditions?

No. It's best not to air out "your dirty laundry" to your potential employer. Especially if this is one of the interview questions that they are asking you. Try to determine what your professional and legitimate reason is from the lists above and answer with that.

Should I say that I wanted to leave my last job just because I wanted a new challenge?

Yes. This is a valid and good reason for wanting to leave your current role.

What if I say I left my last job because I wanted a better opportunity?

That sounds evasive to the interview question. Try to mention that you didn't see yourself growing with the company and that it was going to slow down your overall career growth if you stayed. That there was no "upward mobility" within the organization. That is a more common reason that the hiring manager will understand.

What if they want to contact my former employer about the reason why I left?

It's always great to leave your last position on good terms. For this exact reason. Future employers may want to contact your former employer about your performance or reasons for leaving. As long as you said something along the lines of the previous role not fitting in with your career goals, then you should be okay. This is another reason why it's important to have a positive reason for leaving versus a negative one.

What if I told the interviewer that I left my last job due to personal reasons?

Depending on the situation, that might be okay. Especially if it was a family emergency or that you needed time off. But expect the interviewer or hiring manager to inquire more about why you left your last employer. Remember, you want to be seen as a good employee. Not one that lacks loyalty or struggles when challenges arise.

What if I say that I simply wasn't happy with my work?

Not being happy with your work is an acceptable reason for leaving. It means that your career path needed to be reevaluated. Be sure to allude to that when you speak about any employment gap or time off that you took to create your evaluation.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.


Help us by spreading the word