35 Good Reasons for Leaving a Job (+15 Bad Ones) [2020 Updated]
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.
Table of Contents
- Why Do Companies Care Why You Left Your Previous Job?
- What Does Your Answer Communicate to Future Employers?
- How to Ensure Your Answer is Going to Make a Positive Impact
- 5 Good Reasons to Leave a Job
- 3 Bad Answers to Avoid
- What The Interviewer Will Be Evaluating
- Where To Be Prepared To Be Asked This Question
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:
- I left because I’m interested in moving from the hardware engineering industry to the software engineering industry. I’ve always been interested in coding and have been learning quite a bit about it, and I think this position would be perfect for what I’m looking for.
- I’m ready to go on a new journey career-wise. When I saw your job ad, I immediately knew this was the perfect opportunity to begin that journey.
- I’m so grateful to have had that opportunity to grow with them, but this is definitely my dream 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:
- Your business has a very well-known reputation for encouraging your employees to grow and climb the corporate ladder. Unfortunately, my previous position did not really encourage this and it is very important to me.
- My previous job was only part-time and seasonal, and I am interested in working somewhere that has a variety of employment opportunities. I noticed that you are looking for full-time employees and I am more than willing to be flexible when it comes to extra hours and overtime.
- While I loved working there, there were pretty insignificant growth opportunities at my previous company. I’ve heard about your company’s reputation for growth and I’d love to see what we can do for each other.
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:
- My mother became ill after suffering a stroke, so I had to quit my job to become her caregiver. I’m still caring for her, but now I have time to work part-time and I think this position would be perfect.
- I was on maternity leave and realized a full-time position was not as doable as I thought. I missed my daughter quite a bit and did not have enough time to be with her. I looked at the shifts you were offering and the hours are just about perfect for me.
- I had a recent health scare that made me realize my previous job was too high-stress and labor-intensive for my health. This position seems much more lucrative and I believe I will thrive here.
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:
- My previous employer recently decided to relocate the office to another state, and I am just not willing to pack up everything and leave.
- I had to relocate to a new city for school and unfortunately, transportation became too much of an issue. I would like to work here because it is much closer and I’ll be able to divide my time between work and school more efficiently.
- My previous employer asked if I would be willing to relocate because my position was being liquidated at that location. I wasn’t able to do so and was laid off as a result.
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:
- My previous employer went in a different direction with their IT department, and a product engineer manager was no longer needed. I was laid off. I feel that I can use my skills and experience from my time there to help your company grow.
- The company I worked for went out of business quite suddenly. This was quite a blow as I have been with them for several years, but I know I can adapt to your company culture quickly and seamlessly.
- My position was outsourced to another country, which was probably necessary for the company as a whole. I believe my skills and experience are perfect for what you are looking for in this company.
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:
- I was written up at work for fighting with a coworker.
- I was arrested at work for fighting or making a scene.
- I was super bored at my job.
- My coworkers were awful.
- I didn’t like the job at all and thought everyone there was rude.
- I was accused of harassment or tardiness.
- I was working with someone I was in a relationship with.
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:
- I didn’t like my boss.
- I hated my boss.
- My boss was a huge jerk.
- I could have done my boss’ job better.
- The management was a joke.
- My manager was just stupid.
- My manager was fooling around with other coworkers so I didn’t get the promotion as a result.
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:
- Everyone hated me.
- Everyone there was out to get me.
- It was a very bad company to work for.
- Everyone there was less professional than I am.
- The management team didn’t like me because I was too good at my job and made them look bad.
- I was a scapegoat and they got rid of me.
- Everyone at my previous job was nuts.
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:
- Your tone of voice.
- Your comfort while answering.
- Your eye contact while answering.
- Your overall body language.
- The time it takes you to answer.
- Your ability to clearly articulate your reason without hesitation.
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:
- During your initial phone interview or pre-screening.
- Asked by the hiring manager before speaking with other colleagues.
- Asked to fill out your reasoning on your job application.
- Asked indirectly by the multiple colleagues you may interview with.
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.
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