Should You Explain Why You’re Leaving a Job in an Interview?

5 minutes

The best reason for leaving your current job is because you’re looking to grow in ways that the new job offers. In a perfect world, that’d always be the case. But sometimes the honest reason — layoffs, burnout, feeling stagnant, toxic bosses, a challenging industry, or changing careers — doesn’t sound as compelling. You can still answer this question in a way that casts you in your best light.  

Think of this interview question as a way to talk about your past work experience and what you’re looking for in your next role. Here’s how a hiring manager and recruiter recommend describing your reasons for leaving a job in an interview. 

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Why do interviewers ask why you’re leaving a job? 

Asking about your reasons for leaving a job is another way of understanding what you’re looking for in your next role. If you describe aspects of the role that didn’t work for you, that can be a signal that you won’t enjoy or adjust to the prospective position. For example, imagine a job seeker says: “The tech stack at my previous job is incredibly outdated and these legacy systems get in the way of any real innovation.” Interviewers might hear that as a sign that the person isn’t willing to adapt to a legacy tech stack or inherit a longstanding codebase. It’s important to think about your answer ahead of time so you don’t inadvertently filter yourself out.   

Apart from the obvious, “Tell me about why you left your last job,” many interviewers will approach this question indirectly. “I might say, ‘The fact that you’re talking to me assumes that you’re either unhappy with what you’re doing or you’re looking for something different,’” says Jean du Plessis, Senior Engineering Manager at cloud platform Upbound. “‘Which one is it?’” 

They might also ask you to walk them through the motivation behind your previous career moves, so be prepared to give your elevator pitch

How to explain why you left a job 

You want to strike a balance between transparency and airing grievances. Interviews aren’t the place to get things off your chest. Some interviewers are sympathetic to challenges like toxic work environments and burnout, but it’s always risky to speak ill of a previous employer. Here are some ways to frame your reasons for leaving a job that will show you in your best light. 

Focus on your pull factors 

Are you running away from your current job, or running towards this new opportunity? In most cases, it’ll be a mix of factors. See if you can classify your motivation as either “push” and “pull” factors, says Lucy Jones, Headhunter and Director of the Executive Search firm Lawson Brooke. “There are always some aspects of your role that are less enjoyable or more frustrating — those are your push factors,” she says. “Your pull factors are things that appeal to you about a new role, like location, flexibility, compensation, or new challenges and opportunities to grow.” If you’re still working out what it is that you dislike about your current work situation, check out these questions to ask yourself when you feel stagnant at work

It’s wise to focus on pull factors, especially where there are elements of the new job description you can refer to as motivators:  

Example: “I’ve been working as a Back-End Engineer in a small startup, which has pushed me to be self-sufficient and learn a lot on my own. I’m excited about working in a more established engineering organization, where I’ll have more resources, opportunities to learn from Senior Engineers, and exposure to other architecture models.” 

Connect your reason to the job you’re applying to 

If you can draw a genuine connection between what is lacking in your current role and the opportunities you see in the new role, that’s a very compelling reason for the interviewer to want to hire you. “I always like it when I hear somebody is leaving somewhere looking for something that I know my environment can offer,” Jean says. 

Example: “My favorite part of being a developer has been interacting with other developers while contributing to open-source projects. I realized that I can make this a bigger part of my formal role by working as a Developer Advocate.”  

If you’re switching careers you can focus on what appeals to you about your target industry and highlight any commonalities between your previous roles and this new opportunity. 

Show your commitment 

When interviewers ask about your reasons for leaving a job, they might be assessing how flaky you are.  

“One of the things I often look for is grit,” says Jean. “I would rather not hire somebody who moved on at the first sign of struggle. So, if you weren’t happy, what did you do to change the environment?” 

If you’re moving on in search of more learning opportunities, Jean also recommends that you describe steps you took in your current role to maximize your potential there. “There’s nothing wrong with moving on, it’s more about the motivation behind it,” he says.  

Keep things positive 

Avoid dwelling on negative aspects of your current role or interpersonal challenges. “Don’t just say that you were unhappy in a position,” Jean says. “Articulate what it was about that role or environment that didn’t work for you and how you expect this new opportunity to be different.”  

Example: “I really want to collaborate closely with customers, but my current organization’s structure doesn’t allow for this. I applied for this role because it involves a rotation in customer support and partnering with early adopters to influence the product.” 

Keep the focus on the future and what you’re excited about with this new opportunity. 

What if you were laid off? 

The reality is that sometimes you don’t leave a job on your own accord. There’s nothing wrong with sharing that you were laid off — there are many excellent candidates out there in the same position as you. Interviewers know the tech landscape has been rocky so it will not be surprising to them. You might say something like, “My department was restructured, and my role was eliminated as a result.” Then, you can shift to focusing on why you’re interested in the new role. Read this blog for more advice about how to talk about an employment gap during your job search.   

Build your interview skills and confidence with our new beta Interview Simulator: Set up a mock interview based on the job title, level, type of interview, and company, then enter your own experience. The AI interviewer is trained to ask intelligent follow-up questions like a real recruiter and will provide you with feedback after the session.  

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