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You're Leaving and They Want to Know Why

After "What salary are you looking for?" the interview question job seekers most often agonize over is "Why did you leave your job?" For most of us, it's tough to try to explain to an outsider why we left (or are looking to leave) our most recent positions. Whether it was a matter of clashing opinions, suffering from a too-long commute, not being challenged, or having been laid off, the best method you can use to answer this frequently asked question is to be honest.

Here are some ideas for responding when the interviewer asks about your reasons for leaving:

  1. Tell the truth: Focus only on the facts behind what happened and what you did.
  2. Describe the reason for your departure directly and succinctly.
  3. Resist the urge to speculate on the motives or feelings of the other people involved in the events affecting your departure.
  4. Demonstrate a confident willingness to provide references to support your reasons for leaving.
  5. If your leaving was a result of a personality clash or you were released for a performance- or competence-related reason, describe what you learned from the incident to demonstrate that you learn from experience and remain optimistic in spite of it.
  6. Look the interviewer in the eye when responding. This will convey your confidence, communicate that what you're saying is honest, and show you have nothing to hide.

Here's an example to get you on the right train of thought:

Q: So Mr. Job Seeker, what led you to start searching for a new job?

A: My working style and my department leader's management style never aligned well, and we concluded that both of us would be better served if I took my talents elsewhere. As difficult as it was, I've come to appreciate that experience because it reminded me how important it is to communicate openly and to find a good workplace fit in order to contribute my best work.

Employers don't expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be honest. You're human, after all, and so are they. They, too, have left or been released from jobs. So the best rule of thumb when you answer this or any complicated interview question is to be honest, succinct, state only the facts, and be positive. The interviewers will appreciate it.

How have you handled a similar situation in a job interview?

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