Just how honest should you be when asked "why did you leave your last job?" [TWEET]
One of the biggest ironies of job searching is how much easier it is to get a job if you don’t actually need a job. Not only that, the ‘why did you leave your last job’ question is fraught with peril for the job seeker. This is one of those questions that much like the ‘what’s your greatest weakness?’ question, you want to answer with enough honesty to maintain your integrity, but probably are not well served by being completely transparent in some circumstances. To make the minefield even more dangerous is the edict to never, under any circumstances, speak ill of one’s former employer.
So what are your options?
There are a few multi-purpose phrases you can use to explain your departure that are professional, honest and hopefully will extend the interview long enough for you to establish your qualifications and fit for the position.
- “We came to a mutual agreement that this wasn’t a good fit, and I chose to look for positions more in alignment with my skills and values.”
This is appropriate to use if you have been let go or if you resigned from a previous position for any reason.
- “Unfortunately, with the downturn we saw, including the loss of a major contract, the company had to eliminate several key positions, and I realized that it would be in everyone’s best interests if I moved on.”
This is appropriate for lay-off type situations.
- “I realized that the X industry wasn’t the best fit for me, and chose to look for a position that allowed for more X.”
You might say something like this in the event you are making a significant change in career or industry.
At some point, if you are asked a direct question about your departure, it will not be in your best interest to distort the truth. Not only might this come out in a background or reference check, you will likely be asked to sign an application attesting the information you’ve provided is true, and at the end of the day, you don’t want to be worrying about the lie coming out for the duration of your employment. If you have established that you have the skills and abilities for the job, then at the end of the day honesty is the best policy and trust that you will end up in the right job and company if you take the right steps.