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Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job

Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job

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It’s the interview question we all dread. The one where everyone tells you, “Be honest but don’t be too honest".

That question is: “Why do you want to leave your job?

Deciding how to answer this question can be tricky. There are many good reasons for leaving a job. And, although your potential new employer will understand your desire to move on, they will still want to know your reasons.

Remember, an interviewer can ask this question in many different ways, but your answer should still be roughly the same. Here are some variations you may come across:

  • Why did you leave your previous job?
  • What made you start looking for a new job?
  • You only worked for (number of days/weeks/months) for your last employer. Why?
  • What made you part ways with your last employer?

Good Reasons for Leaving a Job and Ways to Approach It

The way you answer this question depends on your current work situation. For example, if you’re currently employed and looking to leave your job, you’ll tackle it slightly differently (and may find the question easier) than if you’ve already left your previous role and are out of work.

That’s because many employers worry that leaving a job before you find a new role indicates there was a serious issue, and will be on the lookout for replies that point to real problems.

Regardless of your current situation, it’s possible to formulate an effective response that will give future employers the right impression and demonstrate not only your ethics and ambitions, but also your knowledge of the company and how they fit together.

Below are tips on how to structure your reasons for leaving a job, based on different scenarios:

If You Are Currently Employed

You are in a strong position to answer to "why do you want to leave your current job". Be honest about your answer and use your employment as an asset. Tell them that you are looking for a better opportunity and that you are currently on good terms with your employer.

If You Have Been out of Work for Some Time

Yes, there is some explaining to do as to why you have remained unemployed - but don’t present yourself as a victim. The best way to answer is to show that the time you have spent unemployed was productive, i.e. you learned something new that adds to your skill set.

If You Were Fired or Made Redundant From Your Previous Job

If you were made redundant or fired from your previous job, you should focus on two main points:

  1. To avoid blaming your employer for that outcome, and

  2. Stating your experience before getting fired and how you value what you learned during your employment there.

If You Have Changed Your Past Few Jobs Frequently

If you have been a job-hopper, this is the toughest question for you. One way to answer is to state the reasons for leaving a job honestly while saying what you learned – for your current job and the previous one at least.

The second way is to be creative and say that in each case you’ve moved for an evident reason, e.g. career progression, more interesting role, better training etc.

Before You Start

The purpose of this article is to help you express your reasons for leaving a job in a way that will satisfy your current and prospective employers.

Therefore, before reading the top 10 reasons for leaving a job you might want to leave your job, make your own shortlist of reasons (however vague they may be).

Keep them at the forefront of your mind as you read on.

Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job

1. You Are Looking for Opportunities to Progress

For example, you feel you have outgrown your position. Employers will like that you are proactive enough to look for new opportunities, so long as you:

  1. Mention specific career goals – Such as a desire to take on more responsibility.
  2. Appear motivated – Do not imply that you didn’t progress in your last job because you didn’t chase any opportunities.
  3. Don't badmouth your previous employer – Never imply that they were holding you back.

Good answer:

"Although I enjoy my current role, I am looking to accept a bigger challenge and move into a position that allows me more space to develop professionally.”

Bad answer:

“I got passed over for a promotion. I’m fed up with people barely even noticing I exist.”

2. The Company Restructured or the Dynamics Changed

Companies grow and evolve, and internal dynamics change as a result. Acceptable answers for leaving a job will focus on the positives of the situation. Try not to appear resentful or suggest that you were unwilling to try and adapt.

Good answer:

"My team recently downsized and the scope of my responsibilities narrowed. Although this was necessary for the company’s new direction, I think it’s time for me to pursue opportunities which better fit my skill set.”

Bad answer:

“My old manager left, and my new manager is useless.”

3. You Weren’t Enjoying the Work

An employer will be impressed by your motivation to find a career which you enjoy and which fulfils you. After all, a satisfied employee is a productive one. Just make sure you don’t blame your lack of enjoyment on your employer.

Good answer:

“Although I appreciated the opportunity, after reconsidering my long-term goals, I decided I want to pursue a career in social research instead.”

Bad answer:

“I don’t like the job because my manager only gives me boring tasks to do.”

4. Personal Reasons

Family and health always come first and are good reasons for leaving a job. But remember, you do not have to disclose your health problems or disabilities to your employer if you don’t want to. Therefore, be as vague as you like.

“I had family issues which required me to move closer to home.”

“I have to leave this job because of health issues.”

“I decided to be a stay-at-home parent to my children. Now they are in school, I am ready to re-enter the workplace.”

5. You Decided to Pursue Other Goals

Alternative goals might include a total career change, or a return to school to gain further qualifications.

These reasons are acceptable, but make sure you are always focusing on your professional development. For example, if you left your last job to travel the world, focus on your discovery of different cultures, and the life lessons you learned along the way. Don’t focus on the nightly beach parties you attended in Thailand.

Good answers:

“I decided to take a bit of time to re-qualify in social care as this is where my passions lie.”

“I wanted to take a year out to travel so I could learn more about the world. I now want to use what I have learnt in my future career as a teacher.”

Bad answer:

“I inherited some money from my grandparents so I decided to just have a bit of fun for a year.”

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6. You’re Self-Employed or a Part-Timer Looking for Full-Time Employment

Whatever the reason for becoming self-employed or going part-time, a prospective employer will be interested in your decision to return to full-time work. To satisfy them, always give positive reasons for returning.

For example, if you ran your own business which subsequently failed, focus on your entrepreneurial spirit, what you learned from the experience, and how you can bring your new skills to a full-time job.

Good answer:

“I pursued my own business for three years. Unfortunately, the market down-turned and the business became untenable. Despite this, I have gained valuable skills, such as the ability to manage my time well, which I now want to bring to a full-time role.”

Bad answer:

“I tried to run my own business but I wasn’t making any money so I have had to look for a full-time job.”

7. You Want More Flexibility

Perhaps you work odd hours and are looking for a more traditional nine-to-five job. Or maybe you have family responsibilities that mean you need a flexible employer.

This reason needs to be phrased carefully to avoid making you sound unreliable. When applying for jobs:

  • Ensure you recognize the employer’s need for a dedicated employee.
  • Emphasize your ability to manage your time well.
  • Emphasize that you aren’t avoiding responsibility, but ensuring you can balance the demands of your job and your personal life.

Good answer:

“My previous job didn’t allow the flexible schedule I needed to care for my children and focus on my work.”

Bad answer:

“I don’t really want to work so many hours; I’d rather be at home.”

8. You Were Offered a Better Opportunity

Unless you are job-hopping every few months, leaving one job to take up a better opportunity at another company is never a bad thing.

You don’t need to embellish your reasons. A good answer may be:

“A great opportunity came up that I wanted to accept”

9. The Commute to Your Current Job Is Too Long or You Are Being Asked to Transfer Location

A respectable employer understands that a good work/life balance is essential to maintaining happy, productive employees.

Good answer:

“The company is closing its head office and moving to [far away city]. I was offered the opportunity to transfer. However, my family and I would prefer to continue living here.”

Bad answer:

"My company sends me abroad for two weeks every month against my will, and it’s tearing my family apart.”

This answer is bad because it pushes blame onto the employer.

10. You Were Laid off or Fired

Remember, you do not have to disclose to an employer that you were let go from a previous job. However, if you are directly questioned in an interview about how your previous employment ended, it can be difficult to side-step the issue. Sometimes honesty is the best option, though always put a positive spin on the situation.

You were laid off

If you were laid off, the reason was related to the company rather than your performance. For example, the company downsized or restructured. Ensure you mention that you left the employer on good terms.

Good answer:

“Unfortunately my team was absorbed into a larger one and my position became redundant. However, my former employer will be happy to provide a reference.”

You were fired

If you were fired, the reason would have been related to something you did. For example, your performance was not reaching the expectations of your employer.

When expressing this to a prospective employer, do not lie or criticize your employer. Instead, accept any mistakes you made, and explain how you learned from them.

Good answer:

“Shortly after I was hired, my responsibilities progressed beyond my experience level. Although I relished the challenge of learning on the job, I appreciate my employer required someone with more expertise. I am therefore looking for a role which better suits my interests and skills.”

What Not to Say as a Reason for Leaving a Job

In addition to the top 10 reasons for leaving a job above, here are some things you should not say:

  1. Do not criticize your employer. Being critical of your former or current company, boss or colleagues not only looks unprofessional, but will make the interviewer question whether you will be as critical of their company should you get the job – which may well make them think twice about offering it to you.

  2. Do not get defensive. Your interviewer is only trying to get a feel for the kind of employee you might be.

  3. Avoid using unprofessional words such as ‘boring’, ‘annoying’, or ’tedious’ to describe a previous job.

  4. Avoid using company politics as a reason for leaving a job. It can be taken as a criticism of your previous employer.

  5. Don't give vague answers as it will make you sound like you’re not sure of your motivation and therefore of your interest in the job in question. There might be many reasons why you want to leave, but pinpoint two or three positive reasons that you can tailor and relate back to the role you’re interviewing for.

Resist saying how unhappy you are in your current role.

How to Prepare in Advance Your Reasons for Leaving a Job

As with all interview questions, answering honestly is really important – not only to ensure you are a good fit for the company and they for you, but to avoid sounding fake.

For example, many interviewees will happily reply that they are looking for a new challenge. This may be true, but you’ll need to back your answer up with examples of what these challenges are – and how you feel the role in question satisfies that desire - if you want your answer to be effective and convincing.

To prepare, the best thing you can do is spend some time thinking about the real reasons you’re looking to leave or have already left. In many cases, the reasons may not all be positive.

For example, you might be looking to step up into a more senior position and manage a larger team, but you might also have a difficult relationship with your boss that has prompted your decision to leave.

When deciding how to answer, it’s important to present yourself as a positive, proactive and rational person who is leaving a job for the right reasons. As a result, it’s best to avoid listing reasons that reveal issues with other members of staff or with the company overall. If that’s unavoidable, it’s important to put a positive spin on things.

For example, if you’re applying for a role as a manager but have had issues with a more junior colleague, don’t say:

“I really want to leave because of our team assistant, Mark. He just has no idea what he is doing and I end up having to pick up all his work and do it for him, giving me double the workload for the same salary – it’s really frustrating.”

Instead, you could say:

*> “I’ve been working closely with a junior colleague to help him improve his performance and as a result have undertaken additional tasks and responsibilities.

"I’ve really enjoyed being able to mentor and train him and am looking for a new role that will enable me to develop these managerial skills.

"I understand the junior manager role here has two direct reports and I think it would be a great opportunity to use the skills I’ve learned in my current role and develop them to the next level.”*

Effective Examples of Good Reasons for Leaving a Job

Sales Manager (currently employed):

*"I’ve been at the company for four years and have worked my way up from a junior sales role to sales manager in that time.

"Throughout this period, I’ve had the opportunity to develop my sales skills and have worked with, and now managed, an incredible team that has consistently beaten its targets by up to 30% every quarter under my leadership.

"Having achieved what I set out to do, I feel that the skills and experience I’ve gained there have equipped me to take the next step in my career.

"I’m ready to tackle bigger challenges in a more senior regional sales role. This position in particular really appeals to me, as it will enable me to use my existing experience to take the step up to managing a larger team, while using my strategic planning skills to help the company beat targets across a wider product range."*

Financial Advisor (not currently employed):

*"I worked at my last company for 18 months and I learned a lot in that time. When the company was taken over by GTV Banking, restructuring meant that there were a number of redundancies across several departments.

"In my department six out of twelve personnel were made redundant, all of whom were juniors. I’m really happy that I had the chance to work there, though, as it gave me a wealth of experience and enabled me to put what I learned during my internships into practice.

"In addition, the redundancy enabled me to seek out a new challenge with this additional experience.

"The role here appeals to me as I'll be able to use the client advisory experience I have, while developing in a larger team and gaining skills thanks to your training and development programme. I’ve heard great things about how the company invests in its staff and the training opportunities on offer and that’s something I’m really keen to find in my next role."*

Supply Chain Manager (currently employed):

*"I’ve been at my current company for two and a half years and I’ve gained a huge amount of experience in food supply chain and logistics, going from managing a supply chain of four suppliers and seven distributors to ten suppliers, eighteen distributors and a fleet of delivery vehicles.

"Having seen our annual turnover increase by 22%, I’m now keen to put my skills to work for a larger company with more scope for progression.

"I’m excited by this role as I know it is one that has been created to facilitate the company’s development into food and beverage sales. It looks like a role with huge scope for development, one that I can really get my teeth into and that will make use of the in-depth experience and contacts I have in the food and beverage industry, which is exactly what I’m looking for."*

Developer (out of work for some time):

“I have been unemployed for six months because I chose to be so. I’m lucky enough that I was able to raise enough surplus income from my previous role to mean I didn’t have to work for a while – so I took that opportunity to live in Thailand and teach myself some new programming languages, via a combination of self-teaching and online courses.

"Given that this role requires knowledge of Python, which was one of the languages I learned and have since used, I wouldn’t be here today in this interview if I hadn’t taken that time off to recharge and re-educate myself.”*

How to Explain Your Reasons for Leaving a Job: Top Tips

Now you can express your reasons for wanting to leave your job, here are some tips for success in three vital contexts.

1. Reason for Leaving a Job on Application

In addition to a resume and a cover letter, many companies also require you to fill in a formal job application, which might include the question “Why do you want to leave your job?”.

  • First, ensure your answer is consistent with the rest of the application. If you answer a question on career goals with, “I want to pursue a career in sealife conservation,” do not later say, “I left my last job because I hated rescuing turtles”.

  • Second, keep it brief, but ensure you can expand on your reason for leaving a job on application in your job interview. The job application is often a jumping off point for your interviewer’s questions. Don’t say you left to pursue other goals if you don’t actually have any goals to discuss.

  • Finally, focus on your professional development, skills and career goals rather than your previous employer’s shortcomings.

2. Answering the Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Your interviewer is asking the ‘reasons for leaving a job’ interview question to discover:

  • Whether you left your last job for the right reasons. Your interviewer wants to know that you will be a loyal, dedicated employee.

  • Whether you left of your own volition. If you were let go, your interviewer will try to gauge whether you had any performance issues that might affect you in this job.

  • Whether you are on good terms with your previous employer. If you are, this suggests you are adept at maintaining relationships.

Follow-up Questions to Anticipate

Depending on your reasons for leaving a job, your interviewer is likely to ask you some follow-up questions. For example:

“Did you try to resolve the situation with your employer before leaving your job?”

Here your interviewer will want to find out whether you resolve conflicts proactively and professionally.

  • Ensure you do not blame your issues on your previous employer.

  • Give specific examples of how you tried to resolve your issues. For example, “I discussed the possibility of moving to a role within the sale team with my manager. However, no position was available. My best option was therefore to pursue other opportunities.”

“Why did you apply for this position?”

  • Do your reasons for leaving your last job coincide with your application for this job?

  • For example, “I am prepared to manage larger projects than are available at my current job. I applied for this position because I would be taking the lead on four to six major projects a year”.

“What are your expectations for your next role?”

  • As above, you need to link the reasons for leaving your last job with your reasons for applying for this job.

  • For example, you could mention the opportunities for progression, or the opportunity to take on a management role.

3. Reason for Leaving Current Job Best Answers

It is vital to give your manager valid reasons when informing them you want to leave your job because:

  • You want a good reference.
  • Your reputation as an employee could reach the ears of prospective employers.

Here are some tips for telling your current employer you want to leave:

  1. Prepare thoroughly – Consult your employee handbook and familiarize yourself with your notice period. Write detailed notes of your reasons for leaving so you don’t forget anything. Make an appointment with your manager in a private room so you can talk at length without being disturbed.

  2. Be honest, confident and direct – Tell your manager directly that you want to leave. Don’t embellish your reasons or act like you don’t have a choice but to leave. It is better to say, “I’ve accepted another opportunity” rather than, “I’ve received another offer. I can’t say no. My family needs to eat. Surely you understand?"

  3. Be appreciative – Thank your manager for anything you gained from this job, such as specific training or relationships you built with colleagues.

  4. Don’t burn bridges – Don’t imply you can’t wait to escape the company. You might need to call upon your connections in the future.

  5. Tie off the loose ends – Discuss how you will manage your last few weeks at the company. For example, if you need to distribute your workload to colleagues.

Final Thoughts

This article has outlined the top 10 reasons for leaving a job you may want to leave your job, and how to approach the situation in three different contexts. You now have the tools to express your own reasons sufficiently, but here are some key points to remember as you go:

  • Keep your answer brief and straightforward. The more details you provide, the more room you create for the interviewer to ask potentially awkward questions.
  • Never disparage your employer.
  • Focus on what you learned, rather than ranting about what you lost.
  • Make sure your answer is consistent across your job application, interview and when you tell your current employer you want to leave.
  • And, most importantly, be honest but positive.

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