How to Answer Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?” (Ultimate Guide)

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Welcome back to our interview question guide series! We have already tackled a few other questions in full detail (you can check them out here). Today, we will dive into one of the most interesting-yet-stump-worthy interview questions “Why did you leave your last job?”

Unless you have just begun your soiree into the working world (congratulations and welcome to adulthood), then you have a previous job before the one you’re interviewing for. Overall, that’s kind of how it works. Unfortunately, not all resignations are made equally. Not all resignations stem from positive separations. In fact, most of them are due to negative situations. Most likely, you left your last job for reasons that led to unhappiness.

The common negativity due to quitting or being fired from a job can seem like a landslide of red flags and eye-brow-raising character traits. It seems like a trap door. A question an interviewer asks to figure out all of your bad qualities as an employee. Ultimately, there may appear to be no answer that can swindle you out of a fatalistic light.

Fortunately, there is a way to answer the “Why did you leave your last job?” with both positivity and honesty, even if things ended badly. As a staffing agency, we have to ask this question often. Not to say we are experts (we kinda are), but we know the right way to answer the question.

Let’s get into it.

Why Ask the Question?

“Why did you leave your last job?” may seem like a trick question, used to hoodwink you into selling yourself short. Sure, there is a bit of trickery involved in asking the question, but you must realize the reasoning. An employer is about to use time and resources on hiring you; they want to make sure to cross their t’s and dot their i’s. The interviewer wants to make sure this budding relationship will be beneficial to them. Wasting company time and resources on hiring a bad employee can be detrimental.

Ultimately, the hiring manager asks you this question to get a sense of what type of employee you are. Figuring out why you left your last job can give a hint at your work ethic, ambitions and potential pay grade.

For example, through your answer, the hiring manager can find out if you are lazy, want to strive for a better position or want more money than you received before.

When an employer asks a candidate about their former resignations, they are gauging what their future may look like with the candidate. They are trying to dictate if the candidate leaves on good terms, strives to further their career and is honest.

The candidate’s answer to this question says a lot about them. Not only does it unveil red flags if they lost their last job, but it displays honesty and drive. Henceforth, it’s not as much of a psychological test as it may appear.

Information regarding your former working relationship with another company may seem like private business. It is entirely legal for a potential employer to ask about your former resignation.

The only illegal questions during a job interview are ones regarding race, gender, disabilities, genetic information, marital status and religion.

So, no. You cannot get out of answering why you left your previous job by claiming a filibuster.

Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Before crafting and practicing your answer (we will get to that next) it’s crucial to understand why exactly you resigned from your last position. Consequently, there may be a multitude of reasons that you decided to move on, but it’s important to focus on a specific, underlying reason.

While speaking of resignations may seem to always be negative, there are a few reasons to leave your job that will bode well in your new interviews. For example, these reasons may be:

  • You wanted to grow in your industry and couldn’t at your last job.
  • You wanted to strive for a higher salary.
  • You were let go due to reasons outside of your control (i.e. layoffs, COVID situation, company closing).
  • You went back to school to continue towards a degree.

Examples like these don’t carry as many negative connotations as getting fired or quitting due to drama. If your answer seems valid in a positive manner like the ones above, you won’t need to follow up with as much explanation. On the other side of the coin, being fired from your last position requires a bit of clarification.

Plan Ahead

This is a tip that will find its way into every single interview guide, but it’s crucial to understand.

Overall, you want to have the overview of your answer planned out in your head before you enter the interview. On the contrary, you do not want to have a rehearsed speech. Confusing? Kind of.

While you can’t determine exactly which questions the interviewer is going to ask, there will be some sort of question that falls within the same category. Even questions regarding what you are looking for in your new job or new role play into the reasoning that you left your previous employer. In the timeline of careers, everything falls into cause and effect. The reason you are looking for a new job is a key part of the story and needs to be understood from a personal perspective before you can move on to better things.

That all sounded like waxing poetic. Let me break it down:

We stated that you need to understand why you left your previous job before planning for an interview. This self-reflection is crucial for paving the path for a better future. Even if you left your previous job due to boredom, you still need to understand what caused the boredom. With this information, you can work to make sure your next job doesn’t end the same way.

Your Answer Should Be Thought-Out

While you never want to answer an interview question with a prepared speech, you should take the time to practice answering “Why did you leave your last job?” before entering the application process. Ultimately, you should practice every question, but this specific inquiry requires a bit more grace.

Messing up a more general interview question like “What is your working style?” can be cast off as fumbling under pressure or being caught off-guard (though you should never be). Messing up “Why did you leave your last job?” is a bit more problematic. Stumbling through your answer may come off as lying or fabricating the truth. While lying is bad for any interview question, it’s specifically bad for one regarding your previous resignation.

All in all, this should be one of the questions that you plan the most before going into an interview.

Your Answer Should Not Be Longer Than 2 Minutes!

We often use this rule of thumb regarding every interview answer.

Every interview question answer should be brief and precise (hence practicing). Rambling shows a sense of unpreparedness and lack of focus. You want to pinpoint your answer, speak clearly and articulate your point quickly.

Sure. A previous resignation could probably stem into a whole conversation about what went wrong and what your ideal future holds. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to craft a detailed autobiography about your working life. Some resignations (especially getting fired) may require a bit more explanation than others, but you should still stay under two minutes.

If the interviewer has more questions about the subject, they will ask them later.

Be Positive

Before we even delve into example answers, there are a few things to get out of the way.

Your answer should ALWAYS be positive. We cannot bold and underline this adjective enough. Positive, positive, positive.

One of the biggest damnations of interviews is speaking negatively about yourself, previous employers, or previous coworkers. There should never be a single bad phrase leaving your lips. It’s that simple. This is not your time to hop on a soapbox and rant about your former coworkers. This is not the time to explain how you left your previous job because your boss was seedy, your company was distasteful, or your job was excruciating.

Not only does expressing negativity make you seem like a negative and/or toxic employee, but it crushes your first impression. Bad-mouthing your previous employer does not do the damage you believe it would. It hurts you, not the former company.

Yes, sometimes you may have to speak between clenched teeth and bitten tongues, but it’s necessary here. Never lie (we’ll get to that), but try to be as unbiased as possible in your answer.

There Are Some Scenarios

This is a tough one.

Sometimes it may be necessary to discuss a negative situation that happened at your former workplace. These cases are extremely unique and still should be handled with grace.

Let’s use a fairly drastic example to show this point. Let’s say you were let go from your last job because you fought against company harassment. Welcome to a tricky situation. You don’t want to speak negatively, but you have to, in a sense. You should still go about answering the question delicately. State the facts, not the emotions.

Which is a fantastic segue into…

State the Facts

The easiest way to avoid expressing negativity is to avoid emotions altogether.

Unless you absolutely adored your last job and employer and want to explain all the wonderful things about the job, it’s useful to avoid emotions. Stick to the facts and just the facts. Giving opinions may end up biting you in the tail later.

Simply state why you left. No opinions, just facts. This provides a clear and honest answer that skirts around saying something that paints you in a negative light.

State, Don’t Rant

Furthermore, your answer should be well-thought-out and precise.

Not only does ranting show that you are quick to express toxic information, but it also makes you seem unprepared for the interview. Be swift and informative.

If you follow the two-minute rule and practice your answer beforehand (but don’t recite a speech), then you should have no problem staying within the lines of statement. Ranting looks bad regardless of what you are ranting about.

Tips on What to Say in Your Answer (With Examples)

We keep saying to not rant in your answer. Ironically, it seems as if we have been ranting about the subject up until this point.

Let’s get into the real thing. “Why did you leave your last job?”

Remember, this is not one-size-fits-all. Consequently, to create an example, we are going to focus on one reason for resignation and go from there. While this may not give you an exact answer to follow, it will give you an idea of how to craft and work through your answer.

For this example, we are going to use the aspect of leaving your last job for new opportunities. In this situation, we felt as if we didn’t have room to grow in our last position and are looking for a new way to advance our career. Overall, this is a common reason that people move on to new opportunities.

1. Start With a Compliment

There’s a common motif in human expression that involves stating something nice before you state something mean. Always open with a compliment, even if you are speaking about your former employee.

If you have absolutely nothing good to say about your former employee, then open with a positive note about your previous position. For example, if you enjoyed what you were doing as a manager there, then state that. State that you really enjoyed being a leader and a member of the team.

If you did enjoy your former company, open with a quick statement about why. Maybe you truly enjoyed the work and supervisors. Note that. Not only does this show recognition of your former team (which demonstrates teamwork skills) but it also shows your positivity out of the gate.

Side Note: Don’t say the word ‘quit’. Use words like resigned or left. Quit carries a negative connotation.


First off, I absolutely loved my last job as a graphic designer. I enjoyed working with my team and excelled in the tasks given to me.

Right off the bat, we displayed positivity, teamwork skills and humility. Furthermore, we didn’t get into any specifics regarding the company or any negative aspects. We liked the role and liked being a part of a working team. It’s quick and easy. It avoids any pitfalls of bashing others.

2. Time for the But Statement

Now it’s time to get into the nitty-gritty. It’s time to include the ‘but’ statement.

Even if you loved your previous job, there’s a reason you are not there anymore. Remember that this is a concept you should think about and understand within yourself before entering an interview. Why exactly did you leave your last job?

It’s possible that you left your job because you believed it was boring, but the true reason stems from a distaste for the industry itself. It’s all situational. Overall, we are complex beings with complex emotions. Take the time to figure this out.

Regardless, it’s time to state why you left your previous job.


Despite enjoying the job, I decided to part ways with the company because I wanted to grow in my position. There wasn’t an open path at the company to advance in my career, and I always strive to move forward.

Ultimately, we avoid badmouthing the company and specific details that may be seen as ranting. We state the reason with swiftness and move on to speak about the future. This shows honesty, maturity and the ability to not dwell on the past.

Also, in a sly bonus attack, we complimented ourselves by stating that we are always looking to advance our careers. We just showed the interviewer that we are ambitious. Boom!

3. Talk About the Future

The reason for our past is to help us build a better future. Discussing your future is critical in answering the question at hand.

Discussing your future shows a multitude of things to the hiring manager. Firstly, it shows that you do not dwell on the past and negativity. It also shows that you have taken the time to learn from your experiences and have figured out how to apply them to your future. You are mature and introspective.

Secondly, it shows that you do not believe in focusing on negativity. You focus on the facts and your ambition. You left the job for this reason, and now it’s time to worry about what’s next. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact psychological aspect that this adheres to but trust us. It allows the hiring manager to breathe easily. You are focused on the new job you are applying for.

Thirdly, it gives the interviewer a look into your core values and what you are looking for in your next job. This may be more of a benefit to them, rather than you, but it does allow things to be cleared up quickly. If the interviewer decides they cannot adhere to what you are looking for in a new job, then you dodged a bullet. You will not get stuck in a similar situation as the last job.


Therefore, I am looking for a job where I have the room to grow my abilities and position. I want to continue to build upon my career in graphic design, and I believe that I can do this here with your company.

We stated what we learned from our last resignation and what we are looking for in our career going forward.

4. Put it All Together

Now we have got all the pieces. Let’s see our finished product.

Of course, the specifics and styles will be different for everyone. Our example didn’t involve a specific industry or other reasons for why you would leave a job. Fill those in as needed. Overall, this is the easiest and most effective way to structure your answer to “What did you leaver your last job?”.


First off, I absolutely loved my last job as a graphic designer. I enjoyed working with my team and excelled in the tasks given to me. Despite enjoying the job, I decided to part ways with the company because I wanted to grow in my position. There wasn’t an open path at the company to advance in my career, and I always strive to move forward.

Therefore, I am looking for a job where I have the room to grow my abilities and position. I want to continue to build upon my career in graphic design, and I believe that I can do this here with your company.

This answer is to the point, doesn’t express negative emotions about the company and displays your hopes for the future.

Furthermore, it’s well under two minutes.

Tips on What to Say in Your Answer if You Were Fired (With Examples)

We are not here to judge you on your mistakes or faults. We are here to help you win your dream job, regardless of how your last job ended.

Sometimes we find ourselves in testy situations. Sometimes we find ourselves making mistakes that lead to losing jobs. This is one of the beautiful aspects of human life. We get to live and learn.

Henceforth, it you lost your previous job due to being fired, you have to find a way to answer the interview question with grace. Ultimately, you want to show that you made a mistake and that you have learned from it. You do not want that mistake to damn you and immediately ruin all chances of getting the new job. It’s tough, but with enough clarity and humility, it’s possible.

For this example, we will say that we lost our previous job due to poor attendance.

1. Start With Being Fired

In our other example answer, we started with a compliment to the previous work or company. It’s possible to do this again, but it can come across as dancing around the main point. Ultimately, it’s important to rip the bandage off immediately.

Open with stating that you were let go by your previous company. Starting with this shows honest and maturity. You don’t want to seem hesitant to admit your mistakes.

Remember to avoid talking negatively about yourself or your former employee. State why you were fired, but don’t go into dirty details or blame others. You want to show that you are ready to move forward.


Unfortunately, I was let go from my previous position after three years due to poor attendance.

It’s that simple. You said why you were fired without going into negative details about yourself. You didn’t blame anyone else.

Furthermore, if you were at the position for a long time (for example, we said three years), that’s important to note. It shows that despite being fired, you were a dependable worker for quite some time. You weren’t fired in your first month.

2. Own Up to the Mistake

Now is not the time to go into excuses about why you did the fireable offense. Maybe you have a reason. Maybe you had a newborn child and had trouble getting adjusted to the new lifestyle. Or maybe you had transportation issues.

None of this matters.

Coming up with excuses makes you look like you haven’t fully accepted ownership of your mistakes. If you were fired, your best chance of winning a new job is to admit you were wrong and that you have learned from it. You don’t want to give off reasons. There is no reason to get into detail. If the interviewer wants to know more, they will ask.


I made a mistake. I took the job for granted and completely own up to my actions. There is no ill-will towards the company and completely understand their decision.

You realize you were in the wrong and you are not looking to bash anyone for your own mistakes. Be humble.

3. Going Forward

These example answers have been fairly short. There’s a solid reason for the brevity. Ultimately, you do not want to dwell on why you were fired. You were let go and you have learned from the mistakes.

The point now is not to convince the interviewer that you didn’t do something wrong, but to convince them that it won’t be a problem in the future. Basically, they don’t care about what you did at your last job, they care about what you are going to do at their workplace. Confirm to them that this won’t be a problem.


I have learned from this mistake through introspection and plan to never continue the same actions going forward. I believe in the concept of learning from your missteps, and I have done so from here on.

You have admitted your mistakes, stated that you have learned from them and that you won’t continue them going forward.

You have been honest and forthright. Unfortunately, you were fired from your last job. You have asked for a chance to prove that you have improved as a worker. At this point, be humble and honest is all that you can do.

4. Put it All Together

Your final answer should be brief and honest. You need to explain that you are going to improve in that area and that you understand your mistakes. Furthermore, you did not go into a rant or try to shift the blame unto someone else.

As stated, this is truly the only way you can go about answering “Why did you leave your last job?” if you were fired for mistakes. You should not lie and you should not go into details that hurt your reputation. To be sorry, you must truly be sorry. Now it’s time to ace the rest of the interview.


Unfortunately, I was let go from my previous position after three years due to poor attendance. I made a mistake. I took the job for granted and completely own up to my actions. There is no ill-will towards the company and completely understand their decision.

I have learned from this mistake through introspection and plan to never continue the same actions going forward. I believe in the concept of learning from your missteps, and I have done so from here on.

Important Things to Remember

– Be Honest

All in all, the key here is to be honest. There are various reasons for leaving a job and not all of them are scarlet letters. If, for some reason, your last split was negative, explain to them why. But, don’t go off on a tangent about why you were right in the situation (tangents are always red flags). If you messed up, you messed up. Tell them what you’ve learned and how you expect to grow from the experience.

Remember, it’s possible that if you listed your former employer as a reference, the interviewer already knows why you split. Nothing comes from lying. Keep things brief and try to stay as positive about yourself as possible. Try not to spiral into giving excuses for yourself.

While it’s unlikely that a potential employer will check in with your former employer, they may. If they find out you’re lying about your resignation, then you will lose your job opportunity immediately. Just be honest.

– Confidence Sells

Confidence is the most critical attribute to portray when entering a job interview. Sure. You don’t want to sound braggadocious, but you do want to be sure of your abilities.

Be confident in yourself. Remember who you are and all that you can achieve. You can do this.

When answering “Why did you leave your last job?”, you need to remain brief and confident, especially if you left for negative reasons. Yes, you were fired. But you are sure in your abilities and your improvement going forward.

– Be Professional

Humor is great and all, but know how to read a room. If you have to wonder if a joke is appropriate, it isn’t.

Remember that this is a job interview, not a first date. Yes, you want to portray some personality, but you also want to get hired. Do not make any jokes when answering “Why did you leave your last job?”.

– Take a Pause

Don’t find yourself rambling early into the interview. If it takes you a second to figure out why you did leave your job, that’s okay.

You can practice your speech repeatedly and still get caught off-guard once it’s showtime. If the interviewer asks the question and your mind immediately blanks, it’s okay to pause and think for a second. I promise it doesn’t look as weird as you think it does. Also, it’s not as long of a pause as it feels.

Take a second, breathe and formulate your response. If you did your research (especially reading this giant article) you’ll know what to do and say.

– You’ve Got This!

Remember your worth! You can do it. Yes, you did leave your last job, but that’s completely normal.

It’s just an interview and a chance to tell them about yourself. It will only last a few minutes. Then you’ll be back to your life (hopefully with a new job). You will make it through, I promise.

If the interview doesn’t work out, that’s okay. There are always job opportunities out there. Keep going.