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Why did you leave your previous job? - The question recruiters love to ask but one that interviewees are not too keen on answering

Aug 13, 2020

An interview is like an adventure, and at the end of this adventure we hope to receive a reward − a desired job. But on our journey we can sometimes meet many obstacles, such as, what questions are you going to be asked by the recruiter. Some questions may be simple and straightforward, but others may be complex, and frankly, terrifying to some. Let's check out one of the most challenging questions that you are likely to be asked at all interviews − “Why did you leave your previous job?”

This question is the type of question that is going to determine how your interview, and the outcome of this interview, will turn out. If your answer does not satisfy the recruiter, then in some cases the recruiter will try and delve deeper into your reasons, and all further dialogue in your interview is built around this topic. In this type of situation you may miss the opportunity to prove yourself and show your best qualities to the recruiter, because they end up focusing too much on why you left your last job. You do not want to be stuck talking about why you left your last job, you need to be telling the recruiter why you are the best candidate for the job you are being interviewed for.

So, how do you answer this challenging question without making yourself look bad, and ultimately, leaving the recruiter happy and wanting to employ you?

Do not criticize your previous employer

The first and foremost rule is that you should never speak badly about your previous employer. 

Of course, you might think negatively about your previous employer but this is where it stops. The recruiter you are talking to does not need to hear you bad-mouthing a previous employer. 

In fact, if you do speak ill of a previous employer a recruiter might project these thoughts of yours onto his/her company, and thus noting that you may not work well with colleagues and management.

Do not lie about why you left your previous job

While we are not always proud of how and why we left a job, we should not just make a random story up in order to cover up the truth about why we left. 

Always remember that a recruiter can always call your former boss up and ask them to tell them the reason(s) why you left their organization.

Imagine the recruiters reaction when they hear that you have lied. This would not present you in the best light, and this lying would likely be a major put-off for the company who’s looking to hire you.

Do not duck out of hard questions

Do not try to duck out of difficult questions. Yes, they might be hard to answer, and they might stir up some negative emotions within you, but you must answer them to the best of your ability. Remember to speak directly, clearly, avoid giving formulaic answers, do not talk about your weaknesses, and do not shift the blame for your failures onto your former boss or colleagues.

Remember that the recruiter has a specific goal in mind when asking you about why you left your previous job. The recruiter seeks to find out the true reasons why you left so that they can build a bigger picture of who you are, and how you are likely to behave if you were hired by their organization. Trying to avoid questions, is like trying to hide something in the eyes of the recruiter. 

Always remember, that a recruiter can go and check how accurate your stories are with a former boss and colleagues. 

What to do?

There are many options that can help you to create a better answer for this question. They can be summarized as follows:

  • Name at least one positive reason why you left your previous job.
  • Make sure you highlight your strengths.
  • Be positive.
  • Be honest and open about why you are the best candidate for the job.
  • If the interview starts to turn sour, and the situation becomes stressful for you, remember, do not lose your temper, keep calm, respond to the questions with dignity, and you will definitely be appreciated.

Important points to consider

You can start preparing your answer to this question well in advance of your interview by placing the details on your CV. You can fill in as much, or as little, detail on your CV as you like. So, the fuller and richer in detail your CV is the less likely it will be for the recruiter to pick holes in it. Try to write your CV so that there are no unexpected curveball questions that could be asked in an interview.

Additionally, you should practice your answer to this challenging question in advance. Using a voice recorder can help you with this. Simply write down your answer, record yourself, and listen to it back, you’ll soon hear how sincere you sound. You can then make improvements from here. 

Remember, preparation is your competitive advantage when going to an interview, so take the time to prepare and to practice.

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