Why Did You Leave Your Last Job? – No BS Job Search Advice

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter discusses how to answer this tricky interview question.


I want to talk with you today about one of those tough interview questions that are designed to help you hang yourself. The question is, “why did you leave your last job?” And as they asked the question they try to make it seem like you should tell them intimate details of your life that are completely inappropriate to talk about an interview. They act like they want you to confess.

Playing on that, there are two scenarios. The first is, if you got laid off, you you are not obviously going to say, “I was the least productive person in my organization so that was easy for them to choose me.” Obviously that’s not the right answer from your vantage point; from there’s they respond by saying, “okay. Thank you very much.”

In that situation, you talk about an organization was struggling financially and across-the-board cuts and, unfortunately, based upon seniority you are either (A) the least experienced person amongst your peers or (B) one of the more expensive people in the department and they decided, quality of work be damned, they could take out one person and save the money out of that department or three people and they opted for the one. That’s one approach.

Again, if you got laid off to you the most junior, that’s easy. They took a seniority approach. “I was the most junior person in the organization. You is not an issue or my work because all my reviews were terrific. Ultimately they chose me.”

If you are in a situation where you were not laid off, where you had a choice, this is a subtle one.

As you listen to this, remember, I believe in acting over the course of an interview. Thus, you want to act like you are agonizing and going back in time to think about it. You then say something along the lines of, “this was not an easy decision for me. I have gotten frustrated because they saw me as someone who could run this department, be very good as a programmer… Whatever it is… I didn’t want to sit in the same job for the next 20 years of my life. It became real clear to me that that was going to be the case where was. So, after speaking with my manager and he being very clear that this was the plan for me, I decided that, although I like my job, although I like the work I was doing and like the people, I had to think longer term. I start to go out on interviews and organizations saw me very differently. They saw me as someone who had a huge upside. It wasn’t that I was going to come in and do the same thing repetitively, organizations spoke about how they would do career development for me to help with my growth.” That becomes a different approach.

The second scenario is when you were let go, when you had a rough situation he decided to look at other opportunities.

Using myself as an example, I left a firm at one point where I was a top performer. I came to realize I wasn’t getting the support that I wanted or needed to do what I do. Management kept reducing tools and I kept reaching into my own pocket to pay for things. Eventually, I paused and asked myself, “if I’m going to keep doing that, why, if I’m going to be paying for this stuff myself, why am I giving management such a large percentage? If I’m going to do that, why give management such a large percentage of each sale that I do?” So I decide to hang my own shingle up.”

Did you notice what I was doing? I was painting a situation with the story so that it is understandable from the audience’s standpoint.I’m not acting bitter in any way. I’m not speaking harshly; I just decide to explain it in a very forthright way.


Do you think employers are trying to help you? You already know you can’t trust recruiters—they tell as they think you need to know to take the job they after representing so they collect their payday.

The skills needed to find a job are different yet complement the skills needed to do a job.

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter has been a career coach and recruiter for what seems like one hundred years.

JobSearchCoachingHQ.com is there to change that with great advice for job hunters—videos, my books and guides to job hunting, podcasts, articles, PLUS a community for you to ask questions of PLUS the ability to ask me questions where I function as your ally with no conflict of interest answering your questions.

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