Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?

Continuing with my series on tough interview questions, I’m going to take on one of the tougher ones.  I’ve gotten a variation of this question at least once during each transition from one job to the next.  The interviewer is looking for warning signs.  He or she is trying to make sure you’re not a risk.  They’re also trying to get into your head a little, and see what makes you change jobs.

If you keep nothing else from this article, keep this: Be honest about why you left your last job, but remember you’re selling yourself.  You want them to trust you, but you don’t want to give them a reason to stop considering you for the position.

Let’s look at some of the reasons I’ve given over the years, and see how you can form your answer to this question.

I’ve been in my current position for over 3 years, and while I’ve learned a great deal about Database Development, I’m looking to grow my skills in Database Administration.  At my current employer there isn’t room in the budget to allow me to grow into that position.  I want to find a position that will let me grow my administration skills, and push me to be better than I was yesterday.

I was working in a smaller shop and I wanted to move into a role with more responsibilities.  I had repeatedly been told that the position I was in was the only position available.  I’d tapped out everything I could do in that role….and I wanted more.  My response shows that I push myself harder than the role I’m.  It shows I’m not willing to do an easy job, I want a challenging job.  I also show that I’ve put in time, and I’m not a job hopper.

All of these played really well for me.  I was offered the job, and I moved into that job quickly.  That next role did challenge me for some time.  I did eventually move on.

One of the harder answers to give is one that relates to your salary.  Hiring managers rarely want to hear that you’re looking for more money.  They may think you’re interviewing so that your current employer will be forced into a counter offer.  How you answer salary for this question is challenging, but possible…if you present it with logic and without trash-talking your previous employer.

I really enjoy the people I work with in my current position.  Unfortunately the salary is below the 25th percentile according to salary.com and several recruiting companies in the area.  During reviews I’m consistently “exceeds expectations” and “superb performance”, yet my compensation doesn’t reflect it.  I’ve presented the salary data to my current employer, and the response I’ve been given was I’m already at the top of my pay scale.  They simply cannot offer me any more.  I’m looking to move to an average salary for the work I do.

This response usually moves the hiring manager directly to the question “What salary are you looking for?”  Which is a positive step, if you’re not too early in the interview process.  My response shows that I’ve done my homework, I know what I’m worth in the current market.  Beware answering with salary during economic down times (see the past two years.)  But if you’re interviewing with a well to-do company… You can answer this way and not ruin your chances of being hired.

No matter what, never demean your previous employer.  That reflects poorly on you.  You are the one in front of them, not your previous employer.  Always find the positive spin to your answer.  Keep it light, but remember every word you say is being measured.  And if the interviewer doesn’t like it.  You’re not getting that job.

What answers have you given?  Share them below.  I’d like to find out how you’ve answered before, and how that’s worked out for you.  If you have any questions about how to handle an interview, send them in.  I’m here to help!

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