"Why did you leave?" 3 Step Plan to a convincing answer
Do you dread this question? - “Why are you leaving your current job?” Or - “Why did you leave your last job?” Often people worry about answering because at the core of the reply is a negative or even emotionally difficult reason. Perhaps you didn’t get on with your boss or a colleague? Maybe you were interviewed for what you considered to be “your own job”? Or - more commonly these days - you were made redundant. If this is the case it’s worth rehearsing what you’re going to say until you’re confident with your answer and you “own” the reasoning behind it. Even if you’re not asked directly at the interview then someone, somewhere will probably ask you. It may be a new colleague when you start the job. It could be a friend or family member. Someone is going to ask you this question. You need to feel comfortable with your short and clear reply. “Comfortable” because it has to be truthful and sound natural and positive. Craft your words carefully to avoid negative words like redundancy, low morale, personality clashes, etc “Short” because the longer your answer the more likely that people become suspicious or that you’ll inadvertently “trip yourself up” by telling more of the story than you need to. The briefer the reply the less chance of follow up clarification questions too. And “Clear” to appear factual and logical. Leave the listener feeling they’ve had a satisfactory reply and, most importantly of all, reassured that there are no potential causes for concern for them. I’d like to suggest a possible 3 step structure:
Step One - “Legacy”
Explain what you’ve helped the organisation achieve. You may even have successes that you alone were responsible for. What will you look back on with a sense of pride at having achieved while you were there? Why is this logically the “right” time to leave? E.g. “If I think back to when I started the job... when i finished it... it’s the right time to handover because... I’ve taken the role from ... to... I will look back knowing that during my time I and / or the organisation has achieved...”
Step 2 - ‘Big Picture”
Take as big a “step back” as you possibly can from your personal situation. Remove all the possible emotional “baggage”. You’re new employer doesn’t want to hear it and wants to feel you’re ready for your next career challenge. Think global context if you have to get a wider perspective - regardless of what your role is or was. What’s happening in the sector? In the local / regional / national / global market place? What direction is the organisation going in that might be moving away from the reason you first joined them? How has your role evolved while you’ve been in it? What impact has that had on you? How close are your skills matched to what the role has become? What’s happened since you left? Or - Likely to happen when you go? Will they replace you with a “like for like” person? Unless they replace your role with someone with exactly the same functions then there was a “restructure” or the company decided “to change their focus”. E.g. “Ultimately the market has changed and the company has restructured in response to... / since I first started there my role has changed from ...to ....after I leave they’re likely to ....”
Step 3 - “Forwards’
This is where you emphasise why the new job is the perfect match to your skills and that your career has brought you to this point. Time to picture yourself in the new role and engage with its key competencies. Your reply should explain the logic of this next career step.
Use reassuring phrases like “return to / do more of” so the listener knows you’ve used the same skills previously. E.g. “I’m really looking forward to this job so I can return to ....do more of... this is a much better match to my x skills and y experience because...”
Remember - when you’ve decided what fits each of the 3 steps above then you’ll need to practise saying it out loud. Maybe get a friend to ask you the previously “dreaded question”, record yourself and listen back to your answer or even just practise in front of a mirror.
So next time someone asks you “why did you leave that job?” you’ll have your ready made, 3 step answer to convince your potential employer... and yourself!