1. Career Advice
  2. Career development
  3. How can you clarify your reasons for leaving a job?
How can you clarify your reasons for leaving a job?

How can you clarify your reasons for leaving a job?

Artwork by: Antonina Kasyanikova

  • Why employers want to know why you’re leaving current job
  • 10 Valid reasons to leave your job
  • How to answer, “Why are you leaving your job?” in an interview
  • Define your goals
  • Be positive
  • Be honest
  • How to explain why you’re leaving your current job on a job application
  • What not to say about leaving your last job
  • 5 Example answers to “Why did you leave your last job?”
  • 1. You want to make more money.
  • 2.  You’re looking to move up the career ladder.
  • 3.  You just hated your job.
  • 4. You didn’t like your manager/boss
  • 5. You were laid off
  • Key takeaways

If you’re interviewing for a job, you might be asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” The answer doesn’t have to be scary. If you’re prepared, you can provide an answer that is honest, professional, and sets you up for success. In this article, we’ll discuss the best ways to share your reasons for leaving a job during an interview, including tips, expert advice, and example answers that will help you shine.

If you’re looking for a new job, chances are that at some point you’ll be asked, “Why are you leaving your current job?” This isn’t a “gotcha” question — the interviewer wants to know more about your goals, values, expectations, and how you handle challenging environments. Most everyone will change jobs multiple times in their careers, so this isn’t an unusual situation. Remember, you have your reasons, but this isn’t carte blanche to complain about your boss or co-workers. The best way to answer this question is in a positive, professional manner to help the hiring manager see that you’re serious about moving on. 

In this article we’ll discuss how you can clarify your reasons for leaving a job, including:

  • Why employers ask why you’re leaving your current job

  • What are good reasons to leave a job?

  • How to explain why you’re leaving your current job in an interview

  • What not to say in an interview or on an application

  • Examples of answers to why you’re leaving your job

Why employers want to know why you’re leaving current job

Unlike answers to behavioral or situational interview questions, the answer to this question doesn’t require a “story,” but you should still have an answer prepared that is clear, concise, and framed positively. By providing legitimate, concrete reasons, you're helping interviewers understand what career engagement and fulfillment look like to you while clarifying your short and long-term goals as well as what you're looking for in your next position.

10 Valid reasons to leave your job

Before you can answer why you’re leaving your job, you need to take some time to do a personal inventory and understand exactly why you want to make a change. You need to be clear about what you’re looking for, what your requirements are, and the type of position or company that can meet those expectations. And this isn’t just for your benefit — the company you’re interviewing with will want to have solid reasons to take a chance on you, as well.

The top 10 reasons for leaving your job include:

  1. Your company is “restructuring.” If you’re moved to a different department due to department elimination, your new job might be very different from the one you had.

  2. You want to advance your career. Your company may not offer advancement opportunities, in which case, it might be time for something new.

  3. You’re working for a “toxic boss.”  There’s no reason to be unhappy in a bad working environment. If you’re dealing with low company morale, employee insecurity or fear, continual turnover, or even inconsistent communication from management, it may benefit your well-being to leave your position. 

  4. You’re looking for more professional development opportunities. If your current company doesn’t offer chances to pursue professional development opportunities to enhance your career, finding a position with a new company might be the right move for you.

  5. You need a different work environment. Even if it’s a great company, if it doesn’t suit you, it’s time for a change.

  6. You need better compensation. It might be time to utilize your skills and experience to obtain a position that pays more. That’s a valid move, and is a top reason many people seek new jobs.

  7. You want to be your own boss. You may feel it’s time to start your own business, which will give you more say in how your career progresses.

  8. You need more flexibility in scheduling or workplace location. If you need a more flexible schedule (for whatever reason), you should seek out a position that fits your needs.

  9. You feel “burned out.” Maybe you've been doing the same work for a long time and need a change of venue, with new challenges and experiences, or perhaps you even want to move to a new city. The desire for a sense of purpose or fulfillment may motivate you to find a new job.

  10. You furthered your education. If you go back to school and earn an additional degree or professional certification, you might want to pursue a new job that will enable you to leverage your new credentials.

Expert Tip

Vicki Salemi, an NYC-based career expert (and former corporate recruiter), says you should ask yourself if you feel valued in your current position: “If the opposite rings true, and if you’ll be worse off if you stay than if you leave not only [in terms of] your bank account, but also your career,” Salemi recommends taking some time each month or quarter to take inventory of your goals. “Ask yourself, ‘What are my goals? What do I truly want? What work do I want to do, and for whom and where?’” The bottom line is that you have to do what’s right for you. Leaving a position that is keeping you from reaching your goals might just be what you need to take control of your career path.

How to answer, “Why are you leaving your job?” in an interview

Before you can construct your answer, you’ll need to do a little homework. Overall, remember to be truthful, stay positive, and focus on the future.  Here’s some tips to help frame your answer.

Define your goals

Take inventory of all the reasons you’re looking to leave your current job. If you’re struggling to find a reason, consider the following prompts to help you:

  • What are my values?

  • Where do I want to be in 5-10-20 years?

  • What kind of environment am I looking for? What are my needs?

  • How do I relate to my colleagues and supervisors?

  • What industry do I want to work in?

  • How do you feel about your current company’s mission statement?

  • How does your current position align with these answers?

You should focus on reasons that are more professional instead of personal. While you might be looking for a new job because of a recent life change — and this is a valid reason — you should frame your answers to highlight your career goals rather than personal needs.

Keep your answer concise and relevant. While you want to provide a complete answer, keep your answer to no more than two or three sentences. Then steer the discussion back to why you’re the best candidate for the position.

Be positive

Even if your reasons for leaving your current job are negative, put a positive spin on it. Companies are looking for people who will support morale, so even if you are leaving because of a difficult environment or other issues, structure your answer to be encouraging or optimistic. 

For example, instead of saying that you felt you were undervalued by your current employer, you can instead say that your values did not align with that of the company, and then talk about the skills you developed in your current job, professional relationships, or productive dealings with clients.

Be honest

But don’t give away too much information. The interviewer doesn’t need to know your life story. Even if you're unhappy with your current job, you shouldn't badmouth your employer. Remember, this potential employer may contact your current employer, so what you say should line up with what they’ll say. Also, people talk, so if you’re dishonest in your interview, it might come back to hurt your chances of getting another job. 

Statistical Insight

According to the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, about 50.5 million people quit their jobs in 2022, beating out the 47.8 million in 2021. The vast majority of people who leave their jobs do so to take other opportunities, not to exit the workforce entirely.

How to explain why you’re leaving your current job on a job application

Interviews aren’t the only time you might have to explain why you’re leaving your current job. When you fill out an employment application, employers will often ask for the reason why you left each of your previous positions. But if they don’t, you’re not obligated to provide one. You’re also not required to put it on your resume.

Try to avoid the word “quit” when you can, and instead use terms like “resigned,” “Voluntary separation,” or “pursuing other opportunities.” And remember — even when filling out an application, it’s important to be truthful. If the prospective employer does a background check and the information doesn’t line up, you can be eliminated from consideration for the job.

Statistical Insight

According to a 2021 Pew research study, the majority of workers who left a job cited low pay (63 percent), no opportunities for advancement (63 percent), and feeling disrespected at work (57 percent) as the main reasons.

What not to say about leaving your last job

Looking for a new job can be tricky, especially if you haven’t yet left your current position. But most interviewers aren't new to the game and have heard myriad reasons why someone is looking for a new job. When discussing why you're leaving, there are a few things you don’t want to do.

As we mentioned above, don’t badmouth your current/previous employer. If you do, the hiring manager will think about your employer’s side of the story. (They’ll also wonder what you’d say about them!) Keep it positive and focused on your goals and accomplishments. 

You also don't tell the interviewer that you didn't get along with your co-workers; don't make it look like everything is the co-worker's fault. It’s all right to have professional disagreements, but if you can’t behave civilly with colleagues, the interviewer might wonder how you’ll get along with others if they hire you.

Also, don't make it all about money. It's fine to want a better salary (and employers know that it's important), but don't dwell on it. For example, you can say that you're looking for a salary increase but also mention something else that you're excited about, such as a project or product that the new company is working on. 

Finally, remember, don’t bring it up unless you’re asked. You’re not required to explain your reasons for leaving right away. If they’re interested, they’ll ask you.

5 Example answers to “Why did you leave your last job?”

1. You want to make more money.

Even if your main motivation for leaving is money, it’s best to frame your answer in a way that highlights your qualifications and aligns with the company values. For example: 

“In the last three years at X Company, I was able to develop a strong skill set in coding, analysis, and project management. While I learned a lot and was able to make a positive contribution to my team, I'm looking to find a position with a company that values my skills and will allow me to utilize them more effectively.”

2.  You’re looking to move up the career ladder.

If you’re just looking to advance further in your career, you could say:

“I’m looking for the next logical challenge in my career. I've enjoyed both the work I've done at my previous company, as well as the people there, but I felt that I really wasn't being challenged anymore. Rather than let myself stagnate, I feel that I need to look for a new position where I can learn and grow as a person and a professional."

3.  You just hated your job.

This is tough, you don’t want to badmouth your old employer but you do want to be honest. Here’s how you could frame it:

“I was excited to work in a job that supported so many local nonprofit organizations, which is important to me. But because of my initial excitement, I think I turned a blind eye to the day-to-day operations of the company. When I realized that the company culture and values didn't align with my own, I decided to pursue an opportunity with a company that is open and transparent about their policies, and where I can continue to make a positive impact.”

4. You didn’t like your manager/boss

Personal conflicts are a popular reason for leaving a job. But, again, you don’t want to speak ill of your old employer, so you could say:

“During my tenure at X Company, the leadership decided to go in a different direction. I like working in a collaborative, team-based environment, so it was no longer a good fit for me. I really appreciated the company's mission, but in the end, I believe that this was the right choice to make."

5. You were laid off

Again, another popular reason for losing a job. Here’s how you could answer:

“Due to the recession, my company didn’t fare well in the past two quarters and they decided to lay off employees, which worked out to be about 40 percent of the organization. It’s been difficult, but I gained a lot of practical experience and had the chance to work with some really talented professionals. At this point, I’m focused on finding a new, exciting position in the digital marketing industry, and I’m optimistic about my future.”

Remember, very few people stay with the same company for their entire career, so leaving a job for a new opportunity is not unusual. Make sure your reasons are clear, have a planned (and rehearsed) answer at the ready, and keep the focus on why you’re the best candidate for the position. 

If you want to take your interviewing skills to the next level, consider utilizing our interview prep services.

Key takeaways

  1. Before you leave your job, take some time to do a personal inventory and understand exactly why you want to make a change. 

  2. When answering why you’re leaving your job, be concise, truthful, positive, and future-focused. Have this answer prepared ahead of time.

  3. Reasons to leave a job are better opportunities, a more compatible company culture, and a more productive work environment.

Share this article