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How to Explain Why You Left a Former Employer

by Ellie Williams, studioD

If you’ve recently left a job because you simply couldn’t stand working there anymore, prepare to discuss your previous resignation with prospective employers. Resist the urge to call out your former boss on everything you disliked about the company. Instead, offer a diplomatic response that shifts the conversation toward your strengths instead of your departure.

Keep It Short and Simple

Provide as little information as possible, and keep your explanation vague and neutral. Because you left on your own accord, there’s no need to justify your reasons or lay blame. The more details you provide, the more you open yourself up to scrutiny. In addition, if you offer a laundry list of everything that was wrong about your last job, you portray yourself as someone who can’t let go of the past. Devote no more than a sentence or two to your departure, and then seek opportunities to shift the discussion toward positive subjects such as your qualifications and your excitement for the future.

Be Positive

Never speak ill of your former boss, coworkers or company, no matter how badly they treated you or however toxic the situation. Prospective employers might worry about your public criticism of them if you’re unhappy at the job, or worse, that you’ll disclose confidential or compromising information. In addition, negativity reflects worse on you than on your previous company. Employers might fear you’re difficult to please or that you’d rather blame others than take any responsibility. Mention one or two things you liked about the company so employers know you don’t choose to find fault with everything.

Discuss Your Goals

Instead of dwelling on why your last job made you unhappy, concentrate on what you hope to achieve by moving on. If you left because of office politics, for example, tell employers you’re seeking a more close-knit work environment or that you’re looking for opportunities to collaborate with your colleagues. If you realized you were in a dead-end job, explain that you’re searching for a position that offers the opportunity for professional growth and career advancement.

Focus on the New Job

Quickly redirect the conversation toward why you want the job you’re applying for. This demonstrates that you harbor no ill will toward your former employer and aren’t interested in dwelling on the past. In addition, employers want someone who’s enthusiastic about the job. If you focus on why you’re applying, that will likely have more influence than why you left your last position. For example, mention that you've heard there is high morale and solidarity at the job you're applying with, and that you would be excited about getting a position to work with the team.

About the Author

Ellie Williams has been a journalist since 2001. Her work has been recognized by her state's press association and by her local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Williams graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in mass communications and humanities, with minors in French and theater.

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