Kaylyn McKenna

If you’re in the market for a new job, it’s important to know how to answer common job interview questions. One of the questions that candidates often worry most about is “why did you leave your last job?”

It can be challenging to know just how honest you should be with your response. Will a prospective employer judge you for prioritizing salary or remote work options? Will you come off as “soft” or a whiner for saying that your manager or the company culture was toxic?

If you’re embarking on a new job search and anxious about how to best explain your choice to leave your current role or past job, explore our list of tips and sample answers to put your best foot forward with prospective employers.

Why do employers care why you left your last job?

Employers ask a variety of questions during job interviews to learn about your experience, skills, interests, and work style. Understanding why you’ve left past roles or why you want to move on from your current job can give them valuable insight into how you work and what you’re looking for in a new role. They’ll want to know if you left on good terms and what your motivation is for seeking a new role.

The good news is that most motivations for leaving will be seen as valid reasons to recruiters and hiring managers, as long as you explain yourself well. The stigma around “job hopping” has widely decreased, so it shouldn’t prevent you from receiving a job offer.


How to explain why you left your job

Be prepared

When job searching and preparing for interviews, it’s a good idea to practice answering common interview questions. This includes preparing an answer to the classic question of “why did you leave your last job?” or “why are you looking to leave your current job?” Have a general idea of what you want to say, and consider how to say it while painting yourself, your experience, and your former employer in a largely positive light.

Emphasize the positives

When answering the question, try to be mostly positive when speaking about your experience and past employer. It can help to preface your answer by emphasizing that you “learned a lot” from that role, really “enjoyed working with the team there”, or are “very proud” of the projects that you worked on with that employer.

Adding these quick comments before diving into any constructive criticism or explanation on why you’re ready to move on to a better opportunity can help soften your answer. You want to avoid coming off as negative or bitter about your previous job as that can be seen as a red flag to potential employers.

Decide whether you want to be vague or specific

Many job seekers keep things vague and give a cookie-cutter response like “I’m ready for a new challenge” or “I felt that it was time to move on and pursue a new opportunity that would allow me to grow and better utilize my strengths”. These are fine. They’re generic, but most interviewers will accept the vague response and move on to the next question.

However, it’s also okay to give a more concrete reason. If there was something that you hated about your past job and want to avoid in your next role, being honest about it in interviews can increase your chances of finding the right fit. Are you looking for a remote role after your last job unexpectedly instituted a mandatory return-to-office? Are you tired of working at a disorganized start-up and looking for an employer with clear communication and established processes? To avoid coming across as badmouthing your past or current company, try to shift the focus to what you’re looking for in your next role rather than what was wrong with your previous role.

Keep in mind that you may lose out on a few job opportunities by being specific and honest, but the companies that turn you away for your response are probably the exact type of employers that you are looking to avoid. If you’re in a financial position to take your time to find the perfect next step, being honest can work in your favor in the long run.

Keep your answer concise

No matter whether you choose to go vague or get specific with your answer, it’s best to keep things concise. Long-winded generic answers can start to feel a bit sketchy to employers. It may come across as you rambling because you’re nervous about your answer or trying to talk around the question. If you go with a generic response, keep it short and to the point.

On the other hand, if you are giving a clear reason for your departure from a past role, it’s best to avoid giving unnecessary details. You don’t want to come across as ranting about what you didn’t like about a past employer. The interview also isn’t necessarily a great time to expand too much on personal information if you took time off due to health or family issues.

You want to aim for a quick explanation of the reason and follow it up with a short, positive statement that shows that the issue is resolved or explains what you’re looking for in the next role. For example, “I left my last role to help take care of a sick family member, but now I’m ready to jump back into the workforce full-time.” or “I’m ready to take the next step in my career, and my current employer does not have relevant growth opportunities available.” Aim for a quick 1-2 sentence answer.

Speak confidently

Job interviews make most people nervous, but the best interview tip is to try to project confidence. That is especially important when explaining why you left or are looking to leave a job. Don’t doubt yourself or your reason for leaving (or at least don’t let them pick up on that doubt).

When you speak calmly and with confidence, the employer will perceive you as honest and forthcoming. If you seem overly nervous or unprepared with your response, the employer will be more likely to wonder if you left your last job on bad terms or have something to hide.

If you have the interview jitters and feel anxious about the question, give yourself a moment to take a deep breath and then go into your prepared answer. A short pause to compose yourself is better than a rushed, disorganized answer. If you have coffee or water with you, taking a sip can give you that buffer time to pause and think about your answer in a way that will feel natural.

Common reasons for leaving a job with sample answers

Below we’ve listed some of the most common reasons that employees leave their jobs, along with sample responses to use in job interviews. Feel free to use the example answers below as a template and customize them to fit your individual experience and cater to each prospective employer.

You’re looking for career growth opportunities

Paint your employer in a positive light, while acknowledging that you’ve outgrown them. Try to weave in anything that the employer mentioned about advancement opportunities, professional development programs, or a preference for hiring candidates who want to grow with the company.

“I had a great three years with my previous employer, but it’s a small company and there simply wasn’t room for advancement. I’m excited to hear that you’re looking for someone who wants to grow with the company long-term, as that’s exactly what I’m looking for in the next stage of my career.”

You were impacted by layoffs

Unfortunately, many people have been impacted by layoffs recently. If you lost your job due to downsizing, acquisitions, or other factors not related to your performance, employers are unlikely to hold it against you. You can keep your answer short and to the point regarding your layoff.

“Unfortunately, my position at [company] was eliminated due to restructuring.”

However, if you were laid off several months ago and are still looking for a new opportunity, it can help to add a bit more about what you’ve been doing during your employment gap.

“After [duration] great years at [company], I was unfortunately laid off in [month]. Over the past few {weeks/months], I have been working to refresh my knowledge on [subject] and build new skills through [learning platform, professional development group, networking, etc]. I’m excited to leverage my past experience and my new skills in the next chapter of my career.”

You want to remain remote

If you are one of the many people who chose to quit instead of being forced to return to the office, it’s not a bad idea to state that as long as you frame it professionally and you’re interviewing for a fully remote role. Explain that you felt like you were most productive while working remotely and appreciated how it improved your work-life balance.

Then, instead of bad-mouthing your employer for forcing employees back into the office, explain that the job was no longer the best fit for you and emphasize how excited you are to pursue a new opportunity that better aligns with your work style and goals.

“I am so proud of the work that I did with my former employer over the past few years, but in light of their recent return-to-office order, I’m ready for a new opportunity that better aligns with my work style and preferences. I saw that you’re a remote-first company, and that excites me because I feel that I am the most productive in a remote work environment.”

You’re looking for a career change

You don’t need to stay in one industry or field for the entirety of your working life. It’s totally fine to pursue a career change at any point in your career to follow a new passion, increase your earning potential, lower your work stress, or find a more stable career. When you explain your career change, emphasize transferable skills (such as customer service, attention to detail, or people skills) or any education you did to facilitate the career change.

“My role at [company] no longer aligned with my career goals. I am looking forward to leveraging my [recent education or related experience] and skills in [specific areas] as I pivot into [new industry].”

You want a higher salary

Switching employers is one of the best ways to increase your salary quickly. When you stay with the same employer, you will likely get modest yearly raises, but a significant increase often won’t be granted without a major promotion. In the current economy, that standard annual raise may not be enough to keep up with inflation. Jumping ship to a new employer can allow you to negotiate a higher salary that better reflects today’s economy. If you’re speaking about a past employer change, you can more directly cite compensation as the reason you accepted a new position.

“[Company] offered me a stronger compensation package and an opportunity that better aligned with my career goals at that time.”

However, saying “I want more money” in a job interview isn’t always the best approach when discussing your current motivations. Instead, it’s helpful to focus on the idea of growth. You’re looking to grow your income, but you’ll want to emphasize your focus on overall career growth.

“I’ve decided to leave my current position to pursue growth opportunities that are not available with [current employer]. I’ve learned so much from my time there, but it’s a small team and there is limited room for advancement.”

You’re trying to get out of a toxic work environment

This is a very valid reason for leaving a job, but explaining it in an interview can be a bit tricky. You can address the fact that the work environment left a lot to be desired without badmouthing the employer or your old manager. Emphasize what you’re looking for in a work culture and point to one or two issues that impacted your experience the most.

“I find that I thrive in a more open and collaborative environment. With my past employer, there were some issues with leadership communication and teamwork that limited my ability to fully succeed. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to showcase my skills and positively contribute in a more supportive, productive work environment.”

It’s also often helpful to mention how the work environment shifted or things changed over time due to organizational changes. Sometimes you get hired by a great manager and then they leave and the job becomes toxic under new leadership.

“When I was hired at [company], I worked with a wonderful manager who built a positive department culture based on mutual trust and transparent communication. Unfortunately, they left the company and that culture has dissipated. Due to ongoing micromanagement and a lack of support, I’ve decided it’s best to pursue a new opportunity where I can better showcase my skills and meaningfully contribute to the success of a thriving team”.

You left for personal reasons

If you left your job for personal reasons related to your health or family, you’ll want to provide a quick explanation that will explain both your departure from your last job and any ensuing employment gaps. You don’t need to go into too many details. In fact, it’s often best not to, particularly if the reason was due to your own physical or mental health. You can always discuss health needs and ADA accommodations after you’ve been hired.

“I left my position at [company] to help take care of a family member who was ill. I’m thankful that I could take time off to be with them, but I’m eager to jump back into work now.”

You’re looking for a better work-life balance

Work-life balance is important to employees, and employers know that. It’s fine to cite work-life balance as a reason for leaving an old job as long as you’re unlikely to run into the same issues at the new company. If your old job was chronically understaffed, had poor workload distribution, or was really far from your house, it’s valid to say that you’re looking for better hours or a shorter commute to promote work-life balance. If you work in an industry where overtime is expected during peak seasons or long days are the norm, you’ll need to be more cautious about how you mention work-life balance.

“I learned a lot working for [company]. Being on such a small, scrappy team allowed me to wear many hats and learn a ton of new skills. However, it also led to a lot of long work days and I often had to bring work home with me. I’m happy to help out when needed, but I am looking for an opportunity that will give me a better overall work-life balance.”