There are plenty of reasons to leave a job.
Maybe you were in a toxic work environment.
Maybe you no longer felt challenged in your role.
Or maybe you were just ready for a new adventure in your career.
Whatever the reason, at some point, you decided that the job you were in was no longer a fit-and that decision is, of course, 100 percent your prerogative.
But, chances are, when you line up for a job interview for a new role, the question “why did you leave your last job?” is going to come up.
So if you don’t want your exit from your last job to prevent you from scoring a new one, it’s important that you’re able to explain your reasoning and, whatever the reason, can answer the interview question in a way that puts your potential new employer at ease.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons for leaving a job, the right (and not-so-right) ways to explain your departure to a potential employer, and how to ensure that, whatever the reason you left your job, it doesn’t get in the way of you finding the next right position for yourself and your career goals:
We’re in the midst of The Great Resignation (or, as many are starting to call it, “The Great Reshuffle”) and it’s seeing higher rates of employee turnover than ever before.
According to data from the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, during the second half of 2021, more than 24 million people left their jobs, with about 4.3 million people exiting their jobs in December 2021.
So, if you’re thinking about leaving your job? You are far from alone. But what, exactly, is driving this mass talent exodus? Why are people leaving their current positions?
There are a huge variety of reasons why people leave their jobs, but there are a few that are more common than others, including:
Compensation is important. People want to feel like they’re not only being compensated fairly for the job they’re performing, but that they have enough money to live a comfortable lifestyle-and if that level of compensation is lacking, it can be a major driver in employee turnover-making it an extremely common reason for leaving a job.
According to a recent report from Payscale, compensation was the top reason people left their job-with 25 percent of respondents reporting that they started looking for a new job because they wanted higher pay.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw an unprecedented shift to remote work. And for many of the people working from home for the past two-ish years, the flexibility remote work provides has become a non-negotiable. And if their current job doesn’t offer the flexibility? It's more than an acceptable reason to look for a job that does.
According to the most recent Future Forum Pulse Report, which surveys more than 10,000 knowledge workers across the US, Australia, the UK, France, Germany, and Japan, a whopping 72% of workers are unhappy with their current level of flexibility at work say they plan to look for a new job at some point in the next year.
Professional growth plays a huge part in job satisfaction. In order to feel engaged with their work, many people need a new challenge; to feel like they’re learning, growing, and have opportunities to advance in their career. Without those opportunities for career growth, people start to feel stagnant and stuck-and will often look for a job that offers more room for growth to shake those stagnant, stuck feelings.
According to The Work Institute’s 2021 Retention Report, nearly one in five employees cited opportunities for growth and achievement as the reason for leaving their job.
For many workers, a company’s culture and environment is just as important as the work itself, and a culture or environment that is in any way toxic is a strong reason to start looking for work elsewhere.
Just how strong of a reason is it? According to data recently published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, a toxic work environment is 10.4 times more likely to contribute to an employee leaving a company than compensation.
Today's employee is feeling more burned out than ever. According to data from Deloitte, 77 percent of employees have experienced burnout in their current job, and nearly 70 percent don’t feel like their current company is doing enough to prevent burnout from happening or to support employees when they experience burnout.
And for many employees, a lack of work life balance—and the burnout that goes along with it—are good reasons to leave their jobs.
Not all reasons for leaving a job have to do with the job. Many people leave jobs for personal reasons—like dealing with an illness, caring for a sick family member, or having a child.
Sometimes, interpersonal relationships at work can be a valid reason for people to leave a job. For example, if a worker has a conflict with a manager or a colleague—and isn’t able to effectively navigate or resolve that conflict—it could lead them to look for a job where they can form and maintain better relationships.
Sometimes, people don’t just want a new job; they want a new career. Many people leave their jobs to change careers entirely, which may require them to go back to school or start in a more junior-level role to gain the experience they need to build the career they want.
People also leave their jobs because, while they enjoy their actual role, they want to perform that role in a different industry. For example, someone working as a marketing manager in the finance industry may decide they want to work in the nonprofit sector—and start looking for a new job more in line with their industry goals.
In certain roles and industries, higher education is an absolute must to climb the corporate ladder. And if people want to grow in their chosen career path—but don’t have the degree necessary to do so—they may leave their jobs in order to pursue their education and set themselves up for success in the future.
Not all reasons for leaving a job are in an employee’s control. If a company goes through a restructuring, lays off a percentage of its workforce, or makes the decision to fire specific employees, those employees have a pretty clear reason to leave their job-whether they want to or not.
Clearly, there are a huge variety of reasons people leave jobs—and there’s no reason that your reasons for leaving a job need to prevent you from getting a new job. But you don’t want to find yourself six months or a year into your new role, dealing with the same conditions or factors that cost you to leave your original position.
Which is why, before you start your job search, it’s important to take stock of why, exactly, you left your last job (or want to leave your current job)—and then take the necessary steps to avoid running into those same issues in a future position.
So what does that look like in practice?
There were probably one or two glaring issues that made it clear it was time to leave your previous or current position. But chances are, there were a number of lesser, more subtle issues with your job and/or the company that contributed to your dissatisfaction.
And if you want to avoid those issues in your next job, you need to identify all of them.
First, write down the reasons you decided to leave your job. These are going to be the big, glaring issues that ultimately made you decide that enough was enough—and it was time to go. This might include things like:
Once you’ve identified the major reasons behind your departure, you’re going to want to dig a little deeper to identify issues that may not have caused you to leave your job but are definitely issues you don’t want to run into in your next job. This list might include issues like:
Clearly defining not only the major issues that made you want to leave your job, but the less major issues that made it feel like not quite the right fit will put you in a better position to avoid those issues in your next job.
Listing out your reasons for leaving a job and all of the issues, big and small, with your last or current role will help you gain clarity on what didn’t work about your last job. But it also gives you a great jumping-off point for defining what kind of job will work for you in the future.
The best way to do this exercise is to take every reason you have for leaving your job and flip it around—transforming it into something you hope to find in your next job. For example:
You can also use this exercise for any of the less glaring issues that didn’t exactly drive you out of your last role, but definitely weren’t selling points. For example:
This exercise will help you get clear on what you need from your new role, help you avoid taking a position that will eventually present the same challenges that caused you to leave your last job, and help you find a position you feel passionate about.
Digging deep into what wasn’t working in your last role and defining what you’re looking for in your next role requires self-reflection.
But if you’re not a naturally reflective person, that can feel like a challenge. But Fingerprint for Success is here to help!
Our Reflection & Patience coaching program will give you the skills and support you need to increase self-awareness and self-reflection-and leverage the insights you gain to build a more authentic career (and life!) as a result.
Once you know what you’re looking for (and what you want to avoid) in your next role, you’ll want to develop questions that will help you effectively evaluate potential jobs and make sure they’re the right fit before you accept an offer.
The questions you ask will depend on why you left your last job and what you want out of your next role. For example, if you’re leaving because of a poor management and want to work for a more effective manager in the future, you might ask questions like:
Or let’s say you’re leaving a job because you were expected to work 24/7-and you ended up completely and totally burned out. In that situation, you might ask your interviewer things like:
Asking the right questions will ensure that your next job has the qualities you’re looking for in a new position, so you don’t find yourself facing the same reasons you left your last position.
The questions you ask during your job interview will help you determine whether a certain job is the next best step for your career. But interviews are a two-way street, and your prospective employer is going to have questions for you, too-including questions about your reasons for leaving your last job.
Why you left your last job is less important than how you frame your reason for leaving. You could have a perfectly valid reason for leaving your job, but it could make the interviewer think twice if you don’t frame it the right way.
On the flip side, you might have left your last job for a less-than-ideal reason (for example, you were fired)—but if you’re prepared and know the best way to answer the question, it doesn’t necessarily have to hold you back.
So how should you navigate this interview question? Here are a few tips to help you through the process:
Getting asked, “why did you leave your last job?” can be a bit nerve-wracking. But with a little preparation, there’s no need to let this question sidetrack you or get in the way of you scoring your next position—no matter what your reasons for leaving your last job.
Leaving a job that’s no longer a fit can be a mix of challenging, scary, and exciting. But with the right preparation and support, you can use that experience to transition into a job that’s a much better fit, and has all the elements you need to feel engaged, challenged, and excited about your work in the long term.
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