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How to Answer, “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

Bonny Calfy | April 16, 2024

“Why did you leave your last job?”

This often dreaded but inevitable interview question can sometimes feel like a trap, whether you left a job quickly, were fired or decided to leave on your own terms.

To help you navigate this common query, we’ll explore the why behind the ask, common reasons for leaving and sample answers to help set yourself apart and land the job you’ve been searching for.

Why employers want to know

First, we have to understand why employers ask this question. The job search website Monster reported that 95% of workers are looking for — or plan to look for — a new job in 2024.

With a sea of potential candidates, employers need to understand your unique career goals to determine the right fit for their organization. But this question doesn’t only benefit them; it also presents the perfect opportunity to allow your story, ambitions and experience to stand out.

How this question helps job seekers

Before you begin your job search, you must first determine your why. Understanding the reason behind your job change can help you get crystal clear about what you need in your next position. That’s especially true given that only 51% of employees say they are very or extremely satisfied with their job overall, according to a 2023 Pew Research Center survey.

To find a workplace where you can thrive, you must do your due diligence. It’s important to research potential employers to see if they’ll be a good fit. Scour the company’s website to see what benefits they offer, and read reviews from former and current employees on sites like Glassdoor.

Businesses like Paycom offer many of the things job seekers are searching for, including competitive compensation, holistic benefits and generous paid time off.

Reasons employees decide to leave their jobs

Of course, there are many reasons someone might decide it’s time to move on. Better pay, growth opportunities, relocation, workplace culture and perks and benefits are a just a few.

You might count yourself among the 45% of workers who need a higher income or the 26% who, according to the same Monster study, are seeking better benefits.

Whatever your reason, finding the right way to frame your answer can feel like a delicate balancing act. Here are a few sample answers to help explain why you left your last job:

  • “I’m looking for an organization with better training and development.”
  • “I’m hoping to find a workplace culture that values belonging.”
  • “I’m seeking a career in an organization that will expand my growth opportunities.”
  • “I want to find work that is more meaningful.”

The right way to answer

While this question presents an opportunity to stand out, it can also be accompanied by anxiety and stress. Maybe you didn’t leave your previous organization on great terms or maybe you’re seeking a position with higher compensation.

Regardless, there are a few ways you can reframe this question to talk about what the employer really wants to hear: Why do you want to work here?

  • Avoid the unnecessary details. It’s important to be truthful and give honest reasons for your departure, but you don’t need to give a play-by-play of every instance that led you to leave. Try to keep your explanation at a high level without diving into intricate details.
  • Don’t burn bridges. Talking negatively about your previous employer is not a good look. You never know who you might work with, so try to keep it respectful and positive to leave a lasting impression on both sides.
  • Keep your focus on the future. Talk about why you want to join a new organization, not the negative aspects of your previous employer. Hiring managers want to hear how you plan to contribute and grow your career at their company.
  • Put growth opportunities at the forefront. Try to avoid discussing pay and benefits as your primary reason for leaving. Instead, connect the position you’re applying for to your values and experience.

As you explore new positions, remember that this interview question is an opportunity to set yourself apart and determine what role is right for you.

Ready to explore what a Paycom career has to offer? Apply today!

About the author
Author picture, Bonny Calfy
Bonny Calfy
As Paycom’s employer brand supervisor, Bonny Calfy oversees all recruitment marketing and employer brand efforts nationwide. Her brand awareness efforts extend over 10 years and have included launching the Paycom Careers blog and social media channels and producing recruitment videos, all to help attract top talent nationwide. Outside work, Bonny enjoys reading; fishing; and spending time with her husband, children and friends.