How to answer the uncomfortable resume question "why did you leave this employer?" when the decision wasn’t exactly yours

Ah, it happens to the best of us. Let me just say that when I was in high school, Waldenbooks HATED me. HATED! Fortunately, I didn't have to put my many high school jobs on my resume (you might be surprised at some of the jobs I did). Anyway, if you have been let go from an employer (and there are so many reasons why this could have happened) and are interviewing for another position, you might feel a little uncomfortable with the prospect of being questioned as to why you left that employer. You know they are going to ask but it's hard to get your head around how to phrase the answer in a way that is honest, but doesn't totally blow any chances you have of landing that next job (or one down the road).

When things aren't going well at work due to some kind of conflict, it's likely that you start looking for another position. So although the timing isn't to your liking, there was mutual recognition that a change needed to happen. And this is how you should think abuot it. Nick Corcodillos wrote an article on how to finesse this conversation in an interview. He helps you work your verbiage so that you are being truthful but also do a good job of explaining both sides of the situation.

Tip from me: practice your body language as well before having this interview conversation!

Comments (7)

  1. Hi Heather, I really like this topic. I was in the recruiting industry in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1997 and then started my own career coaching business in 2004. I loved recruiting and helping my candidates get into the "right" job for them. I also like to help my clients/hiring managers find their perfect candidate, one that fit the culture, and had the competencies and skillset for the job.

    I have coached thousands of people over the last 11 years throughout the United States and Europe. I work with all levels of employees entry to C-level and all levels of education from HS to PhD graduates.

    This is always the topic and issue of the day for me. I have clients that get laid off, fired, pushed and are forced to resign, etc. It’s happened to me and most people I know. Ok so here is my advice. 1) Don’t ever give them any information they don’t ask for. 2) Don’t ever lie 3) Always be positive and never let them take you down a negative path 4) Like you advised, prepare your answers and rehearse with your coach, friends or family 5) Make sure you have processed what happened to you so you don’t bring a lot of emotional charge to the situation/interview, so if you are not over it, figure out how to get over what happened to you. 6) And don’t worry too much because most of us that have been in business for over 15 years have experienced some type of problem or issue with a manager or boss that hasn’t liked us and vice a versa.

    I hope this helps.

  2. HeatherLeigh says:

    It does help. Great advice! Thanks for sharing that Rebecca!

  3. Wine-Oh says:

    I think honesty is the best answer here. Some people are more forgiving and understanding than others. If you are interviewing in the same industry and that industry got hit with layoffs, someone will be more understanding.

    Personally I am comfortable explaining why I left a job whether it was for layoffs or because of a new opportunity. If it was for a layoff, I explain what happened and how I was creative in securing a new job. I left one job to go to grad school because I wanted to use my degree to change the type of work I was doing. So in this case, it showed a story or a path of my career and why I made those choices.

  4. HeatherLeigh says:

    Yeah, honesty always!

    But I think a layoff is different than getting fired. People can understand layoffs; though I’ve gotta tell you as a recruiter I totally care if the company was trimming 5% across the board versus eliminating some departments. The 5% thing makes me think they were taking out their lowest performers. It really depends on how the layoff is done because all layoffs are not created equal.  So people in that situation need to also think about how they are going to talk about it (again, with honesty).

  5. crawdad13 says:

    I have a question, though it doesn’t really have much to do with this topic;

    My wife has worked for the same company for 22 years (since she graduated from college and was in line to buy the company.  The owners came to her a few years ago and asked her if she would be interested.  At the time she was.  A few months ago, after 3 years of talking about it, they sold the company to another employee without even telling her.  It turns out that this wasn’t such a bad thing because the company is in the throes of a long painful death and she didn’t really want to be an owner anymore.

    So, now she is seriously considering a career change, but she has only worked for the one company…how does she talk about this and should she address it at all on her resume?

  6. Marilyn says:

    How can I explain I had a new boss who didn’t train me and then played games with no-win situations. The boss is well know in the industry, but the place I worked for with her gave me severence pay and told me they couldn’t do much to change her.

    How can I overcome such a situation when we are in the same industry and she is well known for being far different than the way she actually treats her staff? I wasn’t the only person; she treated another trainer with sarcasm and disdain in my presence on more than one occassion. How does one overcome this situation when interviewing for new job?

    Saying the job wasn’t what it was described as doesn’t seem to help. How can one avoid sounding like a disgruntled former employee????

  7. HeatherLeigh says:

    "I’d met her previously and found that once I was on-board, we had very different work styles. Unfortunately the training I requested to get up to speed in the position wasn’t made available to me…It was a very challenging work environment for a number of people that I worked with."

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