I Quit! Talking about Job Loss at Interviews

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Learn strategies to answer questions about your job losses at interviews, especially when you have quit or were fired.

I Quit! Talking about Job Loss at Interviews and Answer Questions

Last month, I shared a quandary I faced: do I stay at or leave a job that conflicted with my values. I sat on the question for a few days and decided that I couldn’t stay at an organization where I didn’t trust the leadership. Values alignment has always been important to me, so the decision felt comfortable to make. I didn’t feel the need to throw anyone under the bus but leaving felt right for me.

The next challenge: how do I talk about leaving the job at the next job interview.

Especially since I had left my most recent previous job under similar circumstances. Talking about quitting one job felt easy to talk about. Talking about two seems impossible.

If you were, or are, in a similar situation, how do you plan to address these parts of your job history and answer questions about your job loss?


What Interviewers Really Want to Know

Preparing for an interview requires that you anticipate what the hiring managers are looking for. Managers want to know more about your background, skills, and certifications. They want to know about your work history, your goals, and what you expect to learn on the job. And above all, they want to know that if hired, you plan to stick around.

According to a 2019 Glassdoor survey, it costs on average $4000 to hire a new employee, and the average length of time takes 24 days. It is no small investment of time and resources to hire new staff, so hiring managers want to know that the selected person plans to stay. Knowing that hiring managers want to know this information drives the need to ask questions about prior employment.

I had a similar experience when the last college where I worked closed, and I had to talk about its closure over and over. And then over and over again. Once I learned how to talk about the closure with some distance and objectivity, the story helped drive the narrative that I wanted to control. Rather than talk about the story as something that happened to me, I talked about what I wanted to happen afterward. Opportunities that opened up I could explore. And what I wanted to gain from the new job.

I know I will need to be equally prepared for any upcoming interviews.

As you prepare for the interview, consider your answers to questions about why you left your previous job(s).
Photo by Alexandr Baitelman on Scopio

What the Experts Say

Nearly all of the experts say that, when asked about the reasons you left a previous job, you should have a prepared answer. Keep your answer brief and pivot your focus back to the skills that you gained that make you an ideal candidate for the job you are interviewing for. Below are additional pieces of advice from other experts on how to answer questions about your job loss.

Be Honest

“You don’t have to tell the whole truth. Just be sure to focus on the real reason you are leaving. For example, you can say you were frustrated by the lack of opportunities. Start by describing some of the things you accomplished, and then pivot to saying you were roadblocked as far as being able to accomplish more. You’ll score bonus points if you can tie your answer back to why the job you’re applying for is a better fit because you’ll be afforded more opportunities.” (How to Answer the Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Job?”)

…Without Being Too Detailed

“When answering this question, you don’t need to go into all the details. If you find your current job unsatisfying, there is always a way to share that without disparaging your current employer. Keep your answer focused and short, and move the conversation back towards why you are excited about the opportunities ahead of you.

“It’s important to keep in mind that the company you’re interviewing with may contact your previous employer, so what you’ve told them should be in line with what they’ll learn in those conversations. If you’re unemployed, be honest about that situation as well. If they get in contact with your previous employer to confirm start dates, and salary range, or get a reference, this could hurt your chances of getting the offer if you’ve provided different information.” (How To Explain Your Reasons for Leaving a Job)

Keep It Positive

“I know you’re coming off a bad experience and are devastated. But employers do not like candidates who are negative, angry, snarky, overly emotional, whiney, or resentful. While you may feel better by expressing your true feelings, there is simply no upside in doing so. Instead, focus on the positive. What did you learn? How did you grow? With whom did you like working and why? What did you like about the company/firm? If you feel you are in a place where you cannot muster the strength to be genuinely positive, put your job search on hold until things have calmed down and you are in a better place.” (How to Explain Your Resignation in an Interview)


What I Plan to Say

My situation feels unique. Over the past year, I worked at two jobs in a new industry. I left one job because I did not feel valued for my work. And I left the other job because my values were compromised by my managers. I have an interview at the end of the week in my original industry. I want to honor my recent past and still answer the question that is likely to be asked.

“At my last employer, my manager asked me to perform work that went against my personal values. Values alignment matters a great deal to me. When I read over your job description, I found that the work described highly aligned with my personal values.”

I plan to keep the answer short, address the question, and pivot to the new job. If they ask a follow-up question, I plan to follow the same model.

Before your interview, practice your responses to this question about your job loss. Photo by Jordi Calvera on Scopio

Below are additional example responses that may work for you:

Example 1

“I took this job right out of college, and the position helped me develop a number of skills necessary for this industry. However, there was little opportunity for growth, and I felt it was time to move on to a job with more responsibility. This job will allow me to use the skills I developed at my last job while taking on challenges that I know I am ready for.”

Example 2

“I resigned because the schedule was no longer manageable. The position required me to be on-call evenings and weekends, and it was difficult to arrange childcare on short notice. This job will allow me to continue to use my nursing skills in a more ideal schedule.” 

Example 3

“My skills weren’t a good match for my previous employer’s needs; however, it looks like they’d be a terrific fit for this position.”

Pivot to your skills and focus on the current job. Keep your answer positive. And keep the answer short!

I plan to do my homework to focus on the department and its needs before the interview. In that way, I can bring the answers back to what the institution and department need rather than my past. I hope this strategy to answer questions works for you, too!


Career Coaching for the Mid-Level Career Professional

I have worked with entry-level and mid-level career professionals for nearly ten years, helping them reconsider their strengths and ways to answer questions during a job search. Plus I have also helped professionals focus on their employability and skills during their job searches. I believe I can help you as your complete a job search at any point in your career.

Schedule an introductory meeting so we can discuss a plan that works best for you.

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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