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How to Answer “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?” in an Executive Interview

Executive interviews aren’t always easy—to find the right leader for the job, interviewers may ask challenging questions. Eighty-two percent of recruiters agree it takes three to five interviews before a job offer is extended, so executive candidates should prepare to answer a variety of inquiries.

A tough one that commonly pops up is: “Why did you leave your last job?” Some candidates leave room for improvement in their answers by:

  • Speaking negatively about past employers, which makes their character appear in question.
  • Giving too vague an answer, which could make interviewers suspicious.
  • Going into too much detail, which could confuse interviewers and isn’t the best use of your interview time.
  • Not being honest about the real reason they left, which always has the possibility of coming back to bite them.

While there is usually an intricate backstory to leaving a job, the experts at Ciresi & Morek recommend keeping your answer to this question short and sweet. Here are a few examples of how to adequately answer without an interview faux pas.

HOW TO ANSWER, “WHY DID YOU LEAVE YOUR LAST JOB?”

If you need more room to excel: Perhaps your previous position didn’t offer you the upward mobility you desired, or you didn’t see eye to eye with management’s goals. This is an opportunity to explain, without getting personal, that you’re looking for a new environment. Here’s one way to do so:

“After four great years there, I realized I wanted more opportunity to exercise my skills. There just weren’t many new challenges to take on, which made the role less interesting. I think this position would be a great way to apply my experience in a more exciting capacity.”

 

If you want a position in a new discipline: You may be interviewing for a role that’s slightly different from your last. This is a great opportunity to kill two birds with one stone, explaining why you left your last job and why your skills align with the job requirements:

“In my role at ABC Manufacturing, I had the opportunity to expand outside of the traditional process improvement role and have a hand in managing large teams. With that experience, I decided a full-time general manager role is the best move for me.” 

 

If your company no longer has a growth outlook: Maybe your previous company is downsizing for acquisition purposes, or top management simply doesn’t agree with an aggressive growth mindset. This is a chance to explain why your personality and work style is best suited for an expanding, ever-evolving job:

“I really enjoyed working at XYZ Company, but they’re slowing down and preparing to sell the business. I would rather tackle the challenges of a company with a fast-paced growth trajectory, like yours, so that’s why I’m here today.”

 

If the company culture wasn’t a good fit: Again, it’s important not to get personal regarding what you disliked about your previous employer. Instead, use the question as a chance to explain why your personal values align with those of the hiring company:

 “I realized that I want to live the values of the company I work for. I love that your company focuses on ethical business practices and stays involved in the community, like when you hold staff volunteer days. It’s important to me that my interests align with a business’s culture, and I could see myself fitting in a culture like yours.”

IS YOUR SITUATION A BIT DIFFERENT?

These are just a few examples of how you can properly tackle this question. The truth is, each executive’s career moves are unique, and you may need professional guidance on identifying and preparing for your next opportunity. This is where an expert executive recruiter comes in. Contact us today!

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