“Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”

July 24, 2018 at 4:45 pm Leave a comment

“Why did you leave your last job?” That question comes up during almost every interview, and on most job applications. Explaining why you left your last job – or for that matter, pretty much every job listed on your résumé – is something that certainly requires some thought. The answer you give must be both truthful and somehow palatable. It should ideally be easily understood and logical, and yet at the same time not cast you in a negative light to your potential future employer.

If you do not provide an explanation for why you left a job (particularly if it was a short stint) the person screening it could read it as a negative: you might be a job-hopping flight risk … you seemingly can’t hold down a job … perhaps you don’t get along with others well … there may have been performance issues that got you fired – the imagination creates all kinds of possible scenarios!

There may be perfectly acceptable reasons for why you left each job on your resume. I would advise briefly listing those reasons right next to the dates on your résumé to avoid this obvious red flag. The idea here is to be pro-active, and answer questions about why you left each job before those questions are even asked. It’s a simple thing, and yet very few people do it. You don’t need to go into long-winded or detailed explanations. All you need is a brief phrase, in parenthesis, following the dates of each short-lived position. For example: “Laid Off Due to Economic Circumstances” … or “Position Eliminated Due to Company Restructuring” … or “Company Went Out of Business,” etc. What this does is provide the screener with a perfectly valid explanation for why you left each job, and eliminates the possibility that they will imagine something much worse – i.e., that you were fired “for cause” (meaning your actions caused you to be fired) or poor performance, etc. Of course, if you actually were fired “for cause” … well, that’s another story!

Naturally, if it was your decision to leave a company and move on to another job elsewhere – it’s usually pretty easy to say something like: “Left for a better opportunity.” The problem arises when leaving was not your idea. If you were let go “for cause” it’s the most difficult scenario to explain going forward. You need to tread carefully. On the other hand, if you lost a job due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g. company-wide layoffs, poor economic conditions, etc.) then using the right euphemism can often satisfy an interviewer’s questions and explain why you left, and why there may be gaps between jobs.

Below is a list of miscellaneous terms and phrases I’ve heard over the years that one might use to explain why you left a job. Many of these phrases can be used in combination with each other. They are ordered from the most commonly used and professional-sounding, down to the most ridiculous, ill-advised and just plain funny. (Warning: Use the ones near the bottom of this list at your own risk!)

Euphemisms for Why You Left a Job:
● Laid Off
● Laid Off Due to Economic Circumstances
● Position was Eliminated
● Position was Eliminated Due to Economic Circumstances
● Downsized
● Position Required Relocation
● Department was Eliminated
● Department was Relocated
● Office was Closed
● Company Relocated
● Company Went Out of Business
● Contract was Not Renewed
● Position was Outsourced
● Workforce Reduction
● Company Streamlined
● Company Restructured
● Took Early Retirement
● Transitioned
● Optimized
● Rightsized
● Offered a Buyout
● Offered a Package
● Severenced
● Severed
● Career Downgrade
● Made Redundant
● Turned Loose
● Given Walking Papers
● Fired Without Cause
● Fired For Cause
● Axed
● Riffed
● Sacked
● Canned
● Discharged
● Let Go
● Displaced
● Decommissioned
● Involuntary Separation from Employer
● Involuntary Retirement
● Terminated
● Terminated with Prejudice
● Shown the Door
● Received a Pink Slip
● Given the Boot
● Voted Off the Island
● Put Out to Pasture
● Shit-Canned
● Went Into the Light

If you’ve heard any other euphemisms for leaving a job that aren’t already included on this list … feel free to add your new terms in the comments section below!

Entry filed under: Advice for Job Seekers.

What Recruiters Say vs. What Job-Seekers Hear

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Michael Spiro

About the Author:

Michael Spiro has been a 3rd-Party Recruiter and Account Executive for nearly 20 years. He is currently the Director of Recruiting / NE Ohio Region for Experis Finance, a dedicated business unit of ManpowerGroup. Other recent positions include President of Midas Recruiting, a boutique head-hunting firm, Director of Talent at Patina Solutions, and Executive Recruiting positions with two of the largest search firms in North America. Before his career in the staffing industry, Michael was a manager in a large non-profit social-services organization. And in a former life, Michael was active in the entertainment industry, with extensive road-warrior experience as a touring performer (singer-songwriter / guitarist / comedian) and as a recording artist, producer and booking agent.  [More...]

Index (by Topic):

Résumés & Cover Letters:
 The "T" Cover Letter - The
         Only Type Worth Sending

 The Brutal Truth on How
         Résumés Get Eliminated

 Explaining Short Job Stints
         and Employment Gaps

 The Résumé Test &
         Checklist: Does Yours

 Beating the Résumé-
         Elimination Game: Where
         Do Recruiters' Eyes Go?

 The Truth About Lying on

 "Why Did You Leave Your
         Last Job?"

 How to Network: A
         Step-by-Step Guide for
         Job Searching

 Looking for Networking in
         All the Wrong Places

 Targeted Networking: How
         to Effectively Reach Out

 The Art of Giving: the Key to
         Effective Networking

 Face-to-Face Interviews:
         Secrets, Tricks and Tips

 Phone Interviews: Secrets,
         Tricks and Tips

 Skype Interview Tips ...
         Welcome to the Future!

 Nuggets: A Secret
         Interviewing Technique

 Answering the Dreaded
         Salary Question

 20 Surefire Ways to Blow
         an Interview

 "So, Do You Have Any
         Questions?" Nailing the
         Interview Closer

 Cool InfoGraphic: "What
         You Wish You'd Known
         Before Your Job

Age Discrimination:
 Age Discrimination: Secret
         Conversations Revealed

 Age Discrimination:
         Exposing Inconvenient

 Are You "Overqualified?"
         Handling the Age Issue

 Baby Boomers to the
         Rescue! An Idea Whose
         Time Has Come ...

 Overcoming Job-Search
         Obstacles and
         Redefining Your Career
         After 50

 Advice for Recent Grads
         and Career-Changers

Switching Jobs:
 The Proper Way to
         Quit a Job

 Counteroffers: Just Say No!

General Job-Seeking Info:
 The Real Truth About
         Working with Recruiters

 Contract/Consulting Jobs
         Explained ... Available in
         3 Different Flavors

►  What Recruiters Say
         vs. What Job-Seekers

►  The Dirty Truth About
         Misleading Unemployment

►  Let the Jobs Find You:
         Making Yourself More

 "Help ... I Need a Job!" A
         9-Step Guide for Newly
         Minted Job-Seekers

 Avoiding the "Black Hole
         of HR"

 Is Your Elevator Pitch
         Taking You UP
         or DOWN?

 Time Management: Recipe          for a Well-Balanced Job          Search
 Getting Un-Stuck from your

 The Double-Whammy of
         Rejection and Isolation

 "Unemployed Need Not
         Apply" - Working Around
         This Scary Message

 Using Social Media to
         Enhance Job-Searching

 Warning: That Rant You
         Posted Just Went Viral!

 The Golden Rule for
         Business: Never Burn

 The Power of a Positive

 Why Job Hunting is a
         Consultative Sales

 Top 10 Most Helpful Things
         for Job Seekers

 Top 10 Most Annoying
         Things for Job Seekers

 New Year's Resolutions for
         Unemployed Job-

Job-Seeking Humor:
 Comic Relief: Volume 1
 Comic Relief: Volume 2
 Comic Relief: Volume 3
 Comic Relief: Volume 4
 Comic Relief: Volume 5
 Comic Relief: Volume 6
 "In Transition" and Other
         Awkward Euphemisms

 Candidates Gone Wild:
         Recruiter Horror Stories

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