Resume Writing, Career Advice and Job Search blog from ResumeWriting.com.
It’s a tricky question.
“Why did you leave your last job?”
Maybe it was a simple layoff. Maybe it was a personality conflict with your boss. Maybe your previous job had grown stale and there was no room for you to grow and advance. Maybe it was just time for you to move on.
One way or another, the why did you leave your last job question is one that job seekers are rightly a bit touchy about answering.
Traditional job search advice suggests that you should wait for the interview to answer this question. And that can be a good strategy. After all, the interview allows you to give a nuanced answer in your own words.
But there are other ways to deal with this, even before the interview.
Let Your Resume Explain Why You Left
The resume actually provides you with plenty of opportunities to manage the hiring manager’s expectations about this question.
Firstly, you can address your current career goals right up front in the resume summary or resume objective. In that opening paragraph, right after describing your professional background succinctly, you could go with something like:
… looking for professional growth after several successful years in lower-level positions.
This obviously would work best in the situation where someone left their previous job due to lack of opportunity.
But you could also address why you left your previous job right in that job’s description.
In the section when you talk about what you did and accomplished at your previous job, you could say something like:
… Left position in late 2012 due to division downsizing.
… Left position in October to pursue greater opportunities with a larger and more dynamic organization.
Either of these statements can be expanded upon in the interview. But the resume has been used to tee up the conversation.
My advice would be, if your last job ended for positive reasons, or for reasons out of your control (i.e., layoffs, or moving for family reasons) then feel free to address the transition in your resume. But if you left for negative reasons (personality conflicts, etc.) or were fired, then you want to be diplomatic… or even consider not explaining until the interview.
Either way, it’s important to put a positive spin on it. Don’t say, “I left because they were jerks.” Instead, take attitude of, “While I enjoyed my time at XYZ Company, and was able to achieve a great deal during my time there, the culture at the company was no longer a good fit for me. While XYZ was eager for me to stay on, I am focused on joining a team that I feel I can make greater contributions to.”
Don’t Forget The Cover Letter
If you can’t find a way to fit the answer into your resume, then really, the cover letter is the place to explain why you left. Your resume is informational, but the cover letter is conversational.
Don’t be afraid to devote an entire paragraph in your cover letter to explaining your previous position. But again, if you address why you’re no longer at that position, take a positive, forward looking approach to things.
Explain why you left briefly, but focus more on your current and future goals. Make a bit of a mission statement explaining that you left to pursue greater things, hopefully by joining the team of the person your cover letter is addressed to.