Think of your resume as documenting your career journey. Every time you leave a job, you take with you valuable skills and lessons, and leave behind aspects of the role that are no longer guiding you in the direction you wanted to go. Whether you’re simply reflecting on your own journey or trying to articulate it to someone else, such as a job interviewer or employer, exploring the root cause of your exit can help you use your past to inform your future.
In order to name your reasons for change, first get clear on what you’re trying to accomplish. What does your ideal career look like? Then, consider what was different about your previous role and that ideal career. What needed to change in order to push you toward that more perfect path?
Naming the aspect of your role that needed to change can help you recognize not just why you left a job, but also what you may want to look for in a future role. Reflecting deeply and specifically can help you turn previous red flags into future green flags.
Here are some common reasons a person may leave a job:
Career change (new industry)
Better value alignment
Company restructure, acquisition, or merger
You may have additional reasons for leaving a job, and upon reflection, you may find your reason fits into one of the four broad categories that each of the above fits into: seeking growth, company culture, organizational changes, or personal reasons.
After reflecting on your reason for leaving a job, it can be helpful to prepare how you might talk about your exit on a job application or during an interview. You are never obligated to share anything that you are not comfortable sharing, and you get to decide how you present your career journey.
However, being forthcoming in whatever way feels right for you can help you land in a position that better aligns with your needs and goals. On a job application, you can keep your reason for leaving short. In an interview, you have more space to connect your reason for leaving your previous job to a reason why this next role feels like a better fit for you.
Here are some ways you may productively talk about why you left or plan to leave a job.
You may choose to leave a job to pursue a growth opportunity, such as career advancement, career change, or better compensation. You may feel ready to do this when you’re no longer feeling challenged or excited by your day-to-day responsibilities and aren’t finding opportunities to expand your expertise in your current role, or when you feel like you’re already exceeding expectations in your role and want to formalize your responsibilities with a title and salary to match. Simply put, you know you can do something more, and you want to explore that urge.
What to say on a job application: Left role to explore new growth opportunities
What to say in a job interview: I left this role to explore new growth opportunities. In my previous role, I learned ABC skills and enjoyed doing DEF tasks and feel excited about expanding those skills to higher level work doing XYZ.
Every company has a unique internal culture that influences the way employees interact with each other, as well as the way the company interacts with the world. As you move through your career, you may notice different cultural aspects that push you toward success and those that move you away from it. This could relate to the type of space where you feel welcomed or the organization’s mission and the way they pursue it. If any of these areas feel off, it’s possible that you will decide to leave a job to seek a company culture that better aligns with your values.
What to say on a job application: Left role to pursue better cultural fit
What to say in a job interview: I left this role because I didn’t feel aligned with the company’s values. I prefer to use my ABC skills on projects that support XYZ goals, and found that I wasn’t able to do that in that environment. It looks like your company’s mission does support those kind of efforts.
Issues with company culture can extend into more personal reasons that influence your ability to feel safe and empowered in your work environment, such as those that relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion. If you are comfortable sharing, it’s okay to be honest about those needs, and ultimately, doing so can help you find a workplace that better fits your needs. Here’s one way you can delicately express seeking a job with better diversity practices:
My previous company seemed to prioritize a specific cultural viewpoint that didn’t align with my experiences as a woman. I feel most empowered when I see my identity reflected in leadership, and I’m excited to find a company with a strong DEI initiative to support a wider range of human experiences.
When a company undergoes organizational changes, such as restructuring, an acquisition, or a merger, your role may change or be eliminated entirely. If you are dissatisfied with your position—or dissatisfied with the changing direction of the company—you may decide to seek a new role. If your position was eliminated, typically resulting in a layoff, you may have no choice but to seek a new role. Either way, these changes may provide a natural turning point where you can reassess your career goals and continue building your path toward them.
What to say on a job application: Laid off due to organizational changes during company merger
What to say in a job interview: I was laid off from my previous position with Company A when my department was eliminated following a merger with Company B. I’m proud of the work I was able to accomplish during my time there, and excited to continue that track with a position where I can apply my XYZ skills toward new projects.
Laid off, let go, and fired all imply that you didn’t actively choose to leave your job, but the three words have different implications. In general, you were laid off if your position was eliminated and fired if you were terminated for performance issues. Saying you were let go can indicate either a lay-off or firing.
Leaving a job for personal reasons can encompass any non-work rationale that takes you away from your workplace, such as caring for a family member, coping with an illness, or moving. You are never obligated to share your personal reasons for leaving a job, but if you are comfortable doing so, you can use it as an opportunity to show something about your values and skill set that may not otherwise be apparent on your resume.
What to say on a job application: Left due to personal reasons
What to say in a job interview: I left my previous position for personal reasons. I enjoyed the work I was doing but prioritized caretaking for my grandmother. An unexpected benefit that I’m excited to bring into my career are the new communication and organization skills I honed while navigating the health care system on her behalf.
There may be times when you are asked to leave a position before you are ready to. If you were fired from a job, try to discern where you and your manager were misaligned. It may have been a skills mismatch, a difference in communication styles, conflicting goals, or another reason.
Once you determine your perspective of the situation, center your explanation for why you left the job around that misalignment, while remaining truthful about the circumstances. Even though it may not feel good to share that you were terminated, this framing can help to demonstrate strong self-awareness.
Some ways you might phrase that you were fired include:
I was let go when we noticed a skills mismatch for the company’s needs.
My job ended upon the recognition that my goals and the team’s goals didn’t align.
My manager and I came to a mutual separation agreement after realizing my personal commitments prevented me from meeting the expectations of that work environment.
You may also choose to add how you’ve reconciled those hurdles in the time since your job ended to show growth out of a difficult experience.
In framing your job exits as part of your growth process, you can tell the story of your career journey as one of intentional progress. Here are a few quick tips as you build your narrative:
1. Be truthful. It’s important to be honest as you share details about your career path. Some prospective employers will conduct background checks and will reach out to previous employers to verify past roles, and bending the truth may not be the best way to enter a relationship with a future employer.
2. Stay positive. Even if your reason for leaving a job skewed negative, try to stay positive when talking about it. One way to turn a negative into a positive is to focus on what you learned about yourself or your needs in the process of exiting, and how you hope to implement those learnings in your next role.
3. Be concise. You don’t need to go into great detail about everything that went wrong in your previous workplace. Offering a high-level overview can satisfy your prospective employer’s curiosity and give you more time during your interview to focus on your hopes for the future.
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This content has been made available for informational purposes only. Learners are advised to conduct additional research to ensure that courses and other credentials pursued meet their personal, professional, and financial goals.