Reasons for Leaving a Job and How to Talk About Them

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Framing your reasons for leaving a job around growth can add confidence and positivity into conversations about career changes.

[Featured image] A man discusses his resume with a hiring manager.

When you consider finding a new job, chances are, you'll be leaving an old job behind. Often, potential employers will ask what motivated you to take this next step. Although it may feel difficult to navigate, answering the question "Why do you want to leave your current company?" can be an opportunity to share more about your career goals and values.

In order to name your reasons for change, first get clear on your goals. Then, consider the differences between your previous or current role and your dream career. What do you need to change in order to move closer to that more perfect future?

In this article, we'll discuss some common reasons people leave their jobs and how you can articulate your reasons for leaving a job in a clear and positive manner.

Common reasons for leaving a job

Naming the aspects of your current position that you'd like to change can help you recognize why you are leaving a job as well as what you may want to look for in a future role. Reflecting deeply and specifically can help you recognize red flags and identify green flags.

As you reflect on what's missing with your current employer, it may help to consider some common reasons people leave jobs:

  • Career advancement

  • Career change (new industry)

  • Better compensation

  • Better value alignment

  • Culture change

  • Company restructure, acquisition, or merger

  • Company downturn

  • Personal or health reasons

These reasons each fit into one of the four broad categories: seeking growth, company culture, organizational changes, or personal reasons.

We'll take a closer look at how to talk about each of these types of reasons later in this article, but first, let's explore some general tips for talking about why you're leaving a job.

Learn more: When Is It Time to Quit Your Job?

Tips for talking about why you left a job

Ultimately, leaving jobs is a natural part of career progression—you can't grow if everything stays the same. Here are a few quick tips to frame your exits as growth opportunities:

1. Be truthful. It’s important to be honest as you share details about your career path. Some potential employers will conduct background checks or 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 skews 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 and your needs while you were in this role, and how you hope to implement those learnings in your next role. When in doubt, return to the career growth opportunities you're seeking rather than the negative experiences you're trying to leave behind.

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.

How to answer "Why are you leaving your current job?"

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.

Leaving a job to pursue growth opportunities

You may choose to leave a job to pursue a professional 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.

Leaving a job due to company culture

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 to better enable your growth.

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 because I didn’t feel able to grow in this company culture. I am most effective when I am able to use my ABC skills in a XYZ manner, and found that I wasn’t able to do that in that environment. It looks like your company’s values align with the type of culture I am looking for.

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.


Leaving a job due to organizational changes

When a company undergoes organizational changes, such as restructuring, a reduction in force, 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.

Were you “laid off,” “fired,” or “let go”?

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

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 communication and organization skills I practiced while navigating the health care system on her behalf.

What to say when you were fired

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.

Next steps

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