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 to conversations about career changes.

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

Think of your resume as a document of 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 desired direction. 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 frame your past to inform your future.

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 to push you towards that more perfect path?

Common reasons for leaving a job

Identifying the aspect of your role that needed changing can help you recognize not just why you left a job, but also what you may want to look for in future roles. 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 advancement

  • Career change (new industry)

  • Better compensation

  • Value alignment

  • Culture change

  • Company restructure, acquisition, or merger

  • Company downturn

  • Personal reasons

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.

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 address your exit on a job application or during an interview. You are never obligated to share anything you are uncomfortable 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 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 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 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. Or perhaps you aren’t finding opportunities to expand your expertise in your current role, or you feel like you’ve already exceeded 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 I 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 one another, 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 towards 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’ll 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— I found that I couldn’t do that at my previous employer. It looks like your company’s mission does support those 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 related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). 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 employer 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, 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 accomplished during my time there, and I’m excited to continue on that course with a position where I can apply my XYZ skills towards 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 or other reasons. 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 care taking for my grandmother. Unexpected benefits that I’m excited to bring into my career are the new communication and organization skills I developed while navigating the health care system on her behalf.

What to say when you were fired

There may be times when you’re 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, centre 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 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 recognizing 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.

Tips for talking about why you left a job

In framing your job departures as part of your growth process, you can tell the story of your career journey as intentional progress. Here are a few quick tips to build your narrative:

1. Be truthful. It’s important to be honest when sharing details about your career path. Some prospective employers will conduct background checks and reach out to previous employers to verify past roles; 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 has negative aspects, 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 while 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.

Next steps

Stay future-focused by building skills for a range of in-demand careers with a Professional Certificate from top companies like Google, Meta, IBM, and more. Upon completion, you’ll gain access to job search resources, including interview preparation.

Coursera Plus
Build job-ready skills with a Coursera Plus subscription
  • Get access to 7,000+ learning programs from world-class universities and companies, including Google, Yale, Salesforce, and more
  • Try different courses and find your best fit at no additional cost
  • Earn certificates for learning programs you complete
  • A subscription price of $59/month, cancel anytime

Keep reading

Updated on
Written by:

Editorial Team

Coursera’s editorial team is comprised of highly experienced professional editors, writers, and fact...

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.