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 documenting your career journey. Every time you leave a job, you take valuable skills and lessons and leave behind aspects of the role that no longer guide you in the direction you want to go. Whether you’re simply reflecting on your 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.

First, name your reasons for change and clarify 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 perfect path?

Common reasons for leaving a job

Naming the aspect of your role that needed to change can help you recognise why you left a job and 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 advancement

  • Career change (new industry)

  • Better compensation

  • Better value alignment

  • Culture change

  • Company restructure, acquisition, or merger

  • Company downturn

  • Personal reasons

You may have additional reasons for leaving a job. Upon reflection, you may find your reason fits into one of the four categories that each of the above fits into: seeking growth, company culture, organisational 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 talk about 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 you think is right for you can help you find 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 better.

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 leave a job to pursue growth opportunities, 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 formalise your responsibilities with a title and salary to match. Simply put, you know you can do something more and 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 how employees interact with each other, and 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 organisation’s mission and how they pursue it. If any of these areas think off, you may 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 I found that I couldn’t do that in that environment. It looks like your company’s mission does support those kinds 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 related 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 prioritise 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 organisational changes

When a company undergoes organisational changes, such as restructuring, an acquisition, or a merger, its role may change or be eliminated. 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 towards them.

What to say on a job application: Laid off due to organisational changes during a 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 towards new projects.

Were you 'laid off', 'fired', or 'released'?

Laid off, released, 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 released for performance issues. Saying you were terminated 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 don't need to worry about sharing your reasons for leaving a job. Still, if you are comfortable doing so, you can use it to show something about your values and skill set that may need to 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 prioritised caretaking for my grandmother. Unexpected benefits that I’m excited to bring into my career are the communication and organisation skills I improved 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, try to discern where you and your manager were misaligned. It may have been a skills mismatch, communication style differences, conflicting goals, or another reason.

Once you determine your perspective of the situation, explain 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 recognising that my and the team’s goals didn’t align.

  • My manager and I came to a mutual separation agreement after realising my commitments prevented me from meeting the expectations of that work environment.

You may also add how you’ve reconciled those hurdles since your job ended to show growth from a challenging experience.

Tips for talking about why you left a job

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 when sharing details about your career path. Some prospective employers will conduct background checks and 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 is skewed negative, try to stay positive when discussing 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 various in-demand careers with a Professional Certificate from top companies like Google, Meta, IBM, and more. Upon completion, gain access to job search resources, including interview preparation.

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