Monday, March 10, 2008

The separation was amicable

Why did you leave your last job?

As a student, you can usually get off lightly with this one: you had a student job and once you were no longer a student, you have to move on. A simplified, no-fault divorce. But some of us are leaving positions for other reasons, some with fault and some merely uncontested. This question is trying to find out just how much fault and acrimony is on your side.
  • The best answer is to just want a career change. You are interviewing for a position with more responsibility and you hope to learn more about your profession.
  • A mediocre answer is to describe that the writing is on the wall at your old job: your beloved supervisor is moving on, positions are getting whacked with cutbacks, your contract has not been renewed. In these cases, do your best to phrase your answer to this question as if the circumstances were unexpected but you are taking charge of your career.
  • Bad, bad answer: I wanted to set their clothes on fire on the front lawn. We leave jobs sometimes because we 1) hate our boss; 2) hate our colleagues; 3) hate the clients we serve; 4) hate the work environment. Hate may seem strong, but we sometimes cling to a pay check much longer than we should, irritating ourselves past irrationality. Additionally, you could have been fired or had your contract unexpectedly, not renewed. In these cases, your answer comes with a lot of bile and you sound like a victim, rather than a proactive, take charge survivor.
If you have a bad, bad answer to this question, I strongly recommend some practice with this question before trying to answer it. Even in circumstances beyond our control, you should do your best to sound as though you understand what happened and that you are taking steps to find a new position and give your best work to the new employer.

This question, though on the surface simple, can elicit some interesting responses from people who have not reflected on their role in their job loss or who are not very good at planning their career moves.

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