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Handling the Dreaded Why Did You Leave? Question

If you left your last job under less-than-ideal circumstances, you probably dread the "Why did you leave?" question that almost always comes up at job interviews. Here's how to handle it.

First and most important, never lie. If you were fired, don't say you quit. It's very easy for companies to do background checks that will reveal this lie; it will probably come back to haunt you. Besides, you don't want to start off your relationship with your next employer with a lie, do you?

KISS. No, I'm not referring to the ancient rock band or kissing up to the interviewer. Keep It Short and Simple. Tell what happened--you were terminated, you quit, your job was eliminated--whatever. Do not go into detail unless asked.

Don't say anything negative. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding your departure, don't say anything negative about your former boss, coworkers or company. Any negativity, frustration or anger you express will only reflect negatively on you. Stay positive!

Tell what you learned. If they want more details about why you left, tell them what happened and what you learned from the experience. This will give you the opportunity to say how you turned a negative into a positive, and how you will handle similar situations differently in the future. For example, if you were fired for violating a company policy, you could say something like, "I was terminated for violating a company policy that I feel wasn't communicated to me clearly. I should have taken the responsibility to read all of the company policies and ask questions about those I didn't fully understand. That will be the first thing I do in my next job." Employers love to hear stories about how employees take responsibility for their actions and learn from their mistakes.


Practice your answer. You should do this with every anticipated interview question. Develop your answer and practice, practice, practice!

Offer proof of your abilities. Confidently tell them that you can provide references or letters of recommendation to verify that your job performance is normally above par, that you usually get along great with your supervisors, etc. Make sure they understand that what happened to cause you to leave your last job was the exception, not the rule.

Bonnie Lowe is author of the popular Job Interview Success System and free information-packed ezine, "Career-Life Times." Find those and other powerful career-building resources and tips at her website: http://www.best-interview-strategies.com.

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