One of the most difficult questions one is almost required to answer is why we left our last job.
Being a little bit of a wise guy, my inclination is to say “They stopped paying me.” Or, in the alternate, “When they changed the locks on my office and had security escort me out to the street, I thought it best not to come back.”
Okay, you can’t really use these lines in an interview, unless of course you are really good at comedy.
The problem with the question is that it is at once a silly question, an unfair question, and a difficult question, especially for us financial types who are used to providing incredible detail in any situation that warrants it. And, if there is any situation that warrants a “correct” answer, it is why you left your last job.
What is even worse is that it is difficult to have an intelligent discussion with anyone considering you for a new opportunity unless you address this issue. It is a question that they want to ask, and until you answer it they aren’t really listening. What they are doing is trying to find a polite way to ask.
An important fact to keep in mind is that if you allow the question to be asked rather than addressing it first, you are risking that it will be framed in a way that you will find more difficult to answer.
The best approach is to develop an explanation that is no more than 60 seconds, that is truthful, correct, and enough of an answer that no follow up question will be asked. Yes, I know it is a tough standard, but you will be surprised how easily satisfied most questioners are. Everyone isn’t a financial type. Most folks prefer short answers. A long one will provide more points of exposure for you and risk those dreaded follow up questions that can bring up negativity at a time you are trying to sell your positive nature.
There are usually agonizing “if only I had’s” constantly running through your mind when you lose a job. This is not the time to share them.
A simple “The company went through a downsizing,” or “The company was sold,” should about cover it. The details about why you were selected are not generally relevant and no one is going to really understand them anyway without a lot of additional information.
If you had an unreasonable boss who screamed at everyone and singled you out for special punishment, although truthful, can only come across as sour grapes, or worse yet, may sound like it contains a grain of truth.
Don’t go there and don’t dwell upon the reasons.
You are being considered for a new opportunity because you must in some way shape or form represent a solution to a problem faced by your potential employer.
There is a real and pressing need for you to spend every available moment in a face to face meeting discussing the future and how your many talents can be applied.
Don’t take the bait and don’t fall into the trap of “fully explaining” every detail and nuance of your departure.
I have said it many times and I will repeat it here: Speech is the slowest form of communication. Don’t waste precious minutes delving into unpleasant issues. But, understand that it is an issue that has to be addressed. Do it on your terms and in the nicest possible way.
You will see that it pays to be gracious. (Even though they “done you wrong.”)