Professional Resume Writing & More

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Hiring managers don’t want to hire new employees.

Why? It’s time consuming and expensive.  There’s the time and effort involved in attracting candidates, screening them and conducting interviews (sometimes multiple interviews). Also, there’s staff time required to set the person up in the human resources and benefit system, plus the expense to onboard and train the new hire. These expenses can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars. Due to this, they try to make the process as easy as possible and quickly weed out candidates who are not a good fit, so it’s crucial that you do your homework before an interview. Your resume got you the interview but the interview gets you the job.

One question you’re likely to be asked in an interview is why you left your last job (or why you want to leave your current position). You need to be ready to answer this question honestly and professionally. There are different ways to ask this question some of which include:

  • Why are you looking for a new position?
  • Why did you leave your most recent position?
  • Why did you leave (a previous job)?

Your prospective employer wants to know that you have the potential to achieve and surpass organizational goals and contribute to the success of the organization. They want to make sure they find the best possible fit even if the process takes longer than expected. It is too costly NOT to make the right decision so understanding why you are moving on is critical.

Past performance is often a good indicator of future performance, learning more about how you fit in at a previous job may give insight into your potential for success in this job.  Here are some questions that an employer is considering before making a hiring decision.

Was there a good reason you left?

If you were with your previous company for five years and you left when the company was sold, that’s understandable. However, if you say that your commute was too long, but you’re interviewing in the same area, than what would make you stay in this position? Is there another reason you left besides the commute that you’re not saying? Employers want to make sure you have “staying power.” They want to make sure that in three months they are not looking to fill the same position.  It is simply too costly.

Did you quit, or were you fired?

Sometimes, good employees are let go due to no fault of their own — such as when a company eliminates an entire division, or dismisses all employees with a certain job title. However, if that wasn’t the case, the interviewer will want to determine if there were performance or integrity issues that resulted in your departure. The circumstances of your separation from the company can help answer this question: Are you a loyal employee who values work?

Are you still on good terms with your previous employer?

Employees who burn bridges when they quit may demonstrate their inability to handle conflict. Conflict resolution and emotional intelligence are crucial. Employers want to know you get along well with others and handle yourself calmly and professionally. If you left a company while still maintaining a relationship with your previous boss, that’s a good sign for the prospective employer. If your previous supervisor allowed you to use him or her as a reference for this job, that’s even better.

There are some particular “red flags” that a hiring manager is looking for. These include personality conflicts, a negative attitude, or poor performance.  Also, refrain from talking about salary unless asked.  An employer wants to know that you are looking to succeed in the position and not just a pay increase or “move up the corporate ladder.”  Stay focused on the job you are interviewing for.

What Are Some Likely Reasons For Leaving a Job?

While there are many reasons why you might leave a job, here are some common ones:

  • Your position is being eliminated. Whether due to budget cuts, the elimination of a division, loss of a client, or working in a declining industry, sometimes job cuts are not personal. Being laid off — particularly when it’s unrelated to performance — can happen to anyone. Let the interviewer know your strengths in the position and what you most enjoyed and hope to do in this position.
  • The company you work for is being acquired. Duplication of positions is not uncommon when one company acquires another. Layoffs and job reductions can often result from a company’s purchase or sale.
  • You are seeking new challenges. If your current role doesn’t offer opportunities for advancement, and you’re looking for new challenges and/or more responsibilities in your next position, be prepared to highlight your accomplishments in your current job and be specific about what about the role you’re seeking meets your desire to take on greater responsibilities. How can your accomplishments benefit the role you are seeking? How will your knowledge and skills help the company grow?  Employers want to know what you will do for the company not just what they can do for you.
  • This is your dream job. By all means, show excitement for the job and let the employer know this! Almost every jobseeker has a “dream job” in mind — and no matter how much you like your current job, if that position becomes available, you’d be crazy not to apply for it. You can even tell the employer “this is my dream job” and be prepared with concrete examples as to why. And don’t forget your body language speaks volumes.  Look the employer in the eye, lean forward and let your enthusiasm shine!

Expectations changed

The good news is that nothing lasts forever. The bad news is that nothing lasts forever.”

Whether because of new management, budget cuts, a shift in company strategy, or something else, your current role may have changed enough to where either you — or the company — decide it’s no longer a fit. If you were let go because you failed to meet your manager’s expectations, make it known that you have learned from the experience (and make sure the questions you ask in the interview are geared towards finding what the expectations and outcomes of the current role would be). Whatever you do, never badmouth your boss or play “victim” in an interview.  You want to show how you rised above a challenge or at least learned from it.

  • You want to make a change. Whether you are seeking a career change — or a life change — make sure you are prepared to discuss why you want to make a change. You can tie this into life events as well without getting too personal. Specifically, what are you looking to do and how will this benefit the company?
  • You were fired for cause. Be honest about the fact that you were fired, putting emphasis on why this was an isolated incident (if it was) and the lesson you learned.
  • It was an unplanned departure. Life happens and, unfortunately, it does not always go as planned. Employers are human too, after all, so be honest about why you left. Taking care of sick family, or having an unexpected health crisis can make it difficult to keep your job. In the interview, describe the situation and what you did to stay current in your field during your absence (i.e., freelance work, volunteering, and/or ongoing training and education).  Employers are very aware that life happens and being honest about taking care of family—or yourself—says a lot about your character. Don’t be afraid to talk about how you grew from the experience.

Should You List the Reason You Left a Job on Your Résumé?

In a word, no, unless you have a good reason for doing so.  For previous positions, you may include the reason, if it helps tell the story of your career progression. For example, if your company was acquired or sold, you may include that description. (“Division was sold in 2016 to ABC Brands and position was eliminated.”) Or, if you were recruited away by a competitor, you could disclose that. “Recruited to lead newly-formed department, assembling a team that achieved 14 percent market penetration in first year.”

However, including that type of information on the résumé is not necessary. You may, however, include the reason for your departure — or your reason for pursuing the current role — in your cover letter.  Cover letters are more personal so it’s fine to get into a bit more detail about your experiences.  You want to leave something to the imagination, however, so there’s no reason to get too wordy.  Cover letters are usually a few paragraphs explaining why you are the best fit for the organization with a Call-to-Action at the end, mainly a request for an interview or phone call.

Four Tips for Answering The Tough Question About Why You Left a Job

  • Don’t lie. This is self-explanatory. Employers can call your employer to verify what you say is accurate.  This can hurt you when applying for other jobs as well so just don’t.  If you have to lie, it’s not the job for you anyway.
  • Don’t bad mouth your previous employer or your co-workers. This is unprofessional and guaranteed to work against you. Employers don’t just focus on your experience, they focus on your character. Working well with others is crucial in any job so badmouthing bosses says you’ll do the same if they hire you. You can mention parts of the job that weren’t a good fit for your personality.  For example, if you’re a people person and most of your job consisted of not talking to anyone during the day, it is fine to say this.  However, you still want to show that you made the best of the situation.
  • Don’t be defensive or play victim. Instead, focus on objective reasons for your departure. Avoid negativity or blame. If a lot of your job was focused on sales and this isn’t your thing, say that (assuming you’re not interviewing for a job in sales!). Be honest about your strengths and weaknesses and what makes you thrive.  There’s a good chance you’ll succeed in the position you’re hiring for.  Stating that the position wasn’t what you expected it to be is a better way to describe the situation than “My boss didn’t give me clear expectations about how to do my job.”
  • Emphasize the positive. Why are you interested in this job? Hopefully, you’ve done your homework and Position yourself as moving forward. If this is your ideal role or dream job, say so! As previously stated, employers don’t wake up everyday excited to interview candidates. In fact, it has been called a game of “Cat and Mouse” where one person tries to outshine the other.  Employers want to be certain that you have the potential to succeed based on prior performance. That’s why being honest about why you are looking to change jobs is critical.

Remember the 3 C’s in an interview—Character, charisma and confidence.  Be honest and focus on these three attributes, and you’re sure to make an impression that gets noticed.

And for all the right reasons.

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