One of my favorite sayings is “luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” Success in an interview is measured by being prepared for all questions that may be asked. Don’t be thrown off-track by this popular question. The key to answering this question effectively is to remain brief, be positive, and don’t provide unnecessary details.
Interviewers ask this question so that they can understand your motivations and try to gain insight into how you handle conflict. You would be amazed at some of the things candidates have told me in response to this question. The answer to this one question can serve as a giant red warning sign that says “DO NOT HIRE.” Here are some situations you may be facing and how to deal with each one:
If you were fired
This situation can be tricky. You could answer that you made a mutual decision to take your career in a new direction. However, honesty is always the best policy. Take responsibility for the situation, explain what you learned from the experience, and express that the issue will not happen again. Don’t feel compelled go into details. Never try to blame your former employer; you will always come across as though you were the problem.
If you were laid off
Being laid off is seldom viewed as a negative toward the candidate. When stating your reason, explain that you were part of large-scale reduction in force. Provide a general reason for the lay-off such as the company was downsizing, outsourcing, or business slowed down. Do not come across as bitter or angry. Express appreciation for your former company, talk about what you learned in your previous position, and convey enthusiasm for your future opportunities and challenges.
If you did not get along with your boss or coworkers
Never speak negatively about a boss, coworker or the company in an interview. Do not feel the need to explain the situation and who was right or wrong. No matter the circumstances, if you are the one complaining you will come across as a problem employee who is difficult to manage.
When the situation was uncomfortable, it is best to offer a brief answer such as “I was looking to use my skills and experience in an environment where I could make a positive impact.” Unless pressed for further details, it is best to leave it at that.
If you were unhappy with your career direction
Career satisfaction comes from many angles – being challenged, continued growth, adequate pay, and appreciation. However, if you complain about any of these issues, you may come across as easily bored and unmotivated. Talk about how you want to continue to grow and develop your career and how you feel your skills and knowledge can benefit their company. Show that you are self-aware and motivated to succeed by talking about how your skills were not a fit in your previous employer and then state how you feel you fit into the company for which you are interviewing.
If your life circumstances changed
Our personal lives inevitably impact our work. However, you don’t want the interviewer to feel as though your job will be negatively impacted by your personal life. Briefly explain how you left your last job to raise a family, but be sure focus on how you feel you can contribute and bring value to the organization.