Why did you leave your last job? Here’s how to answer during an interview.


I finally left a toxic job after two years of trying to make things work. Three arrogant men ran the company. They kept our salaries artificially low by alleging financial problems prevented them from paying us what we were worth, but “if we stayed, they’d make it up to us.” They lied. Not only didn’t they make it up to us, but they made huge salaries and bonuses. They also didn’t promote based on competency, but instead rewarded employees who sucked up to them. I wasn’t willing to stomach doing that and so didn’t have a future there.

I’ve been on only one job interview, but it went south when I was asked, “Why did you leave your last job?” I tried to explain and even said I thought it was a miracle I stayed as long as I did in view of the senior managers’ lack of ethics. The interviewer laughed and looked sympathetic, but I didn’t get the job.

When I’m next asked this question, how much detail should I give in explaining why I had to leave?


Hiring managers want to hire employees who speak positively and professionally, not those who may eventually badmouth them or their company. When you say, “I left because of the senior leadership’s lack of ethics,” you torpedo your job chances of getting hired.

Here’s one suggestion for rewording what you explained in your email more positively: “Although I appreciated my managers acknowledging they weren’t paying me what I was worth, I want a job where I’m getting a salary more in line with the value I bring to my employer.”

Next, instead of further dissecting the past, segue into the reasons you’re excited about the opportunities the prospective employer offers and how your reasons for moving on align with what they offer.

Here are five possible statements:


• “I want to develop myself as a valuable leader for your company, and I’ve heard you provide leadership training and promote from within.”

• “Your company offers promotional opportunities that didn’t exist at my current company.”

• “I’ve heard about the positive culture you have within your company.”

• “Your employees speak positively about your company, and I want to join a company where that’s true.”

• “Your company’s mission excites me.”

Before you select any of the above answers, make sure it’s honest and that you can answer any follow-up questions your answer triggers for the interviewer. For example, be prepared to answer what about their mission excites you or what you have heard about their workplace or culture. You can gain some of their information by researching their website or by connecting with some of their employees on LinkedIn. By making those types of efforts, you position yourself as an applicant who wants their job and not just any job.

Finally, I’m sorry your leaders lied to you. I’m equally concerned you might carry your bitterness into your interview. Don’t. If you do, you let your former managers hurt you a second time by quashing your chances of landing a new job.

Lynne Curry | Alaska Workplace

Lynne Curry writes a weekly column on workplace issues. She is author of “Navigating Conflict,” “Managing for Accountability,” “Beating the Workplace Bully" and “Solutions,” and Submit questions at or follow her on, or @lynnecurry10 on X/Twitter.