Tag Archives: common interview questions

“Why did you leave your last company?” How to answer this question

And three possible scenarios. 

Why did you leave your last company?” is an interview question that can be a cinch for job candidates to answer or difficult, depending on the reason for leaving your position.

interview with womanAlways expect this question in an interview. It only makes sense that the interviewer would like to know why you left your last company. Were you laid off, let go, or did you quit. Those are the three possible scenarios.

How you answer this question—most likely the first one asked—will set the tone for the rest of the interview. Many people interviewing for the first time are surprised when they get this question. It’s as though they didn’t expect it.

Not only should you expect this question; you should have the answer to this question already formulated. It should not take you by surprise. Expect it. Be prepared. If you get it wrong, shame on you.

Also, be aware of a zinger like, “Steve, tell us why you want to leave (company X) and come to work with us?” To answer this two-part question successfully requires an in depth knowledge of the company and position. Both of which are topics for another article.

What are employers looking for?

Is there a wrong answer? Not really. It’s how you answer it, for the most part. There’s no way to change the past, so your calm response is the best policy. They want transparency, not lies. They also don’t want a drawn-out story; your answer should be brief.

If you become emotional, it will send a negative message to interviewers. If you hesitate, they may distrust you or question your resolve.

Three possible scenarios

Let’s look at the reasons why people lose their job and how to address them.

1. You were laid off

This is easiest way to answer the question, “Why did you leave your last position?” As mentioned above, your answer should be short and sweet. You may say, “The company had to cut cost and restructure after a poor second quarter.”

To beat them to the punch, you might add, “I was among 15 people in my group who were laid off. I was told by my manager that she was sad to see me go.” The reason for doing this is because you might get a follow-up question about how many people were laid off.

Caveat: some people think being laid off is the same as being let go or fired. It is not. Being laid off is do to company failure.

2. You were let go

This is harder to explain, but not impossible to come up with a viable answer. This especially needs a short answer. It’s important that you are transparent and self-aware with your answer. In other words, if you were at fault, be honest about it.

You must also explain what you learned from the experience and state that it will not be repeated. Perhaps it was a conflict of personality between you and your manager, poor performance, or a “mutual departure.”

Conflict of personality. “A new manager took over our department. I was used to the way the previous person managed us. The new manager had a different style, which I didn’t adapt to quick enough. I now understand I need to be more adaptable to other types of management.”

Poor or inadequate performance. “As the project manager of my department, I was responsible for delivering a release of a new data storage software. We failed to meet the deadline by a week. My VP saw this as unexceptionable.  I see where I could have done a better job of managing the team.”

Caveat: the interviewer might want to dig deeper into the situation. Be prepared to answer the questions directly with little emotion. Always keep a cool head. Resist the temptation to speak negatively about your previous boss.

3. You quit or resigned

To quit a position—especially without a job in hand—means there was an existing problem. One common reason I hear for quitting is a conflict of personality with the employee’s supervisor. Another one is a toxic work environment. And a lame reason I hear is because advancement was not possible.

Regardless, a red flag will go up with interviewers if you quit your position. What some people don’t realize is that you give up your right to collect unemployment, if you quit; another reason why this is not a great scenario.

Conflict of personality. “My previous boss and I didn’t see things eye-to-eye on certain decisions he made, and tension was high, so I decided the best move for me was to resign. I realize I could done a better job of accepting his ideas.”

Unsafe environment. “I felt the work environment was not as safe as I was comfortable with. For example, there were many fire hazards in the warehouse. Additionally, the air quality was tested, and it failed. I feel fortunate that my wife brings in a substantial income; otherwise I might have stuck it out longer. My only regret is that I miss the people with whom I worked.”

Caveat: again, it is important to be transparent and honest when answering this question. To simply say you quit or resigned is not good enough. Do not be bitter when you answer this question; just state facts.

Always expect the question, “Why did you leave your last job.” Any interviewer who doesn’t ask this question isn’t doing his job. The reason for departure is essential information. I find this traditional question to be one of the most important ones for job candidates to able to answer.


10 common interview questions; the good, bad, and the ugly

Nevervous Interviewee

Preface: I will always believe that behavioral-based and situational questions are better than the ones discussed in this post; however interviewers feel differently.

There are interview questions that have survived the test of time and are still being asked at interviews. Some of these classics are good, others are bad, and still others are ugly. In this post I talk about these questions and rate them from 1 to 10.

Your opinion might be different, so feel free to add your comments at the end of this post.

The Good

Do you have any questions for me?  This is my favorite classic question. Why, you may wonder. It’s a question that many candidates have difficulty answering. Their response may be that they asked questions during the interview, so they have none left. Not good enough.

The interviewer wants to hear intelligent, thought-provoking questions you’ve formulated during the interview and ones you’ve brought with you. Go to the interview with 10-15 questions written down on note cards or a piece of paper. Ask if you can refer to your questions; this shows preparedness and interest in the position and company.

I give this one a 9.

Why should we hire you? I like this question because it makes you address three major components employers look for in a candidate—your ability to do the job, your willingness to do the job, and your ability to fit in. This question is one of the most important of the classics an interviewer will ask.

The interviewer asks this question to hear how you’ll articulate the answer. After all, she’s trying to determine why she’ll hire you. Make it clear why she should hire you with a concise, value-added answer. Telling her you’re a hard worker, well liked, outgoing is not going to impress her, nor should it be a reason for her to hire you.

This question deserves an 8.

Tell me about yourself. This is more of a directive and one you should expect in least in 7 out of 10 interviews. It challenges your nerve and sets the tone for the interview. You’re being tested on how well you summarize your strengths and relevant accomplishments, as well as how confidently you deliver your answer.

Knowing your personal commercial (or elevator speech) and knowing how to adapt it to the job and company to which you’re applying will make this directive easier to answer. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t answer this question easily, yet many a candidate slide under the table when faced with this directive.

In my mind this question is also an 8.

Why are you looking for this sort of position and why here? This two-part question is another way of testing your enthusiasm for the job and company, as well as asking why you left your previous company (or are leaving your current company). Well played by the interviewer.

Talk about the challenges you look forward to facing and how you want to make the company stronger. Also be careful about revealing too much information about your departure from your last company. There are three possible scenarios for leaving your last company: you were laid off, let go, or quit. (Click on the links for great post on how to handle each one.

This one is also an 8.

The Bad

What would your former boss say about you? You can think about your strengths and accomplishments till the sun sets, but the interviewer makes you think about what someone else thinks of you—not what you think of you. And there’s a chance your former boss might be contacted.

I suggest you contact your former boss, providing you’re on good terms, and ask him how he would answer this question. It’s best to be on the same page, and you can lead your answer with, “My former supervisor often told me I was someone people in the office would go to if they had questions regarding technical marketing content.”

I give this question a 7.

What are your plans for the future? Better than, “Where do you expect to be five years from now?” because it’s testing your self-awareness. Do you want to advance in the new company, remain an individual contributor, or even take a step back from your management responsibilities?

All three answers are fine, as long as you will add value to to the company. Talk about how you plan to develop new skills, contribute to the company’s bottom line, and show your leadership skills (whether you manage or not).

This question is worth a 6.

What is your greatest strength?  This is one of my least favorite questions. Why? Because you can practice answering this in many different variations. It’s easy to adapt to the situation. The company needs a great leader, well there you go. Communication skills, bingo. Technical knowledge, you get the point.

You should have no problem with this question as long as you know the most important skill required for the position. Review the job description and assume the first requirement is the most important.

This question also earns a 6.

The Ugly

How does your previous experience relate to this position? Really dumb question. The interviewer wants to know if you have the job-related skills, something that should be obvious from reading your resume.

To answer this question you need to know the job requirements and how you qualify for every one of them. Do your homework. Also think of transferable skills that can contribute to the position.

This question deserves a 4, because it only requires you to read the job description and connect the dots.

What is your greatest weakness? Here’s the thing, no one is going to admit to their greatest weakness, and everyone is so nontransparent that this question should be barred from all interviews. A word of advice, never tell the interviewer you’re a perfectionist. Read why here.

On the plus side the interviewer is trying to gauge your ability to say a fraction of the truth. In other words show some transparency. He wants to see if you are aware of your faults and how you are trying to correct them.

Nonetheless, the score for this question is a 2 out of 10.

If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be? Resist the urge to giggle; some argue that there is a good reason for asking this question and questions like it. They say it determines your knowledge of the work environment. For example, the environment is fast and progressive, so you want to be flexible like a birch.

My suggestion for answering this question is to play along. Most interviewers who ask this question are inexperienced and have no idea of why they’re asking it. However, some interviewers do.

Regardless, I give this question the lowest score, 1 out of 10.

These questions have popped up in article after article. My clients report being asked them in their interviews. These questions, as good or ugly as they are, are timeless. So expect some, if not many of these classic questions, in your next interview.

Final thought: questions like these are the easiest to answer because you can arrive at the interview with the answers already in mind. If you’re wondering which questions deserve a perfect 10 our of 10, behavioral-based interviews like “Tell me about your greatest challenge, what you did about it, and what did you learn from your actions?” is more like it.