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Author Topic: How to explain why I resigned from my previous job in an interview politely.  (Read 13426 times)

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Recently I had to resign from my position with a company that I was with for almost 7 years.  I decided to just cut ties and focus on finding a new career path.
I have a new interview coming up on the 22nd with a well known company.  I'm wondering how to word my explanation of my resignation when asked.  Here are the details why I left:
BG: I worked for a graphics company where I was an account manager. We had dedicated accounts. We were responsible for helping clients figure out what graphics and hardware to purchase that met their needs, quoting, help them place the orders, manage the projects, make sure all was shipped on time and follow up as needed.

Good points about the job: I loved most of my clients. The remainder I still worked well with. I was highly reviewed among my clients (many offered to be references) and all my reviews with my supervisor were very good.  I got along with all of my co workers.

Bad points:
Pay really didn't seem high enough for the stress of what we were doing.
Many co workers left in the last 2 years (for higher paying jobs) and the rest of us got their accounts, causing me to be overworked and unable to focus on client's needs. This caused complaining on response time and I'm sure the company lost some business because of it.
My employer did not hire enough to take into consideration our high turnover - many people who were hired quit before getting out of training, or were so incompetent that it caused more work for the rest of us until they had enough evidence to let them go.
My employer did not hire enough order entry reps ( to enter all the orders in the system), so after finishing our own work, we had to do 1-3 hours more of order entry, causing some days to be 10-12 hours long. You had no idea when you would leave.
My employer would assign extra projects on top of our already too high workload with no extra compensation.
My employer, stated they were now hiring at a hire rate, however the rest of us would see no more compensation, so I, at 7 years experience, was only making $1 more per hour than a new hire. 
Our inventory system, and machinery had major issues, which we were not kept up to date on, and we would have to call clients and lie why a project could not get out the door.

Due to the overtime, I could not schedule anything after work as we were expected to stay. Leaving on time or a particular time (not early) had to be approved 4 days in advance. My kids were not getting to their activities (my husband tried, but is only 1 man).
The last week I was there I had to physically leave the building as it was getting to me too much. I've never had to do that before.  In the last few months, I begged my supervisor to do something, as the load was too much and the company would lose clients. Nothing was done.  I finally realized nothing would change and I handed in my resignation to focus on a new job with better life/work balance.

So based on all of this, what is the best way to explain why I left? Of course you don't want to bad talk your previous employer, and I know there is nothing to gain in doing so.   The last time I interviewed (while I was working), I simply explained that there were changes with my employer and that I felt it was time to move on. They wanted details.
I just don't want to ruin this interview.


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The most standard way to put this would be:

"Unfortunately, the goals and priorities at [OLD COMPANY] changed over time, and I felt the job was no longer a good fit for me."

Then focus on what you were good at. Tell them you really enjoyed working with clients, helping them figure out what they needed, managing projects, etc. Talk up your strengths. You're not bad mouthing your company at all, and instead focusing on what you liked and were good at. They can then read between the lines if they want.


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>and focus on finding a new career path

That's it.  You realized that your goals were incompatible with the old company's, and so you decided to look for an opportunity where you could use and expand your skills in a way that helps both your employer and yourself.

Don't say "changes", don't even imply that you were anything other than a happy contributor at your old place.   "Everything was going great but I wanted to learn new skills and/or wasn't taking good advantage of my current skills."


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Well obviously I didn't like something since I resigned, so I'm not sure I can get away with sounding like I was nothing but a happy contributor when I up and left. I'm sure that will be questioned.


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>and focus on finding a new career path

That's it.  You realized that your goals were incompatible with the old company's, and so you decided to look for an opportunity where you could use and expand your skills in a way that helps both your employer and yourself.

Don't say "changes", don't even imply that you were anything other than a happy contributor at your old place.
   "Everything was going great but I wanted to learn new skills and/or wasn't taking good advantage of my current skills."

I agree with this completely. Any complaint you make can be turned around to make you look bad. There were changes? You weren't adaptable, you weren't a team players, etc.

I would emphasize what you liked about the last job, but say that you were looking for X (whatever this new company is offering).

If pressed, you could say something vague like, "Well, as much as I loved the job, in the last year or so, the company had trouble managing personnel levels, making the behind-the-scenes mechanics a bit chaotic." I would not say anything like "I was no longer a good fit."

I also think it could be OK to say something like, "I am a team player and more than happy to put in the occasional late night to meet a deadline and keep the customers happy, but to be honest, the company began requiring daily unpaid overtime, which after many months was something I simply could no longer do." (Only say this if you know the new company supports good work-life balance and won't require the same thing!)


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Well obviously I didn't like something since I resigned, so I'm not sure I can get away with sounding like I was nothing but a happy contributor when I up and left. I'm sure that will be questioned.

Honestly, this is something that you should notice about them...people who question that are people to watch out for.

because, IME, when someone is doing the 'polite fiction' (which, yes, we all know that, the job market being what it is, someone walking away from a long-term job w/o a new one probably isn't real happy w/ former employer) we all know it's polite fiction--the fact that someone is doing 'polite fiction' (instead of saying "I worked for harpies who should be drawn, quartered, and allow me to tapdance on their graves") is what they're supposed to be finding out.  They're not SUPPOSED to be asking the question to find out why you 'really' left your previous employer.  They're supposed to be asking the question 'if I ask this difficult question, is this person professional and tactful enough to give an 'honest' answer without vilifying the previous employer."?

Someone who tries to grill you to get more information and who questions that is someone to avoid.  It tells you that the interviewer is quite possibly someone you don't want to work for.  (the same way that an interviewer who says they can't let you give 2 weeks notice to your current employer is someone you don't want to work for)


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Don't reference unpaid overtime if you're not in a position where you would be legally entitled to paid overtime.  If you're an exempt employee, the understanding is that you work until you get the job done.  That's what they tell me at my job and, like you, it's getting to the point where I can't reliably plan anything after work because of the hours.

If you feel like you need to provide more detail, couch it in terms that make you look your best.  For example, "Changes in staffing levels meant that I felt I was no longer providing the best possible service to our customers.  I'm looking for an environment in which keeping the customer happy is the highest priority."
« Last Edit: November 06, 2013, 02:57:56 PM by DCGirl »


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I have to disagree with dawbs, who posted while I was posting, on why interviewers ask why someone left a previous job.  Yes, they want to see that someone will respond in a professional manner instead of describing a lunatic manager.  But, they are also trying to understand your motives and gain insight as to how you'll handle difficult situations.  They're not looking for the "polite fiction."  They want to know if the person will leave them in the lurch if he/she becomes bored or dissatisfied without trying to work things out.   

I do agree that the hiring manager who doesn't want you to give two weeks' notice is a huge red flag about the corporate culture at any potential employer.


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We asked, "What is the most difficult experience you've had with a supervisor," and, "What is it about this job that makes you want to leave your current one?"

We are looking for positive answers to possibly negative situations.  Professionalism, etc.  Also, mention the goals and mission of the organization that you are interviewing with to show that not only do you want a new job but that you want that job with that organization.
« Last Edit: November 06, 2013, 05:04:01 PM by Betelnut »
Native Texan, Marylander currently


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The job I'm looking at is an Administrative Supervisor position.

I"m not looking for late nights on a constant basis. I would hope a long day is the exception and not the rule.  It was the rule at my previous job (I was paid overtime fyi, but it was interfering with my ability to spend time with my children during the week and was burning me out).

Honestly I'd want to know if the life/work balance is not good. If they are asking several hours of overtime every day, then I don't want the position. If they say it happens a couple of times a month, then no problem. Most reasonable people can work around it on occasion but not every day for months on end with no end in sight.


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Talk about how you were ready for a new challenge.

Talk about how you had reached the pinnacle of career progression available at your old office.  that the people above you had been there forever with no signs of moving on limiting you from promotion.

Don't say anything negative about them or yourself.


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I would say pick what to say and keep it short. I've been interviewing people for a while now, and when someone goes on for more than a few sentences (max 3) about what they didn't like about an old job it's a Huge Red Flag. I say max 3 mainly because I've found that once people go over 3 they tend to start venting. Since most people do vent to friends and spouses about work, it's way to easy to accidentally do that in an interview.

I would suggest saying something like, "We had quite a bit of turnover, and new people weren't being brought in. I'm good, but I can't do the jobs of 4 people!" Or however you would word something similar. Let them know that there was high turnover that way they know there's likely a problem with the office, not the worker.

Good luck!


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  • Trap...Neuter...What was that third thing again?
"My pay was not commiserate with my experience, my workload, or the requirement to work 2-3 hours of overtime daily.  There was no opportunity for improvement in my work situation due to the high turnover rate leaving us short-staffed, and I decided my time would be best spent searching for better employment opportunities."

The phrase "high turnover rate" will clue your potential future bosses in that something was rotten in the state of Denmark.


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I walked off a job after 13 years..just left my keys and never returned.  It sounds like I am flakey on paper and it was hard to be creatively polite in interviews.  I know what I wanted to say about why I left, but I promised myself that no matter what I would NOT bad mouth my former boss even though she was doing it to me, so I had to find a way to express why I just walked without going into a rant.  My spin on leaving because my boss had turned into the most evil bully, who not only criticized me about my work but personally in front of clientele, wanted me to cook the books, then was stopping my paychecks and refusing to make good on them, which all caused me to start having health issues due to stress was "My last place of employment was having some down times in the economy and boss and I were unable to find the right compromise on my wages so I felt it was easier for the business and myself fiscally to find another position."  I used this like during numerous interviews and my current boss is the only one who picked up that I wasn't getting paid and I had no choice but to walk (he brought it p after I was hired and I didn't deny it).  If you are still looking to stay in the same field, there is a chance that stories about your companies recent issues have gotten around and it may be known that they ask more of less and it isn't working for them.


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I agree on the high turnover rate being good thing to mention.  I'd say that there was a very high turnover rate which led to more experienced staff like yourself being required to pick up the slack.  I'd then say that while you understand the need for occasional overtime, you are unable to consistently up in 3-4 hours per day.  It may turn off some potential employers, but if that's what they need, they'd be a poor fit for you anyway.