Mar 13 2017

By Dawn Rasmussen,

Your reason for leaving a previous employer can be one of only three things:

  1. You wanted to leave
  2. The employer wanted you to leave
  3. Both you and the employer wanted you to leave

Discussing your reason for leaving a previous employer can be tricky, especially when you didn’t really have a say in the matter. Unfortunately, a lot of online applications force you to answer without giving you a chance to explain.

Here is a glossary of terms you might consider using to spin your reason for leaving your previous employer:

Career Related Reasons

Career exploration | This phrase can be used in a variety of situations, especially if you are in a bad situation and left the company in order to keep your sanity. Everyone has one of those “I need to backpack around the world to find myself” moments. If this would help explain a complete shift in career fields or a pivot, then use this explanation.

Career advancement | Under the best of circumstances, this term can be easily applied to any situation where you left to take another position, whether it worked out or not. The point here is that you saw an opportunity to advance your career, and you took it. No one could blame you for that!

Professional Sabbatical | This phrase is a handy tool when you had to take a mental health break or a career “breather” to reassess where you are and where you want to go. See “Career Exploration.”

Skill / Knowledge Acquisition | If you have been pigeon-holed by your previous employer and aren’t growing, this might be a good term to use.

Business Reasons

Mutual Decision | This does raise some eyebrows and a red flag or two. But by clearly stating, “Hey, this didn’t work out and we both didn’t want to waste each other’s time,” you indicating that you knew when it wasn’t going to work out.

Change Management | Previously known as a “Pink Slip” or “Down Sizing”, change management can indicate a lot of things as your reason for leaving your previous employer. This phrase helps you indicate that the company was undergoing a cataclysmic shift. Everything and everyone was being turned upside down.

Corporate Acquisition | Using this term as your reason for leaving helps explain how the parent company’s team has just stepped in and cleaned house.

Contract / Temp / Term Expiration | For any job that has an expiration date, stipulate this as your reason for leaving. If you want to explain it further like, “Grant funds were exhausted” – that’s fine too.

Hours Reduced | If you are going to list this reason, you should consider the negatives. The first thing that pops into the mind of a potential employer is, WHY? Were you not performing well? They will immediately think something is wrong with you versus the company, so be careful.

Personal Reasons

Personal Sabbatical | Illness, child rearing, caring for a spouse, parent, or other family member are some of the reasons some workers need to leave a company. You can state this without getting into the details, which is legally none of the business of the prospective employer.

Work / Life Balance | Your reason for leaving could mean horrible commutes, too much work, traveling too often, being on call 100% of the time, etc. etc.

Relocation | If a spouse or partner gets a job in another city, this is your reason for leaving.

And, Well…

Terminated | This is the most painful of all reasons for leaving a previous employer. It is like having a red siren go off in your résumé / application. Legally, you are obligated to note that you are terminated if this has happened.  Alternatively, if the job is not applicable or relevant to your employment target, why include it at all?

The important thing to remember when explaining why you left a previous employer is be honest.  However, diplomatic ways to express your reasons are always best.

Ultimately, you left that job because you wanted something better.

Don’t let that stand in the way of getting your next one.

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