The best ways to respond to "why are you leaving your job?"

The best ways to respond to "why are you leaving your job?"
JobStreet content teamupdated on 02 August, 2023

Succeeding in an interview is no easy feat. If you’ve been on this road before, you've likely encountered common yet tricky questions. One often asked is, of course, why you're leaving your current job for a new one.

It’s helpful to know that the idea of leaving a job for a new one is not uncommon.

In 2021, over 38 million workers all around the world quit their jobs. This Great Resignation movement also reached Malaysia.  In that same year, reports estimated that around 61% of Malaysians planned to resign, too.

While employers understand that this is now a norm, you should still approach this question with careful thought. Your response can impact how the interviewer perceives you as an employee. .

A weak response could raise doubts about your credibility, honesty, and professionalism. It can also lead them to believe that you are not a good fit for the job or the organisation, leading to a job rejection.

Considering that your response might have a significant impact on the outcome of your ideal job, it’s best that you prepare for this question ahead of time.

So, how do you do that?

Understanding the question

Leaving a job you dislike can be liberating, but you must navigate the interview carefully.

Often, job seekers have a misconception that employers are trying to trick them by asking this question.

Most of the time, the interviewer is looking for information about your work history and how you handle challenging situations in the workplace. They also want to understand whether the role you’re interviewing for is the right fit for you.

For example, if a role requires you to be on stand-by over the weekend, the recruiter may not consider you suitable if you’re leaving your current job because you are unable to commit to a similar responsibility.

Apart from these, the interview also wants to understand your skill sets and attitude towards work. This means you should highlight your skills, accomplishments, and lasting contributions to your previous employer too.

Employers also wish to understand what motivates you to leave one job and move on to another. They are looking for people who are driven, have clear career goals, and have a defined career path.

Employers are also open to understanding external factors that can influence how well you can perform at work. While some people avoid discussing personal reasons for leaving, such as health issues or family responsibilities, it helps to be honest and transparent. Personal reasons can also demonstrate your integrity and decision-making process. They may also be willing to provide you with more flexible arrangements to accommodate your specific needs or circumstances should they be willing to hire you.

Alternative ways interviewers could ask this question:

Since your reason for leaving could be a delicate matter, you may find interviewers rephrasing the question in other ways. While these questions may require you to elaborate on certain areas, they essentially probe your experience, often leading up to why you left your last job:

  1. What motivated you to look for new job opportunities?

  2. Can you tell me what led you to apply for this position?

  3. Can you explain why you're interested in working with our company?

  4. What inspired you to pursue this opportunity?

  5. Can you walk me through the thought process behind your job search?

  6. What would be the primary reasons for your desire to leave a job?

  7. What led you to believe that this position is a good fit for your career goals?

Reasons for leaving

A woman who just quit her job

The question might seem specific, but it’s multi-faceted. Your reasons for leaving could relate to work culture, environment, or personal circumstances.

When carving out your response to this question, you also want to assess your needs for a new workplace.

Here are a few reasons why people consider leaving their jobs, one of which might be relevant to you:

1. Better Opportunities

In one of our work trends reports, we found that 73% of Malaysians plan to switch jobs every 2 to 3 years, and 40% of Malaysians are actively looking for jobs. The leading reason? They’re searching for better opportunities.

Better opportunities mean different things to different people because we have different priorities in life.. For some, it’s a higher salary or a higher job position; for others, it might be flexible work arrangements, health benefits, or retirement plans. Those looking for career growth may seek new jobs that offer greater opportunities for professional development. These can be in the form of training programmes and mentorship.

If you’re leaving your job for better opportunities, here’s an example of what you can say during the interview:

“I'm looking for a new opportunity because I'm ready to take the next step in my career. I've gained a lot of valuable experience and skills in my current role, such as [insert relevant skill sets], but I'm excited about the new challenges and opportunities that this position can offer me. I've been keeping an eye out for positions that align with my career goals and values, and this opportunity is the perfect fit.

2. Work-Life Balance

A healthy balance between work and personal life is increasingly important, especially today. However, in our fast-paced, competitive work environments, achieving this can be a challenge.

(Read more: Dear Malaysians, It’s Okay to Take Mental Health Leave! )

Increasing pressure and demands of work can lead to stress and burnout. Long hours, heavy workloads, and constant connectivity to work through technology makes it difficult to switch off and relax. These lead to exhaustion, anxiety, and depression.

Yet, maintaining physical, mental, and emotional well-being is crucial.

If work-life balance is what you’re after in your next role, be truthful with your interviewer and offer a sound justification, such as this:

“During my time at my previous job, I found that my work-life balance was not where I wanted it to be. I was consistently working long hours and not able to make time for the things outside of work that are important to me, such as [insert personal factors]. After careful consideration, I made the difficult decision to leave to find a job that would allow me to achieve a better balance. I'm excited about this opportunity because it seems to prioritise work-life balance, which is important to me and my ability to be a productive and engaged employee. For example, [insert example of what this company does that promotes work-life balance, if you have access to this information]."

3. Company Culture

A mismatch with company culture occurs when an employee's values and beliefs clash with the values and practices of the company they work for.

For example, if a company values strict adherence to rules and protocols, an employee who likes to innovate and think outside the box may find the environment stifling. Similarly, a company culture that is focused on competitiveness and individual success may cause employees to feel isolated and disconnected if they value collaboration and teamwork .

When employees experience a mismatch with company culture, they may feel like they don't belong or aren't valued. This reduces job satisfaction, increases stress, and ultimately, convinces them to quit. In some cases, employees may even become disengaged and stop performing at their best. These can lead to further negative outcomes for both the employee and the company, such as a halted pay raise.

Ensuring that you will be a good fit for the company is equally important for employers. As such, it pays to be honest about your past experience, so they can better understand whether you will work well with the team. Here’s how you can let them in on your experience and perhaps ask more about how they view the company culture to show your interest:

"I decided to leave my previous job due to a cultural mismatch. While the company had a great reputation and many talented individuals, I found that the work culture didn't align with my personal values and work style. For example, there was a lack of transparency and communication, which made it difficult for me to feel connected to the team and stay engaged.

I will thrive in a positive work environment aligned with my values. This will allow me to  contribute meaningfully to the team. I understand that your company [insert what you know about the company’s culture and ask more questions].

4. Job Satisfaction

Job satisfaction refers to how happy an employee feels working in a specific job. A satisfied employee finds work enjoyable. On the contrary, an unsatisfied employee does not find fulfilment in their job. As such, they may seek employment elsewhere.

There are several factors that can reduce job satisfaction levels. These include an unsupportive manager or a lack of appreciation for and recognition of your work contributions.

When sharing these experiences with your interviewer, it’s important that your response is tactful. You don’t want to appear as though you’re complaining, which can otherwise position you as a negative individual or someone who is difficult to work with. Instead, aim to come across as a proactive problem-solver who learned valuable lessons from past experiences:

"I left my previous job because I didn't feel fulfilled in my role. Despite working hard and meeting my targets, I didn't feel a sense of accomplishment or growth. I realised I needed a job that would challenge me and allow me to learn new skills and take on more responsibilities. That's why I'm excited about this opportunity because I believe it will provide me with the platform for growth I'm looking for."

5. Relocation

The need to relocate is a pretty common reason for employees to leave their current job. There are many reasons why an individual may need to relocate. For example, their partner got a new job, so moving to a new city would be ideal for them. Or, they need to care for an ageing parent, and thus relocating is a wise option. In other instances, an individual may prefer a change of environment.

No matter the reason, employers understand that relocation can lead to employment changes. As such, an honest response, such as this, will suffice:

"I left my previous job because I had to relocate to another city for personal reasons [you may share more if you are comfortable]. While I enjoyed working with my team and had a positive experience at the company, the move was necessary for my family and me. I'm now excited to settle down in this new city and eager to find a new opportunity where I can continue to grow professionally."

6. Career Change

Embarking on a career change is another valid reason to leave a previous job. The pursuit of personal fulfilment, passion, or growth in a new industry can be a powerful motivator to make a significant shift. The decision to transition might also be driven by your desire to diversify your skillset or work on new and exciting projects that aren't available in your current role. For example, if you’re working in finance, you may decide to switch to the tech industry because you’re passionate about innovation and want to be part of the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Moreover, a career change might be due to external factors such as industry instability or job scarcity in a particular sector. You may opt for a more stable industry or a field with more growth potential. It’s a decision that calls for courage and a proactive mindset but can ultimately lead to significant professional and personal growth. With this career change comes the opportunity to take everything you've learned in your previous roles and apply it in a new, exciting context.

And this is how you might frame it in an interview:

"After several years in [state your previous industry], I decided to pursue a career change and transition into [the new industry you want to join]. While I had gained valuable experience in my previous role, I was eager to explore new challenges and apply my skills in a different context. [You may further elaborate on some transferable skills]."

7. Job Loss

Job loss can be a stressful experience. Speaking about it may make you nervous, but it’s important to be truthful about your circumstances.. Lying about it may hurt your chances of getting the job in the long run, especially when the company conducts background checks on you.

But how do you share this with the interviewer? If you were let go, you should maintain professionalism throughout the interview and avoid any negative talk about your past employer or colleagues. Focus on what you learned from the experience and your achievements. This is also a good opportunity to reemphasise your strengths and why you will be a good fit for the role.

If you're currently unemployed, explain how you’re keeping your skills current, such as the volunteer work you’re engaged in or courses you’re taking.

Approach this question with a positive attitude, even if losing a job was tough. Employers seek resilient individuals who can handle challenges with grace and determination. Here’s how you can begin:

"My previous company went through a period of downsizing, and unfortunately, my position was one of the ones eliminated. While it was disappointing to leave a job that I enjoyed, I understand that it was a necessary business decision and am excited to explore new opportunities. I've taken this time to enhance my competencies and adapt to the evolving industry trends. I recently completed a course [state the course name] relevant to the requirements of this role, and I'm excited about this opportunity as I can bring my updated skill sets and past experiences to your team. "

(Read more: Everything Malaysian Workers Need to Know About Inflation and Unemployment )

These are just a few reasons for leaving a job, but they cover many situations you might encounter. Tailoring your answer to match your circumstances will make your response authentic and convincing. Just remember to keep it positive and focus on the future rather than dwelling on the past.

How to craft an effective response

A man reading a letter

Crafting an effective response to why you left your previous job for a specific job position significantly influences the success of a job interview. It demonstrates to the interviewer that you’ve thoroughly researched the company, understood the expectations of the job, and can articulate how your experience aligns with the organisation's needs.

Reflect on your past job experiences and identify how your skills and qualifications match the requirements of the role you are interviewing for. Consider specific accomplishments or projects that demonstrate your expertise in the areas detailed in the job description. Focus your answer on how your experience can help the company achieve its goals.

Highlight the transferable skills that you bring to the role. For example, if you previously worked in a different industry, highlight some of the important transferable skills that can be applied to the new job. This shows that you possess a diverse skill set and are adaptable.

And most importantly, keep your response positive.

What not to say

Some things you should avoid:

  • Negative comments about your former employer or colleagues.It is never a good idea to speak negatively about your previous employer or colleagues during an interview. This can make you appear unprofessional and difficult to work with.
  • Personal reasons that do not relate to the job.While personal reasons can be a valid reason for leaving a job, it is important to keep your answer focused on professional reasons that are related to the job you are interviewing for.
  • Lies or exaggerations.Never lie, embellish, or exaggerate the reasons why you left your previous job. Such misconduct can easily be discovered and consequently damage your reputation.
  • Too much information or too little information.While it is important to be honest, you do not need to go into too much detail about why you left your previous job. It is also not advisable to provide vague answers that leave interviewers feeling puzzled or uninformed.. Keep your answer concise yet substantial.
  • Lack of accountability.Even if you were let go from your previous job, you should take ownership of your part in the situation. Shifting blame or making excuses can make you appear unprofessional and unreliable.

Improve your chances with a well-thought response

In almost all your interviews, the question, “Why did you leave your job?” is likely to surface. Thorough preparation is, therefore, crucial.

Job seekers should tailor their responses to the specific job position they are applying for. They can do this by demonstrating how their experience and skills align with the new role and the value they can bring to the organisation. By preparing thoughtful and articulate responses, job seekers can improve their chances of securing their desired job and advancing their careers.

Stay updated with what you have to know about the present job market with our Career Advice page. You can also download JobStreet’s app, available on the App Store and Google Play, so you will always be a few steps ahead!


  1. What if my reason for leaving is due to a conflict with my manager?
    ⁠If a managerial conflict led to you leaving your last job, handle this matter with tact during the interview. Here's how you might address this delicate issue:
    • Be honest.But don't badmouth your previous employer or manager. Discuss the situation, not the individual.

    • Keep it brief and to the point.Don't dwell on the conflict or make it the central point of your answer.

    • Highlight what you learned from the situation.Talk about how you grew as a professional and what you learned about conflict resolution.

    • Emphasise your desire to work in a positive and collaborative environment.Show the interviewer that you're intent on thriving in an amicable environment. ⁠

      ⁠⁠Example response: ⁠

      "I left my previous job due to a conflict with my manager. Despite the challenging circumstances, the experience was enlightening.  It reinforced the importance of effective communication and conflict resolution skills in any professional setting. I am now seeking an environment where I can collaborate harmoniously with colleagues towards shared objectives.""

  2. Should I mention that I was fired or let go from my previous job?Disclosing that you were terminated from a previous role can be daunting.  Yet, if asked about your employment history, you must be honest. Untruths, if discovered, could lead to job offer withdrawal or future termination.

    ⁠If you’ve been fired or let go, it's important to frame your response positively. For example, you can acknowledge that you were let go but explain that it was a valuable learning experience that taught you how to improve in your future roles.
  3. What if I don't have a specific reason for leaving?
    If you don’t have a specific reason for leaving, you may simply express your readiness for new challenges and your enthusiasm about the potential growth offered by the new role. You can also reassure your interviewers that you left your previous job on good terms and that you can provide references, if necessary.

    ⁠It's important to keep in mind that employers value people who are reliable and committed to their job. If you left your previous job without a clear reason, it may raise some red flags for potential employers. However, if you can demonstrate your skills and eagerness for the job during the interview process, it may not be a major concern.

    ⁠If you are unsure how to explain your reasons for leaving, you can consider working with a career coach or mentor who can provide guidance and support.
  4. Is it ever okay to lie about the reason for leaving my current job?
    No, it is not advisable to lie about the reason for leaving your job. Employers often conduct background checks, and these include contacting your previous employer to verify your employment history. Lying can damage your credibility and harm your chances of getting the job.

    ⁠Moreover, if the employer finds out that you lied about your reason for leaving during the interview, it can lead to termination of your newly employed role or even legal repercussions . Therefore, it is always important to be honest and transparent about your reason for leaving, irrespective of how unfavourable it might be.
  5. Can I talk about salary as a reason for leaving my current job?Generally, it’s not recommended to discuss salary as the primary reason for leaving your current job. Such a perspective could create an impression that your interest is predominantly in monetary benefits rather than the job role or the company’s culture.

    ⁠However, if salary played a significant part in your decision to leave your previous job, you can mention it provided you’re also discussing other factors. For example, you might say something like,"While I enjoyed working at my previous job and had many great experiences there, I ultimately decided to pursue other opportunities that offered more competitive compensation as well as room for growth and development."

    Additionally, if you’re asked about your salary expectations in the new position, it's best to provide a range or a ballpark figure rather than a specific number. This allows for more flexibility and negotiation during the hiring process.

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