Awkward reason for leaving job
Hi Ronnie Ann!
After over 15 years of service my employer decided to accept my resignation or terminate my employment. Of course I chose to resign. Thing is that I was their top Project Manager. But after a customer complaint, which was my word against the word of the client, they decided to let me go.
Now I’m having a hard time deciding the right words to use as a reason for leaving a company after 15 years. I was a good employee. Yet one complaint and all that was over. So how do I handle that when looking for a new job?
Reason for leaving in interviews
First, I’m so sorry this happened to you. I hope this uncomfortable situation will lead you to an even better job where you and your hard work are appreciated. To help get you there, usually the best way to answer a question like this is to lead and end with your strength.
Now you might need to explain a little, without too many details, if they dig deeper — and then move on. But if they don’t ask, just keep it about your needs to grow your job / career in a different direction. And never say anything bad about your former employer!
Example of what you might say
Not saying to use these exact words, but something like:
“I spent many happy years working for XYZ company. And received many good reviews over the years from customers and managers alike (top project manager would go fine here).
But I recently started thinking about what I want now in my life. And I decided it’s time for a change. When I saw your ad, I got excited because I see a chance for me to take on new challenges such as ____ and _____.”
Now, let me say that interviewers, and I’m one myself on occasion, are slightly suspicious when they see a person has left a company. So I’m more concerned about your references.
Should your employer badmouth you in a reference and make you seem like a problem employee, your “reason for leaving” answer alone might not cut it. Although leaving a good overall impression can go far to overcome small doubts.
How most former employers handle references
Good news about references is that, nowadays, most former employers prefer to just give a vague answer rather than try to keep the person from getting a new job. Less good news is when interviewers hear a vague answer, we know there could be more to the story. And so we may push for more details.
Still, employers, for legal and other reasons, often keep to the basics. Even if they won’t go all the way to a rave review. So I hope, since you’ve been in only one job for so long, you have other excellent references from the company.
And, if you haven’t already asked this and if it’s at all possible, it might be worth asking your former boss if he would at least be willing to give you a decent reference. Many do so. Even under circumstances like yours.
One other bit of good news
Your longevity at your former company shows you’re steady and committed to your work. And it also shows you must have been liked well enough to be there that long. Interviewers know stuff happens. And that doesn’t necessarily make you a bad risk for them.
Best advice? Just bring your best game to the interview. Wow them with enthusiasm and readiness to take on a new challenge. And maybe a relevant story to help show that. (So they don’t think you’re a “lifer” type who doesn’t work hard and was coasting through your last job.)
With a strong interview that leaves a great impression, few employers will worry much about the precise reason for leaving. Most of them understand that stuff happens — even to the best of us.
Good luck, Edwin!
~ Ronnie Ann
[Post updated 2020]
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe and Work To The Wise, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker.
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