Life is complicated! And not all of our jobs end in ways that are easy to explain, especially in an interview when we’re concerned about putting our best foot forward. When unsure as to how to respond to this question, quite often, an interviewee will say they left for personal reasons. The downside to that is most interviewers aren’t necessarily inclined to assume the positive.
In the interviewer’s mind, the personal reasons response is often code for “something happened that might make me look bad so I’m going to hide it.” Some interviewers will push for more information. But others avoid probing just in case it brings out information that we are legally not allowed to seek. In the end, the interviewer’s imagination runs wild trying to figure out what’s so horrible that you can’t just fess up to it.
But now for the good news! Most interviewees are often incorrect when they assume that certain answers automatically mean you have screened yourself out. Nearly every situation can be openly, diplomatically explained without making an interviewee look undesirable.
Common personal reasons
- Left the job to take care of an ill family member
This is actually very common, and there is no reason for red flags. If you also had to relocate to the area to be close to said family member, the interviewer may ask questions around your intention to stay in the area for the long term, but that’s likely the only question that would arise.
- Issues with a supervisor or colleague
This one is a bit more complex in that it requires more reflection so you can formulate a tactful way to express the situation. But with that said, we spend lots of time at work each week; it’s ok to move on because of a personality or cultural mis-match. This is especially true if you behaved professionally and did everything in your power to work things out before leaving. In your response, you can also offer details of what you tried to do from your end to make things work.
- Disciplinary Issues/Terminated
First let me say that I have interviewed many candidates who were terminated and/or had disciplinary issues and it did not mean I could not or would not work with them. Here, it’s best to be up front. While it’s not ideal to have this in your work history, you can turn that around at least a bit by owning the outcome and the errors that lead to it. Learning from your mistakes is a sign of intelligence and maturity.
- Medical/Health Issues
Of all the examples discussed, this is the one that truly is personal. An interviewer cannot ask questions around this topic; he or she can only ask if you are able to perform the position with reasonable accommodation. From personal experience, this has never been a red flag for me. Medical situations arise and are not fault-based. If someone is sitting across from me, he or she is ready to return to work. Should you choose to cite a medical situation in an interview, this is an instance where you do not need to go into detail at all. Simplicity works beautifully, and it addresses the question openly and fully.
Adam Lafield, Recruiter & Marketing Specialist