This is one of the most popular interview questions used when interviewing sales people.
It reveals how the candidate performs under pressure, and can test how they handle a real objection.
Preparation is the key to success in any sales job interview, and preparing a concise, positive answer to this question is essential.
Sometimes the answer is obvious; maybe you left because it was a summer sales job and the summer ended. Other situations will require more explanation. For example, why did you leave that sales position after only four months?
Interviewers will be most interested in your current, or most recent position. However, you should be ready to discuss all of your previous job changes, especially if you left after a short time, or have a gap on your CV.
Many interviewers make assumptions about candidates who are unemployed, especially in sales. The underlying feeling here is ‘if you are so successful, why hasn’t somebody else hired you already?’
However, in any interview situation, you are never going to ‘show all your cards’. Neither is the interviewer.
For example, the interviewer will not tell you if they are preparing to terminate an existing salesperson, and potentially recruit you as their replacement.
You may get an insight into the hiring situation from the questions the interviewer asks (or the answers provided to your questions), but in general neither party at a job interview will reveal the true gory details behind their answers.
You may have left your last sales job when you observed a very high turnover in sales staff, the sales managers were hardly ever in the office, and the remaining salespeople were there only because they did not have the insight or motivation to find a better job.
So you decided to leave in order to turn your half-time job search into a rigorous, full-time exercise.
How would you answer the question "Why did you leave your last job" in that case?
There are many rational, logical and appropriate reasons to leave a job; however, the interviewer who is meeting you for the first time will be looking for ‘red flags’ which could eliminate you from the recruitment process.
With the scenario above, you would have to relate the whole story in order for your sensible and appropriate reason for leaving your job to make sense.
The narrative would involve citing several negative points about your previous company, which is never a good strategy in any job interview situation.
Also, it is not the best way to use your valuable interview time, and painting a picture in this way could open you up to more probing questions on a topic that you really want to succinctly address and move on from.
If you have been made redundant or even fired, it is normal to feel embarrassed talking about these issues in a job interview. This is why it is crucial to prepare and practice in advance. So practice, practice, and practice until you are completely comfortable with your answers to this question.
Here are some example answers to the question "Why did you leave your last sales job?"
Remember that presenting a confident, positive response is critical.
a. “I knew that I was ready for a change, but I didn’t want to be distracted from my job if I were going to stay working there. So I did what I believe was the right thing and left the job, to allow my employer to recruit someone who could be there for the long haul and to allow me some time to consider my next career step.”
This is a very positive response; you show that you took the ethical action by leaving your job when you outgrew it, and enabled your employer to recruit a more committed employee.
b. “I had learned everything I could in the job so I decided to take some time out and focus on my next career progression.”
If you had enough of your last employer, and had to leave to preserve your well-being, this is a positive way to explain that.
c. "Unfortunately, the company’s largest customer went into liquidation, and that had a huge effect on our revenues.
As a result, the sales department was restructured and several positions were eliminated, and I was among the three most recently hired in our department. I am proud of my sales achievements at the company; I received outstanding performance reviews, and my previous manager is one of my best references."
This answer shows that the candidate lost their job for reasons beyond their control. The explanation demonstrates that the issue was seniority and not performance. It also shows that a positive reference can be provided to substantiate the claim. Reasons for leaving are provided, but the answer is concise.
Providing too much detail, or even worse an answer that has not been properly prepared, will make the candidate appear defensive, confusing and rambling.
d. "After management changes, it became evident that the new department head had expectations for my role that did not align with my strengths. Ultimately, he decided to recruit someone from his previous company who had more technical sales experience.
The experience taught me that my real talent is in relationship sales and I know I would be a major asset in a role like this one, which focuses on building relationships with a group of key customers. Would you like me to tell you more about my experience in that area?"
The answer is concise and the language is neutral. The situation is described positively and without appearing negative or defensive. The candidate then cites a lesson learned (which is always a strong interview tactic) and redirects the discussion to ‘sell’ their relevant expertise.
e. “Through a series of discussions we established that my vision for my role, and my vision for the department’s overall direction, was not aligned with my manager’s vision, so we agreed to part ways.”
This is a good explanation if you were terminated from your last job. It doesn’t matter who said what to whom, and there is no real difference between quitting and being fired; there is not a clear delineation. Former employers will not normally reveal that they terminated staff as it is considered bad practice and risks a tribunal claim.
Consider these answers to the question “Why did you leave your last sales job?”, and see which ones are most appropriate for you. You may end up using elements from several answers to create the optimum response in your particular situation.
You will now sail through this question at your next sales interview!