I have recently relocated to a new city, ostensibly to start over both personally and professionally. I have about 4 1/2 years experience in a given field; my most recent position was a complete and total change of direction and a total disaster. Now, in my newly adopted home town, I'd like to get back into my old field. My question is, how to best explain the abrupt change?

  • what are the fields 1 and 2 (assuming you are back to 1) ? – amphibient Aug 19 '13 at 20:52

Honesty usually works best.

"I thought that I wanted (total change of direction), but it turned out to be a total disaster - it helped me appreciate (the sort of job you're applying for) so much more"


"I always wanted to try (dream job X), but it turned out to be a lot different/harder than it looks on TV! Now that I've had that adventure, I'm back to doing what I'm really good at."

The emphasis is on something people can relate to "I always wanted to chase my dreams" rather than "I am a complete flake who will jump ship once a new whimsy comes along". It's also on how your fling wasn't that you were dissatisfied with your current field (which might hurt you at your current job) but that the other thing looked better or was a youthful fling which you've now grown out of.

  • 1
    Also try to get a chance to list things that you did learn from the disatrous job. – Fredrik Aug 20 '13 at 14:04

Executive Summary

Everyone makes mistakes. Explaining to an interviewer that you can acknowledge a mistake, and that you learned from it is definitely a positive.

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Sometimes we pick the wrong job. Or the wrong company. Or the wrong project. And sometimes we just make a rookie mistake like burning bridges due to headstrong youth and come to regret it.

A vast majority of experienced interviewers will have seen these mistakes either within their own company, or in other potential employees. They do not expect perfection.

Everyone's met that straight-A student who went to a top-tier school, got their first C, and imploded because they didn't know how to deal with failure. Making mistakes is natural, especially since it teaches you how to deal with something you will encounter many many times in your professional career.

Acknowledging Mistakes is Good

Nobody likes a candidate who implies "I am awesome, but everyone around me sucks". Don't be that person.

Taking responsibility not only for your successes but for your failures shows very positive qualities:

  1. Responsibility
  2. Self-awareness
  3. Honesty

This isn't to say that you should harp on your mistakes, but trying to shift the blame or act as if you've never failed will not endear you to an interviewer who can likely read between the lines.

Show You've Learned

Once you show that you understand the failure, you need to show what you learned from it. Taking responsibility for a mistake is great, but if you didn't learn from it all you're saying is, "I am prone to screwups, but I'll own up to them." You want to turn that in to, "While I may make a mistake now and then, I'll learn from it to prevent similar problems in the future."

How to Convey this to an Interviewer

Since the change in field will stand out, I would expect the interviewer will ask about it and you won't have to bring it up. If they gloss over it, then you can think about volunteering the information. Here are some potential questions they may ask that you can use to appeal your experience as a positive:

  1. Your last job was in a different field, what made you switch?
  2. Your last job was in a different field, why are you coming back to this one?
  3. Why did you leave your last job?
  4. Why are you applying to this company?

Here are some examples of ways to tackle these questions:

Interviewer: "Your last job was in a different field..."

You: "My first role was my first real job and after 4 1/2 years I wanted a change of pace and scenery. It didn't take long to realize that I had made the wrong decision, that I didn't need a change of fields, just a change of companies to help grow my skills in field X. This company seems like a good fit for me because ..."

The key is to explain that it was a mistake, explain what you learned, and lead back in to why you are a good fit for the company (or why the company is a good fit for you).

Interviewer: "Why did you leave your last job?"

You: "After 5 years working in this field I mistook my issues with my company/position with a dislike of the field in general. While I have had success in field Y for the past X months, I realized that I just needed to change companies, not fields. Being away for X months has really rekindled my passion for this field. I think I will be an asset to this company because..."

There are a million different variations, but they will all follow the same general pattern:

  1. I have almost 5 years of experience in this field
  2. I went to another for a change of scenery
  3. While I learned X, Y, and Z from the new job, I realize I want to come to back this field
  4. This is why I'll be an asset to your company

Try not to badmouth the original company if at all possible. If it was your first job, that will explain a lot (most people's first working experience tends to be a bit rough). If there was some external factor (acquisition, etc.) after 4.5 years that made you leave, you can throw that in. The point is to take responsibility for the change, and turn it back around to a positive for the company.


Without knowing the fields, this is somewhat hard to answer but here is one way you could frame this:

"I decided that I wanted to this other field so I applied for this job and tried it out. I learned that the field is quite different from what I had expected in this case and decided to go back to my initial field."

The idea here is to consider framing why you made the shift in the first place. If you can state that you were wanting to try something out, then it may be a bit easier to justify as it wasn't a fit and that is why it didn't work out. Alternatively, you could consider a story about why you moved to your current location and thus you had to start over and thought the initial field is a better fit for you personally. Focus on which works for you rather than making either company look bad here.

So, then in an interview you could say, "Due to my being organized, I tried being a project manager and see what would happen. However, this wasn't a fit for my personality and so I'm returning to finance." (If you have certifications in accounting then mention accounting though finance could be seen as almost the same thing depending on which roles you had within accounting.) I'd avoid getting into the health issues here as it likely isn't that useful for an employer at this point unless you are wanting to be extraordinarily upfront about what health issues you have that may require accommodation.

  • Field 1 is accounting, which comes rather naturally to me, even though I do not have any formal training. Field 2 is project management, which I thought would be a good fit because I'm super organized. However, I'm also exceptionally introverted, verging on painfully shy, and the constant meetings and phone calls, which were downplayed during the interview process, were completely overwhelming. I started having panic attacks, up to multiple times a day. The anxiety was crippling. – Cassandra Aug 20 '13 at 0:50

Most important thing is not to lie.....

But bend the truth never hurts, what i mean is i had the same issue a few years ago but i said that i didn't feel that the boss took me seriously and i want to progress in my career, so sadly i left.

the truth was that i missed a promotion 3 years on a row and looked like i was going no where.


It sounds to me as if you might think you have something to apologize for, or to spin. People are free to make changes in their life if they want to. It's not like you've hurt someone except possibly yourself.

I can assure that lots of people end up in life situations that need to be changed.

On the other hand if you make it into a big deal, it'll be a big deal.

So you can simply say I'm a lot better accountant than I am a project manager, and I think it's best to use my skills where they're more valuable.

I often find it helpful during interviews to ask the interviewer to give me feedback if I've given enough detail. If you have good, if not, talk about your higher levels of skill in accountancy.

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