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Until a few months ago I was working as a graphic designer at a reputable advertising agency.

There were times where I felt like I was struggling, and after almost two years my CD (creative director) had a chat with me to say that we would need to monitor how I got on over the next few months and may need to part ways if I don't make significant improvements. He said we would have a review a few months down the line.

I never actually heard anything more off my boss about it, and I ended up handing my notice shortly before my next review as I didn't want to have a sacking on my CV. I decided to go freelance in between jobs.

There were also a number of other things at my job that made me want to leave, mainly that there was no kind of support off my boss in terms of the things that would bother me (e.g. useless / disorganised project managers) and the projects I was getting were doing little to progress my career or portfolio.

Unsurprisingly, the staff turnover was quite bad and I found that most of the people leaving were infact newer than I was.

After a few months of freelancing I'm now looking for a new job.

The reason I've been stating for leaving...

I've been telling people that the main reason I left my job was because I wanted to build my portfolio through freelancing before looking for a new role (which is still true, but not the main reason for me leaving).

I'm a little conscious that potential employers might think that I threw away an amazing opportunity to progress my career. As mentioned earlier the job I had was at quite a reputable agency that many would love to work for (although many who did work there seemed to hate it). The fact I left after 2 years might look quite bad.

Should I be more honest at future interviews and tell them that I (almost) lost my job? or should I just continue pretending that I left purely of my own accord?

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    I would stick with the head-nod truth, that you were starting to feel underwhelmed with the kind of work you were doing, and that there didn't seem to be much opportunity for creative progression (noting the high turnover for good measure), so it was simply time for a change. Stay away from the head-shake truth that the company were starting to feel underwhelmed with the kind of work you were doing. The two situations often go together anyway - demoralised workers obviously tend to produce bad work, and the prodigious turnover shows that your only mistake was not bowing out sooner like others. – Steve Sep 29 '20 at 11:51
  • Does this answer your question? Interview question: Why did you leave your previous role? – gnat Sep 29 '20 at 19:03
  • @JoeStrazzere I think the standards there were simply too high for my skill level / experience... but aswell as that I was only ever given the really tedious jobs that were too small for the senior designers, and so I very rarely had chance to prove myself – RR88 Sep 30 '20 at 7:52
  • @Steve Thanks, that's reassuring and also interesting, I think I was very demoralised with the kind of tedious jobs I was getting given despite my efforts to get something more challenging... this left me seriously lacking motivation – RR88 Sep 30 '20 at 7:53
  • "I ended up handing my notice [..] as I didn't want to have a sacking on my CV" I'm curious as to why you think getting fired would in anyway influence your CV: you're the one writing the CV and there is no need to report you got fired to anyone, so whether you're fired or left on your own shouldn't make a difference. What am I missing? – Mark Rotteveel Oct 1 '20 at 9:58
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IMHO there are three separate areas to address in your question:

Reputable advertising agency.

...

Unsurprisingly, the staff turnover was quite bad and I found that most of the people leaving were in fact newer than I was.

If the recruiters you are talking to are reasonably well informed about the advertising industry, then it is already well known that the "Reputable" company you are leaving has issues that are causing a high staff turnover. As such, the fact that you left will not be surprising to them, and you aren't the only person who is in the same position. But if asked specifically as to why you left all you need to answer is some generic statement like "it wasn't a good fit for me" and nothing more.

I'm a little conscious that potential employers might think that I threw away an amazing opportunity to progress my career.

Potential employers aren't interested in what you could have done for you previous employer, they are interested in what you can do for them. So your task at hand is to convince your new potential employer that you are the best person for this job, not that you threw away an imaginary chance to further your career and become Creative Director at you old employer.

Should I be more honest at future interviews and tell them that I (almost) lost my job? or should I just continue pretending that I left purely of my own accord?

According to you, you did leave on your own accord. So there is nothing to pretend.

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Should I be more honest at future interviews and tell them that I (almost) lost my job? or should I just continue pretending that I left purely of my own accord?

I don't think you have anything to gain by telling them - and it's not as if you were lying. Leaving was ultimately your decision, it hadn't even got to "you can resign or we'll sack you". You had a bad performance review yes, but it wasn't the only reason you left and from the sounds of it you weren't feeling satisfied in the role for a number of reasons.

When hiring you aren't expecting candidates to be perfect, to have never made mistakes or to have never had their performance criticized. You do however expect them to put themselves in the best possible light while remaining truthful and it sounds like that's what you're doing. I think you're all good here.

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  • If in an interview this person told me what he just said to the group, I'd say, "okay." Pretty commonplace, actually. – Mike Robinson Sep 29 '20 at 15:14
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Anything you do to further your career will rarely be looked at negatively. In the software engineering field it is well known that if you are not growing you are dying. Just say something like "My career is important to me. I felt it was time to find a position that allowed me to continue to grow as a developer."

Finding a great position is not always easy. It can take time. It is difficult to do this when you are working full time. Also looking for a new job and pretending to be a team player at the old one feels a little dishonest to me. You might want to relay something along those lines as well.

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    This is fair advice, saying "I left to progress my career", but a good interviewer will ask follow-up questions like "What steps did you take to try and progress your career while at the job?", "Why did you feel you couldn't progress in that job?", etc, wanting to make sure that you've got realistic expectations and are able to take control over your career and won't just run if you find things going badly. So just have a think how you'll answer them. – Stuart F Oct 1 '20 at 13:56

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