I have a job interview coming up in a few days but I'm worried about what to say if asked about why I left my last job. Well not if, I know they will definitely ask why I left my last position.

The truth is that I was given way too much work and there was no way of getting it done despite me working long hours and weekends. In the end I just resigned.

I'm worried that if I say that in the interview they will think I can't handle pressure or that I'm a liability. Either way I am worried that it won't sound good.

Should I tell a white lie and just say I was laid off? That sounds better but there is a small risk my lie might get discovered.

What should I do? Please help me out here.

  • 4
    Most people here I suspect will stick to honesty. Being outed as a liar is far more egregious than having too much on your plate. Your professional integrity is at stake.
    – CKM
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 22:05
  • Don't say Laid Off. You can say the work life balance was very poor.You can add any other reasons but don't give them a long list. just 2-3 reasons. Example 1) Work Life Balance Poor 2) Nature of Challenges didn's suit you. .Be ready to explain if they ask what do you mean by that. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 3:54
  • @JoeStrazzere, depending on how long the hours he was working, he might not have had a choice because there was no time available to interview. I had to quit a job under such circumstances once, too. You can;t job hunt while working 18 hour days and weekends.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 18:14
  • 1
    Related: How to respond to "Why are you looking for a new job?" Commented Jan 9, 2020 at 21:02

6 Answers 6


Would you admit that you were a criminal to hide that you were the victim of a crime?

I'm not saying long hours are a crime--I'm just saying that you're admitting to something far less desirable. You left on your own terms. That is critical.

Imagine you were founding your own company on an idea that you just knew was revolutionary, and would accomplish all your worldly goals. I best you'd work long hours for little pay, knowing that either the pay-off or immense personal satisfaction were worth the effort.

Now imagine that you have to work 4 hours a month cleaning the bathrooms of the Port Authority in New York (imagine hell, but with a worse smell). I bet you'd love to quit that job as soon as possible.

You left a position because the balance between the work and the payoff was horrible. That's usually why people leave a job. You have nothing to hide. I'm sure you don't mind a big crunch for a reason, or an extra busy schedule for meaningful work. Emphasize whatever you have there.

  • Good answer. Being honest will be a good thing. If they are similar to your last company, they may not hire you, but you wouldn't want to be. If they value a work life balance they won't mind it. Remember your goal isn't to get the job in a interview, it is to see if it would be a good fit for both parties.
    – Ronnie W
    Commented Aug 24, 2016 at 16:01

It depends on what you are trying to achieve and how bad it actually was and how typical those conditions are for your industry or profession.

I had a job where the shortest day I worked was 11 hours and the most common was 18 hours and I worked every weekend for 4 months. Since I didn't want to get into that type of situation again, I was open about the working conditions having changed to ones that were not acceptable and I described what I was trying to avoid.

I had no problems with anyone finding it unacceptable to want to leave those conditions. I made sure they understood, I was open to working appropriate overtime, but not to make my job be the only thing I did except sleep. I pointed out that I wasn't mad at the company, just that the organization culture was one I did not wish to continue in. If you choose to disclose the corporate culture you don;t want to be in, it has to be presented in such a way that you are not bad-mouthing the company. It is one thing to say, "The workload evolved until it reached a level I personally could not sustain." and it is another to say, " I hated every minute of working for company ABC because they never let me go home and sleep but the %^#& managers always left on time." If the work conditions are truly ones you don't want again, then letting people know that is not a problem as long as you accept than some employers might also be that bad and you will lose that opportunity. I personally see that as a plus. YMMV.

However, if I have been working say 50 hours which is fairly typical from my industry, it would have been more of a concern. In that case I would have fallen back on the old standby of looking for more opportunities to grow my skills or greater opportunity for advancement both of which are always acceptable answers to the question.

  • 2
    +1 interviews are two way filters, and if the next company doesn't meet your expectations on work/life balance, then you wouldn't want to get hired there.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 22:52
  • +1 while there are ways to euphemistically and politely state that you were overwhelmed by the workload, you gain nothing by telling them something else entirely. Commented Feb 29, 2016 at 18:03

Should I tell a white lie and just say I was laid off?

No, don't lie at interviews it's too risky.

You don't need to go into detail, just tell them you couldn't see a way forwards in your previous employment so you've been looking for work in a company where you can advance or something similar. Don't complain about overwork or anything else, it's a bad look.

  • It depends on the amount of overwork - if the OP was getting into 12 hour days, they should be open about that otherwise they'd just end up getting another job that expects the same...
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 22:50
  • I concur on several points. I've been laid off a few times in my career, and "laid off" == "tainted". Also, it's foolish to lie on a resume or in an interview about something that can be easily verified. Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 18:13

Don't lie, but make sure you frame your response in a way to reflect you've learned something from this.

You didn't see the signs of burn-out until it was too late and you made a poor choice. Yes, leaving that job before you found a new one was a bad idea. If this weren't the case, you wouldn't be in this situation.

Start learning how to manage the stress. Could you have mentioned it to your previous employer and worked something out? Take time off. Pace yourself.

Recognize this new job doesn't seem to have the time requirements and that is why it appeals to you. Show you have a positive way to deal with a demanding job without quiting.


To say you were laid off is worse than saying you resigned. To have been terminated indicates that you were possibly at fault or somehow incompetent. You don't need to go in to detail about why you resigned.

Simply say that you did not feel challenged in your last job, and are looking for a new position with opportunities (as Kilisi notes) to advance.

In the future, if you have any choice in the matter, it's always better to look for employment while you already have a job. There's an unfortunate stigma against unemployed people, which only gets worse the longer you're unemployed.

  • 1
    It is a pretty terrible attitude to think a layoff somehow means you are at fault. Sometimes your whole department is eliminated, sometimes, you just don't have seniority and sometimes, the company went under. I have seen many outstanding employees get caught in a layoff even when employees considered to be poor got to stay.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 22:48
  • laid off != terminated/fired
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 25, 2016 at 22:49
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    it does sound brutal, but nethertheless there is that taint attached to it sometimes
    – Kilisi
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 6:31
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    @HorusKol I suppose "terminated" has negative connotations, but whether you are laid off without cause, or fired with cause, your employer has terminated the working relationship.
    – mcknz
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 14:42
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    @mcknz - and sometimes companies choose to lay off expensive full-time workers and replace them with cheaper part-time staff (who somehow end up working the same hours). Being laid-off doesn't send the same red-flags to HR, whereas terminated has a very specific meaning to managers and HR - no connotations, terminated is negative.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 21:58

You are right about being worried. Why should they hire someone with a little doubt on, instead of someone with clear background? Therefore you must have some evidence that they are giving you a workload more than you can carry.

For example, the fact that you resigned but not laid off is a strong plus. You should show the work hours to clarify that it was an unusual situation. But don't hand over those papers as soon as you hear the question though, show them if they want to know more about it persistently.

Some companies likes to dig in, some just asks and continues. It's best to put it in a few words and continue, since everyone have an unpleasant reason to leave his/her job anyway.

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