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  1. Blog
  2. Interviewing
  3. January 31, 2024

How to Explain Leaving a Job Due to Stress in an Interview

Three full examples of what to say to the recruiter

woman leaving a job due to stress
Photo courtesy of Mizuno K

After you’ve left a job due to stress—and have taken time to take care of your mental health—you’ll hopefully find yourself applying and interviewing for new opportunities that align more closely with your priorities and career goals.

Job interviews are already nerve-wracking, and when you're faced with explaining why you left a previous job due to stress, it can add an extra layer of complexity. Although leaving a job because of stress is not uncommon, it's still crucial to handle the topic with finesse during interviews. 

In this guide, we’ll explore various aspects of explaining your departure, including understanding your reasons for leaving and how you grew from the experience, effective ways to articulate your departure to a recruiter, and three full examples you can use when you start interviewing.

Read more: Unemployed? Here Are 4 Tips for Creating a Healthy Structure Between Jobs

Understanding the narrative of why you left your stressful job

Several factors can contribute to the decision to leave a job due to stress. Recognizing the specific reasons behind your departure is essential, as it forms the foundation for explaining your decision in a job interview.

Take some time to identify the specific factors that contributed to your stress. Was it an overwhelming workload, a toxic work environment, lack of support, personal health issues, or something else? Understanding the root causes will help you communicate your situation more clearly.

Then, consider the lessons you learned from the experience. How has it shaped your professional and personal priorities? Emphasize personal growth, resilience, and the positive changes you've implemented as a result of this challenging experience.

From there, develop a concise narrative about your departure. Focus on the lessons learned, personal growth, and proactive steps taken to address stress. Anticipate interview questions related to your departure and practice your responses. 

Think about how you can emphasize the positive aspects of your experience, the steps you took to address stress, and how the lessons learned have positioned you for success in future roles. The key is to present your experience in a way that highlights your ability to learn, grow, and navigate challenges.

Read more: How to Quit a Job Due to Mental Health Reasons

The importance of self-care after leaving a job due to stress

After you've left a stressful job, it's crucial to focus on self-care and burnout relief. Take time to recharge both physically and mentally while you’re applying to new jobs. Engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, exercise, or spending quality time with loved ones. 

Practice self-compassion and acknowledge that experiencing stress and deciding to leave a job is a common and valid part of many professionals' journeys. Be kind to yourself and recognize that prioritizing your well-being is a responsible decision. Make sure you’re thoroughly researching companies before you apply to make sure the culture aligns with your goals.

Consider seeking professional help, such as counseling or therapy, to address any lingering emotional challenges. By actively addressing burnout, you position yourself for a healthier transition into your next professional endeavor.

How to explain leaving a job due to stress in interviews

When faced with the inevitable interview question about leaving your previous job, honesty is key. It's essential to frame your response in a way that highlights your resilience and ability to manage challenging situations. 

Avoid placing blame on others and be concise in explaining the stressors without dwelling on the negativity. Here are three things you should emphasize in your response.

1. Self-reflection

Job interviews often involve storytelling, and self-reflection provides the authenticity needed to convey your narrative genuinely. Share how you took the time to reflect on your career goals and personal wellbeing, leading to the decision to prioritize your health. You can say something like:

“After realizing the toll the workload was taking on my health, I took a step back to reevaluate my priorities. I learned the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance and now prioritize self-care to ensure optimal performance.”

2. Your initiative and confidence

Leaving a stressful job can indicate a commitment to personal and professional growth. It reflects your confidence to recognize when a role is no longer aligned with your goals and the initiative to seek opportunities that better support your long-term development.

Emphasize the steps you took to address your burnout and stress, showcasing your ability to problem-solve and adapt. An approach like this also highlights effective communication skills:

“I recognized my stress levels were impacting my performance, so I proactively scheduled a meeting with my boss to discuss my concerns and explore potential solutions. During the conversation, I openly communicated the challenges I was facing, emphasizing my commitment to the team's success and my desire to find a collaborative resolution. Despite our efforts, it became evident that the existing situation was not conducive to a sustainable work environment, leading to my decision to step down and prioritize my wellbeing.”

3. The lessons you learned

Sharing the lessons you’ve learned indicates that you’ve reflected on the challenges you faced and are able to extract meaningful insights from difficult situations. Openly discussing what you learned from setbacks also builds trust and credibility with potential employers, demonstrating transparency and authenticity.

Discuss the lessons you learned from the experience, emphasizing how it has shaped your priorities and goals moving forward. You can try reframing the experience like this:

“Leaving my previous job was a pivotal experience. I've learned to set boundaries, communicate effectively about workload expectations, and proactively address stressors to maintain a healthy work-life balance. These lessons have equipped me with a resilient mindset and a commitment to fostering a positive work environment, ensuring that I bring my best self to my future professional endeavors.”

How to explain leaving a job due to stress example #1

“In my previous job, the demands of the role extended beyond my primary responsibilities. In addition to my core functions in project management, I found myself taking on a multitude of tasks—some of which were outside my expertise, like data analysis and client relations. Balancing these responsibilities became increasingly challenging, leading to a situation where the efficiency of my primary role was compromised. Recognizing the importance of playing to my strengths, I made the decision to step away and seek a role where I can concentrate on project management and leverage my skills in a more focused manner.”

How to explain leaving a job due to stress example #2

“While working on a project with a fantastic team, the challenges arose from the team's size, which was relatively small. Juggling multiple responsibilities and putting in extensive overtime to meet event deadlines became the norm. I attempted to problem-solve how to ameliorate the situation with my manager, recognizing the need for a more sustainable work-life balance, but ultimately decided to take a step back to recharge and redefine my career path. This experience fueled my determination to transition into a role that aligns with my long-term career goals, where I can contribute effectively without compromising my wellbeing.”

How to explain leaving a job due to stress example #3

“In my previous role, I was part of a dynamic team working on a high-stakes project. As the project progressed, the workload significantly increased, and being part of a startup meant wearing multiple hats. Recognizing this impact on the quality of my work, I approached my boss to discuss these concerns. We explored potential solutions, but it became apparent that the role wasn’t sustainable for my career long term. Consequently, I made the decision to resign and seek out a work environment where I can contribute effectively without compromising my personal well-being. Moving forward, I am committed to applying these lessons to ensure a healthier and more productive professional journey.”

Read more: Hard Interview Questions Are Easy with These Expert Strategies

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