Job interviews can be stressful affairs, including questions about your past employment, gaps in your resume and the reason you left or were terminated from a job. Many times, how you answer these questions is more important than the actual reason for hiccups in your employment history. After all, you can't change the past. But you can affect how you frame your job history for current employers. It is legal for potential employers to ask about the reasons a candidate left a previous job.

Reasons for the Question

This interview question is frequently used by employers to test candidates on their diplomacy skills, work ethic and their attitude toward superiors. If an employee shows disdain for their previous superiors, denigrates their past employer or blames others for their own failures, this shows potential employers a candidate is unable or unwilling to examine their own performance, remain diplomatic and take responsibility for a dismissal or a decision to quit.

Handling HR Problems with Your Past Employer

When you are asked about why you left your previous job, honesty is the best policy. Chances are, a potential employer already has an idea of why you left. They just want to hear your approach to the departure. One significant reason people leave jobs is because of a hostile or unhealthy work environment. This is where diplomacy comes in. Instead of criticizing your boss' attitude or lack of skills, a better strategy is to briefly explain that you were not syncing well with your superior's management style.

Personal Problems and Departures

Others might leave their jobs because of family problems, a return to school or health issues. Telling a prospective employer you had to leave your previous job for personal reasons is a perfectly acceptable explanation. Most interviewers can sympathize with health issues or family obligations. If you left because you wanted to go back to school, that can show an employer you are dedicated to continuing education.

What is Illegal During an Interview?

While employers are free to ask you about why you left jobs or why you have employment gaps on your resume, many things are illegal to ask a candidate. An employer should never ask directly about your age, religion or plans for having children. While companies come up with ways to inconspicuously ascertain whether or not religious or family obligations might conflict with your schedule, you should speak up if they ask pointed questions about your personal status, beliefs and habits.