If you’re looking for a new job and are currently employed, there’s one question you’re sure to encounter in every interview: Why do you want to leave?
It’s easy to make a mistake answering this question, and how you respond can determine your future with an employer. The following tips will help you create a favorable impression and advance to the next interviewing stage.
How to Respond to the Question, “Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?”
Focus on what you want for your future—not what you’re leaving behind.
The average person in the U.S. will have 12 jobs over the course of their career—and this number is on the rise. There are plenty of good reasons to search for a new job. Maybe you want a vertical move with more responsibility. Maybe you want to change direction entirely, or you don’t see eye to eye with your boss.
Regardless of your reasoning, chances are good you’ll make more money in your next venture.
Employers understand this. Changing jobs increases your earning potential more than incremental pay bumps.
So instead of focusing on your specific reasons for leaving, describe what you hope to find in your next role. This opens the door to a positive conversation about a mutually beneficial collaboration. It also allows you to explore more information about the opportunity to help you determine if this really is a good fit for your professional growth.
Connect your response to the position for which you’re applying.
The hiring manager has one responsibility during a job interview—to find the right person for the job. So make sure all your interactions reinforce the idea that you’re the most qualified candidate. Describe what you have to offer to the employer, and be as specific as possible. Outline a business strategy, for example, or prove yourself using performance metrics.
Elena Bajic, founder and CEO of Ivy Exec, says, “Interview questions are almost never about you as an individual—they’re about what you can do for the employer.”
If you’re leaving your current role because you want to advance, talk about what makes you an exceptional leader—an impressive attrition rate, project delivery report, profit increases—whatever applies to your skills and the employer’s long-term hiring goals.
Say at least one positive thing about your current employer.
Demonstrate gratitude about your current job with phrases like:
- “I’m so fortunate to have had the opportunity…”
- “I’m really thankful for…”
- “I’ve worked really hard to [insert accomplishment], and I have a lot of respect and admiration for [insert management or leadership at current company]. They’ve created an environment where people like me can excel.”
Hiring managers want to hire people with optimism and a growth mindset—positive people are more resilient and believe they have the power to change their circumstances. By making upbeat conversation, you can transition from a negative sentiment (quitting your job) into a framework that’s hopeful and empowering (embracing new opportunities).
Be secure in your current role.
When you’re interviewing for a job, you’re trying to sell your services and expertise. So, take a little marketing advice: Desperation never leads to a sale.
Emphasize your security in a position and tell the hiring manager you’re only interested in finding the right fit. Project the idea that your services are in high demand. You have options, and an employer needs to work to win your approval.
Never bring up financial concerns during a job interview. Rather than inspire goodwill, this approach tends to make people uncomfortable. If your mortgage payments are late, your colleagues should never know.
During any professional negotiation, you want to create a sense of reciprocity—help the other party appreciate the value of you have to offer by steering the conversation to address their needs (not yours!).
On a related note, don’t say that you left a position for “personal reasons.” This answer is too broad and always seems evasive. It also raises concerns that your personal life could pull you away from your career again sometime in the near future.
Keep your responses short.
In an ideal situation, a job interview will naturally adapt the same cadence as a relaxed conversation—there needs to be give and take with everyone involved. Try to give everyone equal speaking time. Prepare interview responses ahead of time, and keep your answers only 2-5 sentences long. With practice, you can avoid rambling and won’t accidentally disclose anything that could hurt your chances of receiving an offer.
Some interviewers, however, will try to break through your rehearsed façade. They might confide in you to inspire a false sense of comradery, for example, or let several seconds go by in awkward silence. Don’t fill the gaps in conversation or get too chummy.
If you catch yourself babbling, redirect the conversation. One of these phrases can help steer the discussion:
- “I’m happy to elaborate, but I know how busy you are and want to make sure we address all your questions today…”
- “I could go on about this topic, but I respect your time and know you’re very busy…”
Asking a follow-up question is another way to shift focus and take some of the pressure off yourself. Interviewers like candidates who are eager to learn more about the company—it shows emotional investment—and most people like sharing their opinions and insight.
For example, you can say something like, “I’m really interested in finding a new job that lets me develop my project management skills. What types of projects would I oversee in this position?”
Never say anything disparaging about an employer.
Even if you’re miserable at work, put on a good face during a job interview. If you say anything negative, it will almost always backfire.
Word travels quickly, and the interviewer could know your current boss. They’re also likely to identify with your manager instead of siding with you—after all, they probably operate at the same level as your boss and can relate to their experiences. They might even feel insulted or think you’re a “problem” employee.
Worst of all, disparaging comments can make the interviewer question your loyalty and discretion. They might wonder what you’ll say about their company further down the road.
Anticipate follow-up questions.
Most people will accept your response at face value, but a few interviewers will dig deeper.
Be prepared to answer a follow-up question, like:
- What have you already done to try to resolve these issues internally?
- What will you do in the future to prevent this problem from reoccurring?
- Why do you think you won’t have this problem with us or another employer?
- What will you miss about your job, if anything?
- Are you sure that you want to leave?
- Were there any specific events that initiated your job search?
- How would you describe your relationship with your current manager?
These questions are designed to put you on the spot and make you squirm. Don’t let them—maintain your positive outlook and show that you keep your cool under pressure.
Be honest about what you want out of your career and what you’ve done to work toward those goals. Treat the interview as an exploratory meeting between peers, not an open audition. You’ve reached this point because they need you—it’s not charity or a personal favor.
Take a moment to regroup, and if you need extra time to think of your answer, ask a question to stall time.
However you choose to respond to this interview question, people will respect your decision to seek new challenges and advance.
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