“Why are you leaving your job?” No one really likes this question. Why? Because, let’s face it: half the time, our answers wouldn’t exactly please a potential employer.
But you know you’re going to be asked this very question—or a similar version of it—on your next interview. So rather than be caught off guard, stammering through a thoughtless response or even an unprepared white lie, why not prepare an answer now that will wow, not worry, your potential employer? Here’s how to do it.
According to Sharlyn Lauby, HR Bartender founder and author of Essential Meeting Blueprints for Managers, recruiters will understand that you may be nervous for the interview—but they won’t understand if you seem nervous answering this question.
After all, she points out, “it doesn’t make sense to be nervous [if you are] telling the truth. And preparing your response allows you to eloquently explain your situation.”
Now that you understand why you have to prepare an answer rather than fly by the seat of your interview pants, you should also try to understand why you’re being asked this question in the first place—because the reason will go a long way to calm your nerves. Lauby says companies ask why you’re leaving because they want to make sure you’ll be happy if you’re hired, and not for some other nefarious purpose.
“For example,” she says, “if a candidate says they left because the company wasn’t flexible with their schedule and they’re interviewing for a position where they might not have flexibility, the candidate could be just as unhappy with the new company.”
Hiring managers will also, of course, ask why you’re leaving to see if your answer aligns with what else you’ve revealed during your interview, Lauby says. “I’ve spoken with candidates who will say they’re leaving for more money then, two interview questions later, say they’re not motivated by money,” she says. You “need to make sure those responses make sense and align to paint the picture you want.”
If you’re not leaving you job because you can’t wait to escape your current boss or because you hate your company, you have little to fear. In this case, Lauby says, you might say, “I really like the company but they know I’m looking for more and they don’t have any openings,” she suggests. “This sends a message that you have spoken to your manager about your career aspirations and—while the company might not be happy about the situation—they wouldn’t be surprised. As for trying out a new field, there’s nothing wrong with saying that you are looking for new challenges.”
But if you’re leaving your position because there isn’t enough money in the world to make you stay—whatever the problem may be—you have to find a way to answer the question honestly without coming off as a complainer, or someone quick to jump ship. So, instead of pointing out what you hate about your current company, Lauby says, consider framing your response as, “my goals and the company’s goals aren’t on the same page. It’s nobody’s fault and it happens all the time. I’m ready to pursue my career goals,” Lauby suggests. It’s honest, but vague enough to be safe. And no matter what you do, “I would refrain from trash talking others,” Lauby says. “There’s always a way to say we’re not on the same page without assigning blame.”
When you have a chance—after you’ve answered the question—Lauby also suggests that you “look for opportunities to bring the conversation back to the job you are applying for. For example, if you say you’re looking for a new opportunity because of your current commute is one or more hours, then you can add that you’re looking forward to the less than 30-minute commute in this new role,” she points out.
Finally, remember: As much as you want a new job, you need to make sure it’s right for you, too. “If the reason that you’re leaving is a deal-breaker—like crazy work hours or no professional development—then don’t shy away from sharing the truth.” Lauby says. If you don’t, you could end up in the same position you’re trying to escape. “You may not the get job but that’s better than being miserable,” she says.
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