Any time you look to make a career change, you’ll face the interview question “Why are you changing careers?”
And if you aren’t prepared to answer, it can result in job rejections and potential failure in your job search.
As a former recruiter, I’m going to share:
Employers ask interview questions about why you’re making a career change because they want to understand your career goals.
In a job interview, they aren’t just looking to see if you can perform their job well; they want to know if you’re likely to stay long-term and enjoy the job.
And the more you can show them that you have solid, well-thought-out reasons for changing careers, the more comfortable they’ll be in hiring you.
If you seem unsure, they’re less likely to hire you into their organization.
They also want to make sure you’ve researched and taken time to understand this new career/industry you’re looking to join.
They aren’t going to hire you if you don’t seem like you understand the work and challenges that you’ll face.
Finally, they’re hoping to get a sense of whether you performed well in your past career or not.
If you tell an employer, “I’m looking to switch into a different career because I’ve been getting poor performance reviews in my current job,” they’ll worry that you may struggle to perform well in their job, too.
So as you answer this question, it’s best to focus on the favorable aspects you hope to gain in your next role, and don’t talk too much about the negatives of your past industry.
The only exception is if your industry is struggling as a whole and facing layoffs, reduced opportunities, etc. You’ll see this in the example answers coming up.
Let’s look at how to answer this question now…
When you face interview questions like, “Why are you looking to change careers?” you should address the question head-on with one or two clear reasons.
Avoid badmouthing your current job, employer, or industry, and instead, focus on what you hope to gain in your next career path.
You can talk about how it’s more in-line with what you’re passionate about or interested in, how you feel it’s a better industry for future growth and job security, or how you’ve always wanted to be a part of this industry and finally feel it’s the right time to change careers now.
Also, highlight any ways in which your skills and experience from previous jobs will be relevant to the new career you’re pursuing.
If you can point out how your past work will help you succeed in this new job, it’ll make the interviewer feel better about offering you the position. And it’ll also explain why you want to change to this new career or job.
Also, it’s best if you point out one specific career you’re pursuing now in your job search. If you tell the interviewer that you’re looking at five different new careers, it’s going to cast doubt about whether you know what you want.
I’ll discuss this more in the “mistakes” section later in this article.
To recap, there isn’t one “right” answer here but you need to be direct and head-on. Avoid badmouthing, and stay positive in your answer.
Don’t worry if you’re still not sure what to say for why you’re changing careers. Coming up, I’ll give you sample reasons for why you want to change career, and word-for-word interview answer examples.
I want to change my career path for future growth potential and new challenges. I feel my skills and experience will transfer well into this new career. For example, I saw your job description mentions communication with clients and the ability to lead projects, which were key parts of my last job. And overall, I’ve received career advice from a few colleagues who have successfully made this same career change and recommended it as a way to grow, earn more in their career, and find new challenges.
This is a great answer to “Why make a career change?” for a few reasons.
You’re pointing out your relevant skills and experience.
You’re mentioning a few colleagues who have successfully made this change, which will put the hiring manager’s mind at ease about whether you’ll “work out” in this new career.
And you’re explaining your personal reasons for wanting this new career path… such as higher potential for career growth and earnings.
This is a solid interview answer to why you are looking to change careers. Let’s look at more examples.
My current industry is struggling and I feel this industry has many overlaps with my current industry and role, so I’ll be able to use my skills quickly to contribute, rather than having to start over and learn from scratch. For example, in my current role, I manage projects for four to five large clients at a time and use many of the skills listed on your job posting, like leading teams, leading meetings, and interacting with clients to provide progress reports and updates. So I see this as a way to shift into a healthier, more stable industry while also keeping my relevant skills and being able to hit the ground running in my next position.
Notice how this answer is positive and direct.
It also shows how you’ll be able to perform well for this employer based on your previous work experience.
All of these factors make this a good answer that will impress the typical company.
I’m looking to change careers to join a company that’s more aligned with my personal interest and passion for community service. I want to make a positive impact, not just help a company generate profits, and I love that your company has a focus on social impact and responsibility to the community. I read about this in detail on your website and a few of your latest press releases and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to apply for the position.
Two colleagues from my previous company changed from the finance industry to the tech industry and have said they’ve found the work to be more exciting and fulfilling. They’ve convinced me that it’s a worthwhile career move, and since I have similar interests and motivation to those two colleagues, I’m confident I’ll enjoy working for a company in tech. That’s the entire focus of my job search now, and I’m not applying to any finance companies. I’m not unhappy in finance; I just feel tech would be more exciting and more aligned with my passions.
All of the above answers will impress an interviewer and successfully answer those tough questions about why you’re looking to change careers.
There are a couple of mistakes to always avoid, though, so let’s go over each mistake now.
First, always address the question head-on. The interviewer will feel uncomfortable offering you the position if you seem to be dodging this question, unprepared to answer, or uncomfortable answering.
Practice and prepare a direct answer ahead of time.
Don’t ever go into the interview unprepared or unsure how you’ll answer this question because you’re not likely to come up with a great answer on the spot.
Next, don’t sound unsure of your decision to leave your previous industry and job. You need to sell yourself by sounding confident in your choice.
You can re-read the end of the fourth example answer above to see how to do this. In the second half of that answer, you’re showing the interviewer that your entire focus is on joining this new industry, and you have no hesitations about your decision.
Employers don’t want to hire someone who may change their mind after three months and decide to search for another position. So you need to sound less risky, and you do this by showing that you’re sure about your decision to search for a new career.
Finally, as mentioned earlier, never badmouth in your job interview. Always sound positive and focus on what you’ll gain in this next job and career.
Even if an interviewer asks you, “Why do you want to leave your current job?” it’s not an invitation to badmouth.
Answering questions about why you’re changing careers doesn’t need to be stressful.
Practice ahead of time, stay positive, and address the question directly.
Show employers that you have strong reasons for making a career change and you’ll get more job offers.
And don’t apologize for wanting to make a change! It’s not bad to be targeting a new direction in your job search.
You simply need to be ready to confidently answer the interview questions that you’ll face on this topic, because employers will ask.
Your interviewer may have even changed careers in the past (you can research them on LinkedIn to see if this is the case).
They’re not asking to trick you or trap you; they just want to know your motivations and reasons.
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
Get our free PDF with the top 30 interview questions and answers. Join 10,000+ job seekers in our email newsletter and we'll send you the 30 must-know questions, plus our best insider tips for turning interviews into job offers.