If you’re interviewing while you have a position, one of the first job interview questions you’ll hear is, “Why do you want to leave your current job?”
And there are a couple of big mistakes that can cost you job offers when answering, so this isn’t a question to take lightly.
Here’s what you’ll get in this article:
The best way to answer the question of why you’re leaving your current job is to focus on the positive aspects you’re hoping to gain from a new position, rather than badmouthing any negative aspects of your previous job or company.
If you were let go and the interviewer was unaware that you’re not currently employed, you should say so. This is likely to come up in a background check in the future if you’ve been unemployed for more than a few weeks.
If you’re unsure about leaving your job and simply taking a few interviews to see what’s out there in the job market, then you can inform the interviewer that you weren’t actively looking for a change. Then, explain how you heard about this employer’s position and tell them why you were interested in applying/interviewing.
For example, maybe you don’t have any strong reason to leave your current position but a recruiter called you and spoke to you about a position that’s higher level, provides better work-life balance, and is closer to your home.
In this case, you could simply say:
“I wasn’t in an active job search, but <recruiter name> contacted me about this new job opportunity and it sounded like a career-advancing move that fit well with my background and skills, so I was interested in having an interview and learning more.”
When answering interview questions about why you’re looking to leave your current job, it’s not recommended that you mention factors like work-life balance and commute length, though, at least not in a first job interview or phone interview answer.
It’s better to focus on career-related reasons for looking for a new job or being open to leaving your current role.
Next, I’ll share a full list of good/bad reasons for leaving your job, so don’t worry if you’re still unsure what exact reason to give.
All of the following answers are great reasons for leaving a job and are safe to say in your job interview.
When an interviewer asks, “Why are you leaving your current job?” it might sound like they’re inviting you to bad-mouth your current employer or talk about the negative aspects of your role.
However, you should never do this. Badmouthing will always make you appear unprofessional in an interview. Even if there are major problems in your current role or organization, it’s best to resist the urge to share them.
Hiring managers want to hire someone who is positive and leaving their last job on good terms, since this suggests you’ll fit in well if hired into their organization, too.
So the top mistake to always avoid with this job interview question is badmouthing. Coming up, I’m going to dedicate a whole section of this article to how to avoid badmouthing with this interview question, so don’t worry if you’re still unsure.
First, let’s continue with more mistakes to avoid when you answer.
You don’t need to name five different reasons for leaving. It’s best to keep your answer to under a minute and share just one to two reasons that you’re open to changing jobs.
If you have multiple reasons, such as wanting a role that fits your career goals better, wanting to learn a new skill set, and not liking the management at your current employer, pick the one or two reasons that sound most positive and that you’re most comfortable discussing.
All of the following are bad reasons for leaving your current position:
It’s also a mistake to tell a prospective employer that you’re looking to leave your current job for a personal reason.
Now, these examples above are okay to mention as a secondary reason for leaving your current position. But you should always lead with a work-related reason.
For example, you could say:
“I’m looking for a career-advancing opportunity that will allow me to take on more leadership work, and my commute is also quite long so if I can find a position closer to where I live, that’d be a nice bonus.”
If you read everything above, you know you should never badmouth an employer when describing why you want to leave your current job (or why you left your last job).
Below, I’ll share some ideas and sample responses for exactly how to avoid badmouthing a previous employer, no matter how awful they were.
This will help you keep your interview answer 100% positive so you can get hired faster.
What do you hope to gain or get MORE of in this job transition?
It could be a certain work environment you’d like to be a part of. A certain challenge you’d like to tackle (like leading a team, leading projects, working more hands-on, etc.)
It could be a variety of things. But pick one or two tasks/areas that you want to do more of… and make sure they’re areas that this job offers.
(You don’t want to say you’re looking for an opportunity to lead people if the job is an individual contributor role. Why would they hire you for a job that doesn’t fit what you say you want to be doing?)
But if you do this correctly, it will show them that you’re not desperate and that you’re looking for the RIGHT fit, not just for any job that’ll take you.
That’s a GREAT way to position yourself as a top candidate and someone they should hire.
There’s also one more thing you should do when answering, “why are you looking to leave your job?” to make your answer sound more positive.
You can talk about how you’re grateful for what you’ve learned in your current job. Or talk about how you’ve built great skills there, but it’s simply time for something new.
Here’s what this might sound like:
“I’ve learned a lot here and it’s been great. I just feel it’s time for a move because I want more of an opportunity to do ____”.
That’s one way to begin an answer to the question of why you want to leave your current job.
A few other examples/phrases you could use to start your answer:
“I’ve learned a lot in this role, but after 2 years, I feel I’m ready for ____”.
“I’ve enjoyed this position a lot over the past 3 years. I just feel that to grow my career further, I need to expose myself to new challenges, and your company caught my attention because ____”.
One word of warning: Be aware that if you say you want more of an opportunity to do something, the interviewer will ask if you’ve tried to get that in your current job.
For example, if you say you want to be more involved in working with customers or clients, the hiring manager might ask, “Have you tried to see if there’s an opportunity to do this in your current company?”
So, be ready for that.
Now let’s look at some full example interview answers…
“I’ve enjoyed my role a lot, but I’ve been here for two years and think it’s time to challenge myself further. One thing I’d love to do is manage projects, and I noticed that’s mentioned in the job description for this role. I’ve asked my current boss about this and it’s just not a responsibility that I can take on in my current role or my current team, and they don’t have room to promote me right now, so that’s why I’m willing to leave my current job.”
“I’ve gotten a lot out of my current position in the year I’ve been there. However, I think to continue challenging myself and growing in my career, it’s time for a change. Right now my role doesn’t involve a lot of human interaction, and that’s a skill I want to build more of. I love that this job seems to offer a mix of data entry like I’m doing now, but also some customer service work. I love interacting with customers and it’s something I did a lot of in the job I held three years ago, so I’d love to get back to doing some of that. Can you tell me more about how I’d help in your customer service efforts in this role?”
Now, the above example interview answers assume you’re actively searching for jobs and actively trying to get out of your current job. Next, let’s look at some sample answers if you are considering opportunities but not in an active job search.
“I’m actually not in an active job search, however when your recruiter contacted me about the position, it seemed interesting. I’ve been managing people for two years in my current job and would love to take on more leadership as I advance in my career. The recruiter I spoke with, Josh, mentioned there was an opportunity to build and lead a team of 5 in this role. Can you tell me more about that?”
This is a great answer because you’re explaining your situation clearly and directly, while also showing them why you want their job or what might convince you to take it.
You’re also ending your answer by asking a question of your own. That’s a great tactic to set yourself apart in the interview!
Now you know how to answer questions like, “Why are you looking to leave your current job?” or, “Why do you want to leave your job?”
If you follow these steps, you’ll impress the interviewer and boost your chances of getting the job offer.
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.
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