The right answer to “Why are you leaving your current job?”
You may be tempted to tell them all about your toxic boss, but we have some better ideas.
Honesty is usually the best policy, but when an interviewer asks why you’re leaving your current job (or why you left your last job), it might not be the right time to give an unfiltered response.
You may want to say that your manager makes the bosses from the movie “Horrible Bosses” look good, that you'd rather watch paint dry than do your assignments, or that the only thing you like is the free coffee...but that won't get you the job.
“Interviewers usually ask this question out of honest curiosity. It's important for the company to know why the job seeker is looking for a new position, especially if they value a positive company culture,” says Donna Shannon, president and CEO of career coaching firm, Personal Touch Career Services.
“To some degree, they want the honest answer from the candidate, although a job seeker should never speak negatively about their current employer,” she says.
Okay, but it’s hard to figure out how to be honest and diplomatic at the same time. Don’t worry. We’ve got you. We asked career experts to break it down, so you can answer with tact and impress the interviewer at the same time.
Say something positive about your job
To deflect any potential negative assumptions about why you’re moving on, start off by mentioning something positive about where you work then move right along.
“The best way to answer why you are leaving your current job for a new one is to highlight the positives of your current company,” says Dana Case, director of operations at the consulting company, MyCorporation.
“Explain the growth and achievements that you’ve contributed to while at the company and state that the reason for the change is to experience new challenges and growth opportunities,” she adds.
By starting with something positive, you’ll be less inclined to veer toward the more negative reasons you’re moving on.
Tell them why you’re interested in this job
The most powerful way to deflect questions about your old (or current) job is to focus on the job you’re interviewing for now.
“Instead of running down your current employer, talk about the company in question, how inspiring you find their mission statement, and the work they are doing,” says career coach Carlota Zimmerman.
“Talk about your goals and vision, and the synergy between that and this company,” she adds.
Show that you’ve done your research and that you are strategic about your career.
Your new boss wants to hire someone who will stay at the company long-term, so they want to know that your career goals align with the career trajectory for the role and the company.
Keep selling them on why they should hire you for this job
Although the interviewer will be impressed that you did your research and understand the position and company, their primary goal is to find out what you can do for them.
You have to demonstrate how you’re going to rock their world, and that they’d be crazy not to hire you.
“Stress your skills and let your positive attitude show, no matter what’s going on in your old position,” says Gordon.
Basically, ask not what their company can do for you—but tell them what you can do for their company.
Prepare a response to “Why are you leaving?”
No matter how much dancing around the subject you do, at some point, they may come right out and ask—so why are you leaving?
As anyone who has practiced a mock job interview knows, you’re more likely to score a home run if you’ve prepared a response ahead of time.
Stella Odogwu, a California career coach, recommends saying something along the lines of this:
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time at [company name] and learned a lot about my field from some really inspiring leaders.
Now, I’m ready for a new challenge—one that allows me the opportunity to make an even bigger impact on a global scale.
With this new role and your presence in 25 countries, this is the perfect place for me.
I get to implement cost-saving processes across countries, learn more, and have fun doing it!”
This answer is positive, professional, and it shows that you’re self-aware and did your research on the company.
Avoid trash talking your employer
Even if you feel extremely comfortable with an interviewer, never, under any circumstances, get so familiar that you start airing dirty laundry about your old job.
You’re here to get the job and even if you wish you could grab a beer together and give your interviewer the low-down on your toxic workplace, you have to resist the urge.
“It’s detrimental to talk badly about your employer, because an interview is also a test run for how you’d behave in public,” says Zimmerman.
“Your boss needs to be able to trust your judgment. If you’re sitting in an interview mocking former employers, you’ve demonstrated to me why you’re unhappy in your current job…and why you’ll never ever be unhappy working for me, because I’d never hire you. Next!”
Know what the experts recommend
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