When you’re interviewing for a job, you’re probably focused on the new position and proving how your skills make you the right fit for it. But it’s almost inevitable that you’ll also be asked a question that forces you to talk about the role you’re leaving behind. “Why are you leaving your job?” is one of the most common interview questions, yet one of the most tricky for candidates to answer.
You want to respond honestly without getting too deep into personal details or criticisms of your current employer. To make a good impression, it’s important not to wing it. Use the tips and sample responses below to think through how you’ll answer if you’re asked about your reasons for leaving your job to pursue a new one.
Why do interviewers want to know why you’re leaving?
It might feel like an invasive question. After all, if you’re well qualified for the new role, why should it matter what reason you have for leaving your current position? However, this question can shed light on what’s important to you in a job–specifically, things that are so important that without them, you’ll leave.
Hiring managers also want to understand why it didn’t work out with your current employer. If candidates seem evasive when asked this question, it can be told that something went amiss and probe them to push for more information from the candidate or their references.
What hiring managers want to hear in an answer
Companies want to hire employees who are going to stick around. Thus, they need to know you won’t leave at the drop of a hat.
Employers want candidates to have a “good” reason for leaving their job–things like seeking career growth, more responsibility, new challenges or a more meaningful mission. They don’t want to hear that you’re leaving over something like a spat with your coworker. This could indicate that you’re fickle or difficult to manage.
How to answer the question, “Why are you leaving your job?”
Focus on growth
The best employees are always striving for more, and sometimes that means you need to look elsewhere for your next opportunity. If you’ve run out of room to grow in your current position, share what it is you’re hoping to gain from a new one, like the opportunity to manage a team, acquire new skills, contribute innovative ideas or advance upward in the company.
Highly engaged employees tend to align strongly with their company’s mission. Help your interviewer see that alignment by stating your desire to be part of a company that values the same things you do, or that is engaged in work you’re passionate about.
Cite extenuating circumstances
Sometimes, your reason for seeking a new job has nothing to do with being dissatisfied with your current role. Maybe you’re relocating to a new city because of a spouse’s job, or your current employer is shutting its doors or undergoing a re-org that makes your position redundant. These are all perfectly acceptable reasons to give for leaving your job. Be sure to follow up with what makes this particular role appealing to you.
How not to answer
Making it all about money
Money is a great motivator, and there’s nothing wrong with leaving your job in search of a higher salary. However, most hiring managers will balk if you say outright that you’re after a larger paycheck (and, in fact, a conversation about salary is best left for later in the hiring process).
Instead, phrase your answer in terms of the responsibility that goes along with a higher salary: “Career growth is important to me, and my current company has very few options beyond my existing job title. I’m looking for a place where I can advance regarding responsibility, job duties, and compensation.”
Answering the question “why are you leaving your job?” requires you to strike a delicate balance between being honest and badmouthing your current employer. Keep your answer as positive as possible, focusing on the opportunities the new job will afford versus the reasons your current one is holding you back.
Sample answers to “Why are you leaving your job?”
“I’ve learned a lot in my current job, like how to work on a team and communicate with customers. However, the structure of my company doesn’t offer a path to move into a management role. I’m really looking for the chance to lead a team, which is why I’m excited about this opening.”
“My current company focuses mostly on market research, and I’ve realized over the last year that I’m much more interested in product development. I can see that this position would allow me to grow my skills in that area while drawing upon the expertise I’ve gained in my five years as a research analyst.”
Employers want to hire people who solve problems, not run away from them, so be prepared for a follow-up question about whether you’ve tried to find what you’re looking for at your current company. Emphasize that you’ve explored the options available to you and aren’t taking the decision to leave lightly. Still, you’ve decided that a new opportunity is the best path forward for your career.
By coming armed with a clear and compelling reason for leaving your job, you’ll show the hiring manager that you’re a dependable candidate whose goals align with the company’s goals.