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“What are your reasons for leaving your job?” is up there with “What are your weaknesses?” in the shortlist of interview questions candidates dread most. Even if the thought of moving on from your current role fills you with joy, you may not be comfortable sharing with a hiring manager your reasons for leaving a job.
And that’s exactly why you should prepare thoroughly for this question. Answer it succinctly and without embarrassment, and you’ll make a good impression on the interview panel, strengthening your chances of landing the opportunity. Try to wing it, on the other hand, and there’s every chance you’ll come across as hesitant or evasive.
Here are some tips for discussing your reasons for leaving a job, along with an explanation of why employers ask about this as well as how not to answer this interview question:
Why do employers ask this interview question?
Unlike the more common interview questions you'll likely be asked, this one isn’t designed to trick you into making yourself look bad. By exploring the reasons behind a job move, a hiring manager is attempting to learn about your career goals and whether you’re parting from your current employer on good terms.
Giving your reasons for leaving a job helps interviewers determine what satisfaction and engagement at work look like to you. It can also shed light on what your long-term career plan is and what you want to get out of a new role.
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What are some good reasons for leaving a job?
There are many acceptable reasons for leaving a job, and you shouldn’t be embarrassed to talk about them. In fact, you should relish the opportunity to describe your work ethic and underscore your desire to grow. Here are five examples of reasons for leaving a job that a hiring manager would view positively:
1. More responsibility and better career growth
One thing all hiring managers want to hear from interviewees is that they’re hungry to develop their skills. If you aren’t being given the appropriate resources to grow and learn in your current role, it’s important to bring this to the attention of a possible new employer when sharing your reasons for leaving a job. Give examples of the kinds of skills you want to build on and tangible ways you’d like to go about doing it.
2. A career change
Wanting to move in a new direction professionally doesn’t make you fickle. It can serve as an indicator that you’re dedicated to finding interesting and meaningful work. By explaining your career development plan and outlining your ultimate end goal, you can demonstrate your drive and commitment.
3. Company reorganization
Company restructuring can often lead to cutbacks or new team dynamics, which can cause employee dissatisfaction. If this is your reason for leaving a job, it’s helpful to give some examples as to why the new structure isn’t working for you, what you’ve done to try to improve things and what you’d change if it were all up to you. This shows your level of investment, your problem-solving skills and how you gave a serious effort to be a team player in the face of a challenge. Finally, show that you’ve researched and understood the potential employer’s organizational structure by explaining why you think you will thrive in their setup.
4. Better work-life balance
One positive outcome of the COVID pandemic is both companies’ and employees’ renewed focus on the importance of work-life balance. You may find, however, that your preferred work arrangements no longer align with your employer’s needs as pandemic restrictions unwind. If that’s one of your reasons for leaving a job, be upfront about it with hiring managers, making the case that any flexibility on their part will be rewarded with high levels of productivity and engagement on yours. When discussing work-life balance, focus on what you’re seeking for the long term, whether it’s remote work, a 4/10 workweek or flexible hours.
Sometimes a good answer to why you’re leaving your current job is as simple as the desire or need to relocate. This would be the case if you feel relocation is best accomplished by physically moving near the office of the potential employer rather than asking your old company for remote work, which they may or may not honor. Explain why you’re making the move, what skills you can offer the company and what you feel are the benefits of a new job and location. In an age when many candidates want to work from home, showing you have the drive and determination to put down new roots may impress a hiring manager who needs their team to be in or near the office.
What should you avoid doing as a response?
It’s easy to stray into treacherous territory when giving your reason for leaving your job. So, be sure not to fall to any of the following when you respond, no matter how well you think the interview is going or how much the hiring manager puts you at ease:
- Complaining — Avoid launching into a barrage of complaints about your former workplace or colleagues. Doing so can make you look bitter or negative — qualities no employer wants to see in a potential hire. Instead, emphasize the positives, such as the opportunities you enjoyed at your previous job and what you learned from the experience.
- Criticizing a manager — Even if unhappiness with your manager was your reason for leaving a job, approach the subject in a tactful, positive way. If your boss tended to micromanage your projects, for example, you can say you always appreciated their interest in your work but you were ready to take on a role that would give you greater autonomy.
- Reciting boilerplate — Your reasons for leaving a job may be simple and clear, but that doesn’t mean you should trot out the same explanation in every interview. Research a potential employer’s organizational culture and policies, so that you can tailor your answer to what they’re offering. A much better answer than “My current employer doesn’t offer flextime” is “My current employer doesn’t offer flextime, so I’m excited about your 4/10 workweek policy, which will really suit my working style."
- Highlighting salary — Dissatisfaction with salary is one of the most common reasons for leaving a job, but it’s best to leave this unspoken, or, at least, wait for the interviewer to raise it first. Hiring managers are smart and experienced, and if you talk positively about looking to stretch yourself and take on bigger responsibilities, they will intuit that you are also looking for a raise. Then after you get a job offer, you can negotiate your salary.
Thinking ahead about your reasons for leaving a job — and how you can discuss them in a positive, professional manner — will help you feel more confident going into a job interview. And, while you’re at it, you may want to consider how you might address other commonly asked interview questions, just in case they come up. These Robert Half blog posts can help: