“Why are you looking for a job?”
“Why did you leave your last position?”
“Why are you looking to leave your current position?”
“Why are you looking for new opportunities?”
When posed in an interview, no matter how it’s phrased, this question can be quite daunting. How do you answer it without giving the interviewer pause to use the reason against you. Do you tell the truth? Do you lie? Do you fabricate a response you think they want to hear?
The truth is, the answer probably lies in a gray area somewhere in the middle, and depends on your specific circumstance.
If you’re still currently employed, be careful of what you say about your current employer. Focus your answer around career growth and opportunities the potential position offers you. Address how your particular skills sets and the results you achieved in your prior role can be an asset to the company you are interviewing with.
Do not talk about money. Money may be a motivational driver for you, but studies have shown that it is only a temporary motivator for increased work performance and it can be a turnoff to recruiters and hiring managers. They’re looking for someone who wants to join their team and is a good cultural fit.
Hiring Managers are looking for someone reliable and don’t want to see red flags of you jumping ship if they hire you for the same reasons you’re leaving your current job. If you’re leaving due to differences with management or values, maintain your composure and manners in your response and politely explain the situation without harm to your current employer. Address how you’ve recognized the environment at the new company to be different and how you would approach the scenario differently from what you’ve learned should you encounter a similar situation in the future.
For those individuals who were fired or laid off the answer can be a bit demoralizing. Stay positive. Be honest in explaining the situation, but be as brief as possible. Address some of the challenges you overcame and what you learned from the experience. For more explanation on how to answer this, see our article on How to Address Being Fired in the Interview.
If you left your previous role for personal reasons such as to have a baby, to help care for a relative, or to take a sabbatical it can be trickier to convince an employer of why they should hire you. To them they run the risk of someone who has the potential to leave or isn’t as motivated to join their team because they have other priorities.
Do be honest as to why you left your prior job, but outline everything you’ve done to re-prepare yourself for the workforce, why the circumstances that were the basis of your leaving are no longer a concern, and why you are highly interested and motivated to work for this new company.
Again, the key here is to make sure you take away any obstacles that the interviewer might see. If you left to have children, you might explain that your kids are now in school and you have adequate childcare coverage, and you are ready and excited to be contributing to the work in your particular field.
If you took a sabbatical, you might explain how your time away has provided advantages in being able to step outside of your job and see and approach your work in different ways with a renewed passion.
And (this goes for any interview question) be specific when responding and avoid too many generic, rehearsed answers. The more general your response, the less a hiring manager is tuned in and listening, because chances are they’ve heard it before.
Never bad mouth a former employer or company, and a good strategy is to try and spin the “why did you leave” question to pose why you are interested in joining the new company verses leaving your current one.
Keep answers concise and try not to ramble. Above all, stay positive at all times. And remember, honesty and authenticity are key, but keep it limited to the highlights, and you’ll be fine.