Initially, the question “Why Are You Leaving Your Current Job” might appear to be crossing personal boundaries. However, it is a common interview question and a necessary one. Why? Because the interviewer does not want the same situation that caused you to want to leave your current position to occur in your new job.
Here’s an example. If you left your current role because you were disappointed in your prospects for career advancement, your new employer may be concerned that this could be the case in your new position. They should either assure you there is room for professional growth or decide that you are not a good fit because they cannot offer you sufficient career growth.
This job interview question is tricky, and it takes some preparation for an interviewee to answer it artfully.
This article will show you how to respond depending on why you want to leave your current job. We provide sample answers to the question under different scenarios.
The first step in preparing to answer the question, “Why did you leave your last job?” is to make sure you understand the hiring company’s mission and culture. You should be confident that you are a good fit for the new opportunity so that you can answer the question appropriately.
For example, if you are looking for career advancement, are they a large enough company that they can provide that for you? If you are seeking a certain level of compensation, do they tend to pay people at that level? You will need to do some digging and reading of past reviews on sites like Indeed or Glassdoor.
It’s always a good idea to talk to an insider at the company too, if you possibly can. Try going to your former employer's LinkedIn page and reaching out to an existing employee.
When crafting your answer, be careful to phrase it in a way that doesn’t reflect poorly on you. Some reasons for leaving a previous job are easily defended, others may cause your employer to think twice about hiring you. A lot of how your answer is perceived depends on how you word it.
Let’s dive in and look at some examples.
Reason for leaving #1. You realize that your values do not align with the company’s mission.
So, here’s where your prep work is important. Chances are that the recruiter will ask you to expand on this reason for wanting to leave your current job. In doing so, you should show that your values are reflected in the hiring company’s mission. How can you do that? By researching the company and giving an example.
“I am attracted to this job because I like the work that the company is doing on the environment and its overall corporate social responsibility efforts. I have decided that I am more motivated if I am involved in that type of work rather than bottom-line driven projects that don’t consider the social and community aspects.”
Reason for leaving #2. You feel undervalued in your current role.
This is an excellent reason to give for wanting to leave a job because it accomplishes two things. One, it emphasizes that you are of value to the company. Two, it’s another way of saying that you would like additional compensation without actually talking about salary (that should only be discussed when the interviewer brings it up).
Be prepared for follow-up questions here. You should be ready to tell the interviewer what your current or previous employer is overlooking in terms of your value, and how those same skills or characteristics can benefit your new employer.
Here’s a good answer.
“I am consistently the leader in lead generation and sales with 100% client satisfaction. I also am a leader in training others. However, I feel I could have more impact at a larger company compared to my current employer where there is more scope in terms of goals.”
Reason for leaving #3. You would like a higher salary.
See Reason 2. It's unwise to bring up salary until the hiring manager does so. You can come as being interested in the job just because it might pay more. The interviewer wants to see that you are excited about the role, the company, and your contribution, not just your salary.
Once the interviewer has brought up the topic of salary, it is fine to try to negotiate a job offer and to find a number that you will be happy with.
Reason for leaving #4. You are looking for a new challenge.
This is also an excellent reason to give, and it is phrased well. A less artful way to phrase this sentiment would be to say “I want a job with better career growth opportunities.” The problem with this latter phrasing is that the employer may not want to promise you career growth at this stage. After all, they have not yet seen how capable you are. Thus, this could be putting the interviewer in a difficult spot.
However, by saying “I’m looking for a new challenge,” you demonstrate ambition and enthusiasm. Any new job presents a challenge, so the employer will not feel obligated to offer you career growth just yet.
Here’s an example of how to phrase this reason.
“At my current company, I’ve grown professionally and feel ready to take on the next challenge. I’ve built strong relationships that I think could benefit a larger company like yours. I’m motivated by your company’s bold mission, and I would be excited to contribute to more dynamic strategies.”
Reason for leaving #5. I want better growth opportunities.
See Reason 4.
Unless the job description specifically states that the company offers excellent growth opportunities, rephrase this answer so that you are not asking for something the employer cannot give. If you have done your research, you will know whether the company can provide growth. If not, you shouldn't be applying.
You can always ask the employer later in the interview what the prospects of career growth are. It’s just not a good idea to do so in the context of the question “Why are you leaving your current job” because the implication is that you might leave this company too if they do not offer you career growth right away.
Professional advancement takes time and proven ability.
Reason for leaving #6. You want to work different hours.
So, a better way to phrase this is to give justification for wanting different hours. If it is for health or personal reasons, this is perfectly understandable.
Just saying that you want to work different hours does not give enough context. Why do you want to work different hours? Is it for a good reason or just because you don’t like getting up early? Perhaps your health is being affected by working nightshifts? As long as your reason is a valid one, your answer will be received well.
Here’s an example of how to phrase this response.
“I had to leave my last job because the hours encroached too much on my personal time. This job will give me work-life balance and allow me to both work full-time and spend time with my family.”
Reason for leaving #7. You had to leave due to family or personal reasons.
See Reason 6.
This is a valid answer, but you should provide more context so that the new employer is not worried that your family or personal reasons will cause you to leave this job too.
The important thing is to emphasize your professional life rather than your personal life. You would be enthusiastic and committed to the new job with a better work-life balance.
Reason for leaving #8. You want a career change.
The critical factor in this situation is to show your passion for your new career path. If you can do this effectively, you could knock it out of the park. When a person decides to switch career paths, they are usually highly motivated and prepared to work hard to advance in that new career.
Tell your potential employer what is motivating you and what you have done to prepare for your new role. For example, have you taken classes outside of work or taken on volunteer work to expose yourself to the industry? You might have had to temporarily sacrifice financially to devote time to learning and reach your career goals. This is your chance to shine.
Here’s one way to phrase this answer.
“I’ve always wanted to go into healthcare, but my qualifications took me in another direction. Once I was committed to changing careers, I planned out what classes I needed to take, and I studied in my free time. I did volunteer work to get some experience. I immediately felt much happier once I had a plan to get to where I want to go, so I knew I was finally on the right path professionally.”
Reason for leaving #9. You were laid off or let go.
These are the most difficult circumstances to talk about in an interview, but you should be honest because the hiring company is likely to contact your past employer.
If you were laid off, this is not a reflection of your capability. The COVID-19 epidemic has made this unfortunate experience mainstream.
Here’s one way to explain that you were laid off.
“My company couldn’t survive financially. They tried restructuring, but that was followed by a few rounds of layoffs, and I was one of the last to go. However, it has motivated me to take classes and to learn new skills. I’m feeling much more confident in my value to an employer.”
If you were let go, you should acknowledge if you were at fault, but present it as a learning experience with a positive outcome. Here’s an example of how to do that.
“I was let go. I had lost motivation and wasn’t performing well. Being let go was a good thing because it made me realize what I really wanted to be doing. I took some time to learn to code and improve my skillset. I even won an online coding competition sponsored by Google.”
You should be honest when talking about being let go or fired, but there are areas where honesty is not the best policy in your job search. For example, don’t denigrate a bad boss or badmouth your coworkers. This could imply that you are difficult to work with.
Here are some final tips for job seekers:
Don’t ramble; keep your answers short.
Always close your response positively.
Steer the conversation to show that you are the best person for the job.
Don’t go into detail, but give just enough context to remove the concerns of the interviewer.
Be honest about being let go. Remember that your new employer is likely to contact your old employer to check that what you do say is correct.