How to answer: ‘Why are you leaving your current job?’

By Robert Half on 4th March 2018

Along with answering common interview like ‘what are your weaknesses’ or ‘where do you see yourself in five years’, ‘why do you want to leave your current job’ is an interview question that can feel designed to catch you out.

Although you might think any response you give will automatically lead to interview failure, giving good reasons for wanting to change roles can actually serve to strengthen your chances of securing a new opportunity.

When planning your interview approach, ensure you cover off some acceptable answers for leaving a job, that you have an understanding as to what employers gain from asking the question and what a bad answer looks like.

Why do employers want reasons for leaving your current job?

This question isn’t designed to trick you into making yourself look bad. By exploring the reasons behind a job move, a potential employer is attempting to uncover whether or not you’re leaving on good terms, whether you left for a good reason, your career goals and what your work ethic is.

Giving reasons for leaving helps to determine what job satisfaction and happiness at work looks like to you. It shows what your long-term career plan is, what you want to get out of a new role and whether the cultural fit is going to be right.

What is a good reason to leave a job?

There many good reasons for leaving your current job. Rather than planning an overly-contrived response, try viewing the question as an opportunity to demonstrate your work ethic and desire to grow. Here are some examples of strong answers that potential employers look for:

  • Wanting more responsibility and better career growth

If you weren’t being given the appropriate tools to grow and learn within your last role, it’s important to bring this to the attention of a new employer when giving your reasons for leaving a current job.

Wanting to develop is a sign of employee engagement and adds extra value to a company, making it an attractive quality rather than a liability. Remember to give examples of the kinds of skills you wanted to build on and tangible ways you’d like to go about doing it.

  • Relocation

Sometimes a good answer to why you’re leaving your current job is as simple as the desire or need to relocate. If this is the case, explain why you’re making the move and what you feel a new opportunity will give you.

  • A career change

Wanting to change careers doesn’t make you fickle—it can serve as an indicator that you’re dedicated to finding interesting and meaningful work that engages you. Our research shows that employees who find their work worthwhile are 3.2 times more likely to be happy, and happy employees are an essential ingredient in business success and positive work culture.

By explaining your career development plan and outlining your ultimate end goal, you’re demonstrating passion and commitment rather than coming across as indecisive.

  • Company reorganisation

Company restructuring can often lead to staff cut-backs or new team dynamics which can cause employee dissatisfaction. If this is your reason for changing jobs, it’s helpful to give some examples as to why the new structure didn’t work for you, what you did to try and improve things and what you’d have changed. This shows your level of investment, your problem-solving skills and how you were committed to working as a team in the face of a challenge.

  • Better work–life balance

On the face of it, this may feel like a negative answer. The misconception is that it makes you look lazy or unwilling to do your share, however, many employers know that offering staff a good work–life balance leads to better performance and increased workplace happiness.

Supporting an employee who wants to strike a good work–life balance is a way for organisations to manage risk and is often encouraged. When giving this answer, avoid blaming your previous employer and instead focus on the changes you’d like to see.

What does a bad answer look like?

It’s all too easy to stray into dangerous territory when answering a question like, ‘Why do you want to change jobs?’. Here are a few examples of what a bad answer looks like and how you can avoid them.

  • Complaining

This question is not a que to launch into a barrage of complaints. Doing so will only demonstrate a tendency towards negativity which can have a harmful impact on company culture. Always endeavour to emphasise the positives, such as what you learned and the opportunities you enjoyed.

  • Criticising a manager

Even if managerial conflict was your reason for leaving your last role, try to approach the subject in a more positive way. Explain why the management style didn’t work for you and the steps you took to amend it before moving on. Speaking badly of a previous employer is a reflection of your character and may come across as being unprofessional.

Now that you have a firm understanding of what potential employers are looking for and how to formulate a productive, positive answer, you can prepare for your upcoming job interview with confidence. 

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