Interviews are stressful enough without having to answer awkward questions about why you’re leaving. Luckily, Hays’ Marc Burrage has some advice.
It’s not just your friends and family who may want to know why you are thinking of leaving your current job. And, while it can feel easy enough to answer when someone close to you has asked, it can be far harder to articulate your reasons when it’s an interviewer posing the question and when the answer you give carries so much weight.
Why does the interviewer want to know?
Simply put, the motivation you have for leaving one job is intrinsically linked to your potential performance and level of engagement in the next. So, the interviewer will ask you this question to give them clues about what motivates and fulfils you, what your long-term goals and ambitions are, and what type of company culture might suit you best.
Also, the degree to which you answer this potentially awkward question with clarity and professionalism will also help them build a picture of the strength of your verbal and non-verbal communication skills. As such, how well you answer this question will likely either trigger or silence alarm bells in the mind of your interviewer, so it’s important you get it right.
How to answer the question constructively
The key to answering this question well is not to focus on what you dislike about your current role, but instead you must position your answer in a way that shifts the interviewer’s focus to the many other opportunities that you see in the position you’ve applied for. Ultimately, you want the interviewer to perceive you as a forward-thinking and proactive candidate who is looking to make a positive change in their career.
For instance, you could begin your answer in the following way: ‘While I’ve learned a great deal in my current role, I believe it is now time to make a change, because …’ From here, you have a platform to move your focus from the old to the new. For instance, you can go on to talk about your desire to develop using skills you’ve learned that will benefit the new employer and then articulate how your experience makes you the ideal candidate.
Articulating your answers in this way means that the conversation always comes back to you – what you’ve learned and achieved, the value you can bring, and why you’ve decided to move on.
Here are some tips on how you can explain some of the most common reasons for wanting to leave one job, while pivoting the focus to the new opportunity ahead.
You’re no longer learning in your current role
Straight away, the key point you want to get across here is that you want to develop and progress. So, in your answer you must communicate that you have learned a range of key skills in your current role but foresee that they will be more effectively applied and enhanced elsewhere:
‘While I have learned a great deal in my current role, such as X and Y, I’m now looking for a new opportunity in which I’m able to expand on my skills and build on my experiences, on a more consistent basis. I believe this opportunity may enable me to do that, as I’ve found from my research that your company has a commitment to lifelong learning for your staff.’
You’re feeling undervalued in your current role
Here, the focus is on not the fact that you feel undervalued, but instead on what you’ve achieved:
‘In my current role, I am extremely proud to have achieved X and Y. However, I feel that now is the time to apply my skills to another company, with the hope of achieving more success and delivering more value to my next employer. Having read the job description, I believe I will be able to provide genuine value in X, Y and Z areas.’
You’re struggling to see how you can progress in your current role
As this one will apply to many candidates, the interviewer will understand – but getting your answer right is crucial:
‘Although I was promoted to a team-leading position, after several years with the company the structure of the business has made further progression difficult. The chance to apply the skills I have learned in my current role to the more stretching responsibilities of an innovative and forward-thinking environment such as this is simply too good an opportunity to miss.’
Your relationship with your boss isn’t as productive and supportive as it should be
Here, you shouldn’t focus on what is wrong with the person you work for right now. Instead, you must turn the attention to the new boss and impress them with the knowledge you’ve acquired so far:
‘I’ve learned a great deal from my current employer, but I’m keen to work in a more collaborative environment. I was particularly impressed to learn that your company operates with a unified communications system, which gives every member of the team the chance to be involved in all stages of the work.’
You’ve probably noticed a consistent theme running through these example answers. The focus is always on you and your potential new employer – not on the role you want to leave. Answering this question in a positive and forward-looking way will allow you to explain why you are the ideal candidate for the new role but avoid detailing why you no longer feel right where you are now.
Lastly, no matter how much you have come to dislike your current role, badmouthing your current boss or employer won’t sell you to the new one. And, even if you genuinely believe you aren’t currently being paid enough, haven’t learned anything or are not being challenged in your current role, relaying this back to your interviewer definitely won’t reflect well on you either. Focus your answer on the future, and don’t dwell on what will hopefully soon be your past.
‘Why are you looking to leave your current job?’ is indeed an extremely common interview question. It is also one of the most important to get right. However, it is also a fantastic opportunity for you to showcase your proactive mindset and dedication to delivering value to your next employer.
By Marc Burrage
Marc Burrage was appointed as managing director for Hays Specialist Recruitment Japan in October 2015.
A version of this article originally appeared on Hays’ Viewpoint blog.