How to Answer, "So Why Do You Want to Leave Your Current Job?"
You're in an interview, or are networking with a key new contact, when they ask that question: "So why do you want to leave your current job?" And you hate your job.
Oh, at first, the job looked very enticing: maybe the pay was a big jump from your last job and since it sounded like a new challenge, you leapt at it. The savvy manager who hired you left soon after, and now you know why: nothing is happening in the ways that were laid out to employees, including new hires like you. And to add insult to injury, they have “updated” your job description so that you’re doing what you did 5 or 10 years ago. Ouch!
Are you in such a toxic, soul-sucking job?
If so, you want – no, need – to escape. But you’ve been there only a few months, or less than a year, or maybe things went well for a couple of years but not now. So you feel you can’t leave because now you’ll be asked, “Why do you want to leave your current job?”, or worse, “Why are you leaving so soon?” And you don’t know how to answer. But you can leave.
Don’t fumble around if this question comes up. You should be prepared ahead of time to answer.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Keep your answer short and simple. Use my “two-breath” rule, meaning, keep your answer to no longer than two breaths to say it. My observation is the longer your answer, the greater your chances of it devolving into an explanation or a defense (seen as “defensive”), or a “confession”.
- Refer to the truth without dwelling on the disappointments or personalities or negatives.
One example: “I’ve enjoyed a lot of what we’ve done on my team, and would like to stay and do more, but the company direction has changed and that opportunity no longer exists. But what I see here at your company looks like an excellent fit.”
By the way, the “I’d like to stay” implies that your current employer would keep you, it’s YOU who wants to leave.
- Practice your answer out loud so that it comes out comfortably. Record yourself, play it back, repeat - until it's perfect.
- Do not sound defensive no matter what the reason for wanting to leave/having left. Do not show anger or frustration. Never cast blame on anyone, including yourself or it will be seen that you don’t trust your own decision making – even if you goofed then, you’re wiser now. Keep it in neutral.
- Resist the urge to elaborate, even if you believe the questioner is “on your side”. Keep it short, sweet.
They’ll be looking for diplomacy
Whether it’s a potential employer or a networking contact, diplomacy is respected. They’ll think more of you for NOT getting into your current company’s issues. Most won't probe. I always encourage honesty in the job search but it must be balanced with diplomacy. Saying “I left because they didn’t know what they were doing” may be honest but until an interviewer knows you, such an answer will strike them as intemperate, or maybe even angry. It’s a funny thing: an employer who doesn’t know you already via networking, for example, will automatically “sympathize” with the employer in a given situation. So they will assume you are the problem – unless you effectively communicate otherwise.
Always end your exit statement with a positive comment about how you are interested in this job and this company, and can bring your successes to bear for them now. In other words, shift the focus back to them, not your work history.
- When networking with an influencer or peer, use the same approaches as above. Do not “let your hair down”. You do not know if this network contact may end up being your next manager, or influential in your being hired. So always remain professional.
First and Last, Always Probe for Culture
Last, ALWAYS probe for info about the culture of the company you’re interviewing with (or networking into) so that you are not blinded by a higher salary or amazing title. Choose the right fit for YOU. Ask: What is the direction of the company? How are senior leaders succeeding despite economic conditions, snags in the supply chain, surprises in the market? How do they develop their people? How are successes celebrated? (If you are a client of mine, you’ll get in-depth guides about how to do this.) Heading off any mistakes comes down to you being prepared.
You deserve that.
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