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A Tough Interview Question: “Why do you want to leave your job?”

A Tough Interview Question: "Why do you want to leave your job?"How should you answer this question in a job interview? Getting it wrong can ruin your chances.

One common reason for leaving is that the company is experiencing problems and you want to jump ship before it crashes on the rocks.

Or maybe your boss is difficult to work with, and you go home with a headache every day.

Of course, referring to either of these things in the interview is likely to be seen as indiscreet, and it may brand you as a troublemaker.

How can you give an answer that’s true while also being smart – in other words, both authentic and strategic?

The key is to focus on what you’re moving towards with this job transition, rather than what you want to get away from.

That sounds easy, but when “I want out!” has become such a familiar thought it’s nearly a mantra, it can be hard to mentally shift gears. So plan your answer carefully.

Usually there’s more than one reason you want to leave. Sit down by yourself and list them.

For example, let’s say you want to leave Walnut Creek Wireless (WCW) and you’ve got an interview at San Francisco Solutions (SFS).

Here’s your list:

1. WCW has just reorganized in way that you think is going to kill the business.

2. They overwork their employees and rarely give any recognition for a job well done.

3. It’s a tough commute from your home in San Rafael.

4. You’d rather work on mobile apps for consumers at SFS instead of doing data security for banks at WCW.

Even though reasons #1-3 may be the ones that keep you up at night and have the most emotional juice for you, they’re not likely to help you get the job.

There’s no reason the interviewer needs to know about #1 & 2, the negatives about your current job. And the interviewer has probably already noticed #3 – the commute – from looking at the address on your application.

Reason #4 is the real winner.

So your good answer might sound like this:

“I’ve learned a lot from working with WCW, like … ” (name something relevant to the new job, if possible) “and accomplished some good work, like … ” (example).

“But my real passion is mobile technology … ” (describe your strengths in this area).

“So that’s really where I see myself. I love what I’ve seen and heard about SFS, such as … ” (show you’ve done your homework).

“So when I found out about this opening, I just had to apply.”

Now, what if WCW’s troubles are well known? That means the employer may be quite aware of what you’re not saying – and respect you all the more for your discretion.

So, you’ve given a good answer. You’re not quite out of the woods yet.

Let’s say the employer responds with a knowing look and a sympathetic comment. “I understand. And I’ve heard about all the changes at WCW. That’s probably made things tough for you.”

Uh-oh! Empathy is so powerful. We all crave it. So get some empathy … later, from a close friend or family member! Right now, just smile and bring the subject back to your skills.

“Change can be stressful, no doubt about that. But the real point is, the work you’re doing here is very exciting, and it’s a great match for my abilities.”

True – and smart!

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