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“Why do you want to leave your job?” (Interview Question)

by THEA kelley | July 15, 2021

“Why do you want to leave your job?” This interview question is a minefield if your mind immediately goes to places like: My boss is a micromanager. The politics are toxic. The company is broken. So, what can you say?

The first thing to do is this: realize that there is probably more than one reason you’d prefer to go elsewhere, and that some reasons for leaving are easier to talk about. For example:

  • You’re successful in your current job but want to make a career change that your current company can’t offer you.
  • There is no path for advancement from your current role.
  • You like your current job, and are only interviewing because you saw another opportunity too exciting to resist.
  • You need to relocate to a different city or state, and your company can’t or won’t transfer you.

If your main reason for wanting to leave is more controversial–that the company is poorly managed, your manager is difficult, or such–look for other reasons to mention instead. It’s ironic that while the number one reason most people quit jobs is because of their bosses, that’s the last reason you can safely talk about in an interview. But it’s true:  doing so could cause the interviewer to question your attitude or your discretion.

So, how can you give an answer that’s both authentic and strategically smart?

A helpful approach for “Why do you want to leave your job?”

Since there are probably several reasons you’re leaving, not just one. Look at the four examples in the bulleted list above – do some of those apply, or something similar? Make a list of all the reasons. (To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Why will I leave thee? Let me count the ways!”) Then craft an answer focused on the reasons that present you in a good light.

That’s the first step. Now, since you’re still basically addressing a negative – that you want to leave your job – it’s a good idea to surround it with positives: the successes you have had there, what you have learned, and the reasons why you’re excited about the new opportunity.

Here’s an example:

“This job was my first foray into tech, and that was a great step for me. I’ve learned a lot about what customers want in an app. And I’ve learned that while I’m good at project management, I’m even better at understanding the customer. I want to move into a customer success role like this one. This opening is ideal for me because…”

So you see, they never need to know about your boss’s lousy management style!

What if you were fired?

Sometimes it’s not “Why do you want to leave your job?” but “Why did you leave your past job?” If you were laid off, read my post The 3 Questions Most Job Seekers Flunk. If you were fired, read Were You Fired? These posts will help you prepare an answer that addresses the interviewer’s concerns and leaves you smelling like a rose! (This post was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.)     

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