You’re currently employed. You get a paycheck twice a month. It’s a sure thing.
Why then are you engaging in a job search? New jobs are risky and stressful. What circumstances have led you to choose the unknown over the known?
Your interviewer is undoubtedly thinking this and almost certainly will ask you about it. A “bad” answer can kill your chances at getting the job offer. A “good” answer can position you for success.
It might sound odd that this is a difficult question for many interviewees. Obviously, you have your reasons for leaving - probably more than a handful.
The problem is that sharing those reasons (the real ones) might give your interviewer a negative impression, if not framed appropriately. As an interviewee, you know that. You might find yourself spinning around in a jumbled mess of vague explanations and platitudes. Your interviewer, sensing your discomfort and the awkward attempt to skirt the question, wonders what you’re hiding and slowly loses interest in you as a candidate.
So there’s a delicate balance required. You want to be both authentic and diplomatic. Your job is to steer clear of potential landmines, while still providing a genuine response that resonates for both you and the interviewer.
Here are some tips for how to do it.
1. Praise your current employer. Before anything else, start by offering a little praise for your current employer just to show you’re not jaded and to frame the answer positively. Try saying something like: “My current employer has given me some great opportunities and I’m sorry to leave. But I’m also really excited about the future.”
Notice that this statement isn’t overly flattering, and it lands right back at the here and now - your enthusiasm for what’s next. Interviewers like to hear this because it demonstrates your loyalty and respect for the company, even though they obviously know you’re not happy there. They see that you’re able to “play the game,” keep emotions out of it and protect the image of the company even if and when things don’t work out.
Interviewers view negative talk regarding your current employer as gossip. If you’re out there badmouthing your company, the interviewer thinks you could easily turn around and do the same to his or her company in the future.
2. Avoid discussing people. Surveys show that the No. 1 reason people leave a job is because of other people. Interviewers know that, but they don’t want to hear it. They know it takes two to tango. Any discussion regarding difficulties with people will lead your interviewer to wonder what your role was - and then you’re in the danger zone.
Instead, talk about things. The same holds true if an interviewer asks you a question like, “What is one thing you don’t like about your current or last job?” Good answers revolve around things like outdated policies, inefficient processes, slow technology, etc. Great answers also focus on what you did to try to improve the situation.
3. Always focus on what you’re moving toward. Remember that the past is old news. The future is why you’re sitting in that interview. Keep your discussion centered on the fact that you’re moving toward something new and exciting, not away from where you are. This might require just a subtle shift in language but the impact is enormous.
For example, instead of saying, “There are limited opportunities for growth where I am,” try saying, “The opportunities for growth here seem unlimited.”
4. Make it about self-improvement. Interviewers love to know job candidates are interested in bettering themselves. It’s a trait that indicates you will (potentially) be a long-term hire and, with the right support, you could be someone who grows with the company.
It’s always a good idea to make your career move about your desire for self-improvement - whether you’re seeking career advancement opportunities or the chance to grow a new set of skills.
Sure, there are times when you just need a change of pace. That’s human nature. But saying that’s the sole reason for your move suggests you might be easily bored or unable to create the experience that serves you best in the workplace. Your interviewer wants to know that you’ll be capable of productively working through those kinds of “typical” challenges (like boredom and the feeling of being stuck in a rut).
Always let your interviewer know that you really did everything in your power to make it work with your current employer. You’ve taken on additional responsibilities, sought out new challenges, advanced as far as you can, etc. You don’t want to be perceived as someone who is quick to jump ship when things don’t immediately go your way. But there are certain things outside of your control, and those are the ones that keep you from staying where you are.
It’s almost guaranteed that your reason for leaving will be a point of discussion in any job interview. Plan your response and practice it aloud a few times so you’re prepared. With any luck, the conversation will move on quickly and you’ll be able to focus on other, more compelling topics.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.