If you are job searching, the question “why are you looking for a new job?” may very well come up in interviews. After all, prospective hiring managers often want to know. But many people who look for a job do so because their current job is toxic, the company is failing, their salary has been reduced due to the pandemic, or any other perfectly valid but negative reason. If that’s your situation, the answers to this question can be very tricky.
It’s tricky for two reasons. First, most people know they should never badmouth a former employer. And if this piece of advice is new to you, let us repeat it: never, ever speak negatively of a former employer, either company or person. It doesn’t matter if what you say is totally true. It will be viewed as an indication of how you behave toward employers and a sign of poor character. The prospective employer may be concerned that they’ll be discussed similarly in the future. This leaves you with the option of saying something vague and polite. But you might not know exactly what to say – just what not to say.
Second, you need to respond to the question in a way that that satisfies your interviewer. The best way to do this is to pivot your answer. Rather than discuss anything negative, focus on your ability to do great work at the job you’re interviewing for! There are a myriad of ways to control this narrative without discussing your current or previous employer at all. After all, there is a reason you are sitting in an interview with this prospective company. Were they a target employer? Mine the reasons to develop your answer. Did it seem a good fit with your capabilities and your goals, for example? A chance to grow? Have you always admired the company, the brand, or the product?
To avoid speaking negatively about others, speak positively about yourself.
This allows you to execute an even more valuable pivot: to discussing how your experience and qualifications can benefit the company. Keep in mind that every prospective employer wants to know this, no matter what the ostensible question is. They want to be able to visualize you doing a great job if they hire you. Make sure they can. This takes some strategic thinking, so be sure to develop your answer to this potential question beforehand.
Expanding upon the actual reason you responded to the job posting has an additional benefit. It will ensure that your answer is valid and truthful. While you don’t have to tell the whole truth about a toxic or negative situation, you also never want to devise an answer to the “why are you looking” question that is entirely free of truthful elements. You run the risk of it ringing false when you discuss it with an employer if you do. For example, maybe your previous workplace had no room for you to grow or continually denied you promotion opportunities. You can spin this into an answer about how you are looking for a new job because you’re seeking growth opportunities, or you’re excited to move to the next level in your career.
Once you have the reason, develop the answer fully. Here are three common scenarios of what to say to be honest but diplomatic and make a great impression on the interviewer.
Common Reasons to Look for a New Job
How to explain why you’re leaving your current job.
Scenario: Your current workplace is not letting you use your full skillset or expand your capabilities.
Rephrase Strategy: You want to more fully use your skills.
I’m an excellent project manager and devised highly praised workflow systems last year. I want the opportunity to not only utilize the skills that contributed strongly to expense minimization last year, but to expand and develop those skills in a new role.
Key points: This response highlights your contribution and emphasizes what you bring to the prospective employer. You’re showing what skills you have and that you are ambitious to develop them further.
Scenario: You’re stuck in a toxic workplace.
Rephrase: You are looking for new challenges.
I’m a marketing professional responsible for growing sales. My strategies increased revenue 15 percent last year. Your multiple sales channels provide an opportunity to take my proven skills to the next level and offer opportunity for innovation and creativity.
Key points: You highlight both your own excellent qualifications and a revenue growth record highly likely to appeal to prospective employers, combined with a statement of how you want new challenges.
Scenario: You find your current work boring, unfulfilling, or lacking meaning.
Rephrase: You are impressed with the prospective company and want to contribute to it
Your products couple social responsibility with cutting-edge distribution techniques. I admire your company and want to contribute to it. Further, I think that the distribution strategies I developed at my current company are a good fit.
Key points: You highlight the reasons you admire the company and provide a pivot to discuss further the strategies that can contribute to the new company.
In all these scenarios, you give the prospective employer information on why you’re looking for a job that provides an opportunity for positive discussion of your capabilities for the new job – and avoids any negative discussion. With these rephrasing strategies, there is no reason to say anything negative about your current or past employer, focus instead on shining the spotlight on your own potential contributions to the prospective employer.
Before your interview, practice makes perfect.
One final note. Actually answering this question on the spot, in front of an interviewer, without being fully prepared might pose challenges, especially if you are currently in a very negative situation. Negativity can easily seep into your mindset and your responses if you’re not ready. You want to ensure that the answer flows smoothly and sounds genuine.
The answer is practice. Develop your answer and then practice it with friends and family. The more you practice, the easier it will become to focus on the positives (and the opportunities for further discussion in the interview) and the easier it will become to avoid any discussion of negatives associated with your current job. Plus, this gives you a great chance to bounce ideas off of peers you trust, and get new ideas for how to reframe your answer.
Remember, the purpose of an interview is to be hired. Focus on that reason and how the discussion contributes to it. While questions about why you’re looking for a new job can be tricky, there’s no reason to fear them. Develop an answer that focuses on the positive reasons why you want the new job – and crucially, provides the employer with a reason to hire you.
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