Hiring new employees is expensive which is why companies need to ensure the candidate will be a good fit.  The kinds of questions asked during the interview process help the hiring manager determine if a prospect is a good match for the company and role.

If you’re interviewing, one question you’ll inevitably be asked is “why are you looking for another job”?  This can also be asked different ways.

If you’re still employed it might be “Why do you want to leave your current job?”

If you’re not working, it might be “Why did you leave your last job?”  Or “What led up to your departure from ABC company?”  or “Why are you no longer with ABC company?”

Employers believe that past performance and behavior is usually a good indicator of future performance and behavior. This is why they ask a lot of direct and often provocative questions – they’re digging for red flags to help uncover where you may have demonstrated personality conflicts, had a negative attitude, or performed poorly.

These are the questions that are going through the employer’s head

Did you leave for a “good” reason?

If the company you were at for 5 years relocated and the commute became too long, that’s usually considered a good reason to leave.

However, if you say that (after 5 years) your commute was too long, but you’re interviewing in the same area, the interviewer will be concerned that you won’t stick around for too long. They might also suspect there’s actually another reason for your departure.

Did you lose your job or were you fired?

If you were let go due to no fault of your own, this shouldn’t raise too many eyebrows.  When a company eliminates an entire division or dismisses all employees who hold a certain position, that is an obvious downsizing and is understandable.

However, if that wasn’t the case, the interviewer will want to determine if there were performance, attitude problems, or integrity issues that resulted in your departure.

Are you still on good terms with your previous employer(s)?

The interviewer wants to know if you can be on good terms with people in general even after having to extricate yourself from a situation.

If you were able to maintain a positive relationship with your previous boss and can get good references, a prospective employer will take that as a good sign.

Employees who burn bridges when they quit their job and can’t get good references can be seen as “difficult” and unable to handle conflict.

If you left on bad terms and you are certain it wasn’t your fault, the only thing you can do is diplomatically explain the chain of events, be accountable for your part in the scenario, and let the employer know what you learned from the situation.

Common reasons for leaving a job

You suffered a lay-off

Whether it’s the result of downsizing, right-sizing, or a merger, layoffs can happen to anyone. Sometimes it due to budget cuts, the elimination of a division, loss of a client, working in a declining industry, or duplication of job functions. Just explain what happened. This is something that will be easily verified.

You’re looking for something new

Just saying you’re looking for a “new challenge” is too vague.  Get specific as to why your current role isn’t giving you what you seek.

For instance, maybe you want more responsibilities, an opportunity to learn new things, or a leadership position but your current job doesn’t offer this.

Whatever it is, be prepared to highlight your most recent accomplishments that are relevant to what you’re looking for – that way the interviewer can make the connection between what you want and what you can bring to the table.

You’re looking for a “change”

When you say you want to make a change, what does that mean exactly? Are you referring to a life change? A career change? Both?

You need to discuss what the change is exactly and the why behind this decision. You’ve got to be careful that your why is aligned with the company and position, so it’s seen as a “fit”.

You feel this is your “dream job”

It’s great that you’ve found your “dream job” but what do you mean by that?  Why is it better than your current or previous position?  This would be a great time to talk about what is it that makes the opportunity a “dream job” and what you can offer.

Expectations have changed

This happens when either you or the company decide there’s no longer a “fit” because the expectations of your position have changed. This can be the result of new management, budget cuts, or a shift in company “direction”.

If you were let go because you failed to meet your employer’s expectations (or some other reason), it’s best to address it frankly without getting into the sordid details or coming across as negative. Emphasize that you learned from the experience and won’t be repeating the same mistake.

Your departure was unplanned

Let’s face it – shit happens.  Maybe you had to quit your job due to a personal situation like taking care of an ailing family member, facing an unexpected health crisis, or dealing with a nasty divorce.

Despite how true and understandable this might be, it can still be a concern for a potential employer. This is where you will need to show how you’ve taken care of things to ensure that what happened in the past is resolved and won’t affect your future position.

If applicable, you’ll want to emphasize that you stayed current in your field during your absence (i.e., freelance work, volunteering, and/or ongoing training and education).

You were fired for cause

This is never an easy thing to discuss but it must be addressed.  I believe that honesty is the best policy.

While you want to be forthcoming with information and take accountability for any mistakes you made, you don’t want to come across as a victim.

Emphasize why this was an isolated incident (if it was) and the lesson you learned.

4 things to remember when answering tough interview questions

Be truthful

A quick phone call to your previous employer can verify — or disprove — the reason you provided. Better to be honest than get caught with your pants down.

Be positive

Avoid saying anything negative about a previous employer or anyone else for that matter. You can mention parts of the job that weren’t a good fit for your personality or experience — but only if you are sure those responsibilities are not a part of the new job.

Be accountable

Focus on objective reasons for your departure, avoiding negativity or blame. Don’t position yourself as a victim. Saying that the position wasn’t what you expected is more positive than saying “My boss didn’t know how to delegate and wasn’t a good leader”.

Focus on what you are moving towards

“Why are you interested in this job?”  The better way to answer that is to talk about what you want to move towards as opposed to what you are want to get away from. The latter is more positive and delivers a message of empowerment.

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I draw from over 15 years recruitment, career/job search coaching, and sales/marketing experience to help all kinds of jobseekers stand out, get noticed, and get hired for their dream job.

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