Interview Question: "Why Do You Want to Change Jobs?"

Image by Theresa Chiechi. © The Balance 2019

Hiring managers will be curious about why you want to change jobs. They want to hear that you're leaving for the right reasons—a better opportunity, more challenges, and career growth.

The interviewer will want to be sure that you aren't leaving your job because of poor performance, difficult working relationships, or because you hate your job or your boss. When responding to questions about why you are switching jobs, it's important to provide reassurance that you are moving on for the right reasons, not just to get out of a bad work situation.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Every question the hiring manager asks during the interview process is designed to figure out whether you’re the right person for the job. In this case, they’re trying to determine whether you’re someone who will thrive at the company. They’re looking for signs that you’re a person who’s building their career intentionally, and that you can get along with bosses, colleagues, and clients.

They won’t want to hear that you were fired for cause, that you’re leaving because you hate your coworkers or employer, or anything that suggests you won’t be successful at their organization.

if you were fired, it’s a good idea to practice answers to that question, too. You can spin even that experience as a positive, if you’re prepared.

How to Answer "Why You Want to Change Jobs?"

Emphasize the positive reasons why you are targeting a job with their organization. Refer to specific aspects of the work, company culture, and employer that correspond well with your interests and skills.

Placing the focus upon your potential employer subtly redirects the conversation from your previous work experience to your strong potential as their next employee. It is also a great way to show that you’ve done your homework in researching their company before your interview.

Examples of the Best Answers

Come to the interview prepared with an answer that highlights why you’re eager to join this organization and take this particular job. Emphasize the skills and experience that make you a superior candidate – and keep it positive.

I was lucky enough to land a job at a startup right out of school, which means that I wore many hats right from my first day in the office. Now I’m looking forward to taking my graphic design skills into a senior role.

Why It Works: It’s positive about what may have been a challenging work environment, while emphasizing that the candidate has the skills, experience, and attitude necessary to be successful in the new role.

I love helping writers develop. In my current job, I’ve had the opportunity to mentor many experts who had knowledge our readers needed, but not necessarily the writing experience necessary to translate those ideas into print. I’m excited about doing the same thing in a non-profit environment where I can use my skills to give back to my community.

Why It Works: This answer shows that the candidate is supportive and interested in helping others learn, and that they’ve developed skills in their field and are looking forward to the next challenge. This response also reflects a connection to the mission of the organization—something that’s important in the non-profits.

I’ve been one of the top sellers at ABC Corp for three quarters running, increasing sales by more than 10 percent each quarter. But now that I’m in the Los Angeles area, I’m ready to bring my skills to this market. I’ve always dreamed of working at XYZ Inc., and I was excited to see an opening that’s a perfect fit for my experience and abilities.

Why It Works: While this answer mentions an external reason for changing jobs – in this case, a move to a new city—it also emphasizes that the interviewee wants to work for this organization specifically. Hiring managers want candidates who are excited about this particular job—not just any job in the field.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Frame your move as a path to advancing your career without disparaging your current job. One way to do this is to reference the aspects of the new job which appear to carry more responsibility. Even if the new job doesn't have a higher status, you could mention that you believe it would provide a springboard for career advancement down the road—after you have spent appropriate time in your initial job with the employer and have mastered it.

You might also comment that you feel that the job you’re applying for seems more aligned with your long-term career goals, which you should be prepared to discuss.

Integrate positive references to your current job in your response, so that it is clear (or at least appears) you are not fleeing a bad situation. You are just seeking to improve upon an already good situation. Of course, you should avoid any negative references to management, to salary, or to the number of hours worked.

Incorporate some positive reflections upon rewarding relationships with supervisors, co-workers and clients, whenever feasible. You might describe opportunities they gave you for career development, or discuss a particularly rewarding experience you had with a client.

Consider giving an external reason for leaving. You might refer to factors such as relocating to a more urban area or looking for a job that is closer to home.

What Not to Say

Don’t say anything negative about your employer, boss, coworkers, or clients. The interviewer might assume that you’re the problem, and not the people you’re disparaging. In any case, they’ll wonder if you might do the same to this company, should you be hired.

If you do mention an external reason for changing jobs, emphasize that it’s not the primary reason. For example, if you’re moving to a new city, that might be a contributing factor to your decision to change jobs, but it shouldn’t sound like the only reason you’re interviewing.

The emphasis should always be placed upon the fit of the job itself. Perhaps you can explain that you are seeking to take your career in a different direction or use your skills in a new way, and this position offers an atmosphere your old company was unable to provide.

Avoid sharing any propriety information. If it is a well-known (public) fact that your current employer has a shrinking market share or other financial problems, you might refer to this issue after making a strong case for why the new job is suitable. Be sure to avoid painting an overly negative picture of your current employer's situation, though. A vague reference to your employer's difficulties will usually be sufficient.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

EMPHASIZE THE POSITIVE REASONS: Growth and opportunity = good. Negative aspects of old job = bad.

TALK ABOUT YOUR CAREER PATH: Show this potential move in the context of your career as a whole.

CONSIDER GIVING AN EXTERNAL REASON FOR MOVING ON: For example, if you’re moving to a new city, that’s an excellent reason for changing jobs. But make sure it isn’t the only reason you mention.

AVOID SHARING PROPRIETARY INFORMATION: If your current employer is suffering financial problems that are well known, you don’t have to pretend otherwise. But don’t get bogged down in details and don’t share proprietary info.