Job Interview Question: Why Are You Looking For a Job?

Tips for Answering Interview Questions About Leaving Your Job

Woman gesturing during job interview
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When you're interviewing for a new position, you should come prepared to answer questions about why you’re leaving your job or why you left your previous one. Rather than focus on the past – and any negative experiences – your answer should open the door to a discussion about why this new position is the perfect job for you.

While the specifics of your answer will depend on whether you left voluntarily or were asked to leave, it's important to answer in a way that casts you in a positive light. You should also be sure to avoid badmouthing your previous employer.

For example, you'd never want to say, "My boss is a tyrant and creates an insanely competitive environment, pitting all of the employees against each other."

Even if your boss is not ideal, it’s not helpful to point that out in a job interview.

Imagine what would happen if your interviewer happens to be a friend or colleague of your boss, which could happen if the new job is in the same field and in a nearby locality.

Besides that, giving a negative answer may not reflect well on you, so at least be neutral or leave your boss out of your answer. Take the high road instead. The best way to do this is to highlight the reasons why you're seeking the new position. For example, "My current job puts a lot of focus on individual achievements, but I'm really looking forward to working in a collaborative environment. I do my best work as a team player." That’s a much better and more positive response.

How to Answer Interview Questions About Why You Left Your Job

Ultimately, you should aim to frame your answer in a way that makes your interviewer feel confident that the position you are interviewing for is in line with your personal and professional goals.

Don't forget that the delivery of your answer is just as important as its content: be sure to practice aloud so you sound positive and clear in your responses.

Review examples of how best to answer, tailoring your response to meet your particular situation. Be direct and focus your interview answer on the future rather than the past, especially if your leaving wasn't under the best of circumstances.

Examples of the Best Answers

  • I found myself bored with the work and looking for more challenges. I am an excellent employee, and I didn't want my unhappiness to have any impact on the job I was doing for my employer.
  • There isn't room for growth with my current employer, and I'm ready to move on to a new challenge.
  • I'm looking for a bigger challenge and to grow my career, but didn’t feel like I could give equal attention both to my job search and to my full-time work responsibilities. It didn’t seem ethical to slack off from my former job in order to conduct my job search, and so I left the company.
  • I was laid off from my last position when our department was eliminated due to corporate restructuring.
  • I'm relocating to this area due to family circumstances and left my previous position in order to make the move.
  • I've decided that my current work role is not the direction I want to go in my career and my current employer has no opportunities in the direction I'd like to head.
  • After several years in my last position, I'm looking for a company where I can contribute and grow in a team-oriented environment.
  • I am interested in a new challenge and an opportunity to use my technical skills and experience in a different capacity than I have in the past.
  • I recently received my degree, and I want to utilize my educational background in my next position.
  • I am interested in a job with more responsibility, and I am very ready for a new challenge.
  • I left my last position in order to spend more time with my family. Circumstances have changed, and I'm more than ready for full-time employment again.
  • I am seeking a position with a stable company with room for growth and opportunity for advancement.
  • I was commuting to the city and spending a significant amount of time each day on travel. I would prefer to be closer to home.
  • To be honest, I wasn't considering a move, but I saw this job posting and was intrigued by the position and the company. It sounds like an exciting opportunity and an ideal match with my qualifications.
  • This position seemed like an excellent match for my skills and experience, which I am not able to fully utilize in my present job.
  • The company was cutting back and, unfortunately, my job was one of those eliminated.

    What to Say Instead of Badmouthing Your Boss

    Regardless of why you left, don't speak badly about your previous manager or employer. The interviewer may wonder if you will be badmouthing his company next time you're looking for work. I once interviewed a person who told me that her last employer was terrible. They didn't pay her enough, the hours were awful, and she hated the job.

    That company happened to be my company's biggest – and most important – customer. And there is no way I would have hired someone who felt that way, justified or not, about our valuable client. So, she gave up any opportunity of getting the job as soon as she answered the "Why did you leave?" question.

    Instead of talking smack about your soon-to-be former manager, use the opportunity to show that you can take responsibility:

    Look for your contribution to the problem and frame the situation as one in which you demonstrated growth. For example, you might say that you learned to be more proactive in getting to the bottom of issues and have carried that forward with success. (Be prepared to offer examples of how you’ve demonstrated progress.)

    Be honest … but tactful. You don’t need to lie and say that you loved working for your former employer if it wasn’t a positive experience. But don’t volunteer anything negative and be prepared to spin problems in a positive way.

    Get ahead of the problem. You know when you’ve had an issue with a company or coworker. Don’t wait to be blindsided by interview questions about the experience. Come prepared with your positive spin.