Interview Question: "Why Are You Looking for a New Job?"

Woman gesturing during job interview
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When you're interviewing for a new job, you can bet the interviewer wants to know why you're looking for a new job. It's one of the top interview questions.

The question may be posed several ways, including, "Why are you looking for a new opportunity?" or "Why are you leaving your current job?" The best way to answer this question is by understanding what the interviewer really wants to know when it's being asked.

What the Interviewer Wants to Know

When you're interviewing for a new position, you should come prepared to answer questions about why you’re leaving or have already left your job. The reasons why people leave jobs often tell a lot more about the people leaving the job than it does the job itself. The interviewer is trying to gauge what kind of employee you'll be if you're hired.

The interviewer wants to know if you are:

  • A team player who gets along with others.
  • A good culture fit with the new company.
  • Diplomatic when discussing tough subjects.
  • Planning on sticking around at the new company if you're hired.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

Frame your answer in a way that makes your interviewer feel confident that the position you're interviewing for is in line with your personal and professional goals. Rather than focus on the past and negative experiences you may have had at your old job, your answer should open the door to a discussion about why you want the job you're interviewing for and why you're the best person for it.

The interviewer is looking for an answer that will help in the hiring decision. 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.

Give a truthful reason as to why you're leaving, but steer clear of bringing any negativity into the discussion.

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

Examples of the Best Answers

It's hard to anticipate when the question will come up or how it will be asked. You'll need to think on your feet and tailor your response to meet your situation. Be direct and focus your answer on the future rather than the past, especially if your leaving wasn't under the best of circumstances.

While I learned valuable skills at my previous job, I was no longer feeling energized or challenged with the work. I am ready for new challenges and the chance to make an impact in another position.

Why It Works: The potential employee may have been bored to tears in her previous job, but rather than blaming the job or the company, she puts "blame" on herself in a way that makes her sound energetic, dynamic, and ready to take on a new role.

After trying to make the job work, I realized I might find a better fit in another position that aligned more with my goals and aspirations. While being let go from a job isn't easy, I learned from the experience and have grown in many ways. I would love to tell you how I've grown, what I've learned, and how I will bring those lessons and skills to your company.

Why It Works: Even if you were let go or left your last job under less-than-favorable circumstances, frame your answer in a way that shows you've learned and grown since that experience. Be sure to think about that growth ahead of time and how you'll convey it to the interviewee so you can steer the question of why you left in a positive direction.

I was laid off from my last position when our department was eliminated due to corporate restructuring.

Why It Works: The reason for leaving the last position is stated clearly and concisely. In this case, there is reason to simply be brief.

I'm relocating to this area due to family circumstances, and I left my previous position in order to make the move.

Why It Works: Interviewers understand that you must find a job when you relocate. When you say you relocated due to family circumstances, interviewers may wonder what those family circumstances are. Be brief and honest, but don’t go into detail. It’s not necessary to go into your personal life.

Preparing for Possible Follow-Up Questions

Depending on the reason for your departure, the interviewee may ask for details or you may be asked follow-up questions. Here are some tips for tackling that continuing conversation.

Be Honest

It's fine to be honest about why things were less than rosy at your previous job, but bring the conversation back to why that would make you such a great employee now. For example, you can say you were frustrated by the lack of opportunities at your old job.

Begin by describing some of your important accomplishments, and then pivot to explain how you encountered roadblocks when you tried to accomplish more. You'll score bonus points if you can tie your answer back to why the job you're applying for is a better fit because you'll be afforded more opportunities.

Prepare Answers in Advance

It’s crucial to think about this question ahead of time and prepare an answer in advance. You want to sound genuine and authentic, but you don’t want to stumble when answering. Prepare a brief but honest answer, leaving out personal details.

Avoid Negativity

Don't speak poorly about managers, colleagues, or the company. However, you can speak broadly about corporate goals or mention that you are not aligned with the direction the business is taking. Don't get personal in your response. You may speak negatively about a co-worker only to learn he or she has a close relationship with the interviewer. 

Practice in Front of an Audience

Practice your responses so you come across as positive and clear. Even if it feels a little silly, practicing in front of a mirror or in front of a friend or family member can help you feel more comfortable answering this difficult question. This is particularly true if you were laid off or fired. In a situation like that, give a short, clear, and unemotional response. 

What Not to Say

It's good to be candid, and you definitely don't want to lie, but there are just some things you shouldn't say in an interview.

  • Don’t get personal. No matter what, don’t badmouth your former boss, colleagues, or company. How you answer this question offers a window into your on-the-job character and values.
  • Don't ask about salary. Don’t mention salary during the first interview unless the interviewer does first.
  • Try not to expand on your prepared answer. When you answer the question about why you're leaving your current job, be as brief as possible and steer the conversation back toward the new position and why you'd be a good fit. You could easily get caught up in something you would rather not say, so don’t expand on your prepared answer.

Key Takeaways

  • Be honest and even candid, but don't bash your former employer or company.
  • Rehearse what you'll say ahead of time, especially if you were terminated.
  • Steer the conversation to talk about how your past job experiences, including the unfavorable ones, make you a great candidate for this job.