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How to Answer: ‘What Are Your Reasons for Leaving a Job?’

Woman answering interview question about reasons for leaving a job

When interviewers ask you the reasons for leaving a job, you might think being completely honest about your motivation is the right way to go. Alternatively, you may feel it doesn’t matter why you’re leaving your job and come up with an answer that sounds, well, almost like a lie.

Unlike other common interview questions, answering “what are your reasons for leaving your job” is a bit of a balancing act. You want to be honest but not too honest. And, of course, you don’t want to lie. So, where exactly is this middle ground? 

This guide will help you formulate an answer that’s just right:

Why Employers Ask Why You’re Leaving Your Job

Employers ask your reasons for leaving a job to learn a few things about you. For starters, they want to understand your current relationship with your company and job. Are you leaving your old role because you’re looking for new challenges or because the company was bought out, and you’re not sure how safe your position is? 

Your relationship with your current job can, in turn, help the employer understand what you want from your next job and why you’re applying for this one. This gives the interviewer some understanding of how this job may (or may not) fit your career plans.

Finally, employers ask why you’re looking for a new job to measure if you’re a good fit for the role in two ways. First, if you say you’re looking for a role that helps you develop your managerial skills, but there are no management duties associated with the job you applied for, you probably won’t be happy if you’re hired. And second, if the company is very flat or doesn’t have a lot of formal hierarchy or titles, you may not be a good cultural fit for the company since they don’t really have what you’re looking for in a new job.

Other Ways Employers Ask About Your Reasons for Leaving a Job

Some interviewers will be direct and ask you to explain why you’re looking for a new job. However, there are other ways an employer can ask why you want to leave your current role:

  • Why did you apply for the job?
  • What are you looking for in your next position/company?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What is something you dislike about your current role/manager?

Good Reasons for Leaving a Job

The reasons you’re leaving your job are personal to you — meaning they are good enough no matter what they are! But that motivation may not be something you should share in an interview. 

You’ll still need an answer, so here are some good reasons for leaving a job that you can share in an interview:

  • Looking for an increase in responsibility
  • Searching for career growth through advancement or training
  • Relocating
  • Want to work somewhere with a mission that aligns with yours
  • Your current company is going out of business (or already has)
  • The recruiter contacted you and the job sounded interesting

And while the below reasons may be the real reason you’re searching for a new job, you shouldn’t use them as your answer:

  • Anything that’s not career oriented (“I want a shorter commute”)
  • You don’t get along with your boss or coworkers.
  • Salary (that doesn’t mean you can’t ask about salary, but don’t bring it up as the sole reason for leaving your current job)
  • Work is boring

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How to Answer ‘What Are Your Reasons for Leaving a Job?’

To create a winning answer, Amira Hernandez, assistant director of career services at Oxford College of Emory University, offers this advice: “Couch your response in diplomatic, professional and positive terms.”

However, you should avoid creating a one-size-fits-all answer. Hernandez notes that this is an opportunity for you to tailor your answer to the specific company.

“Consider how this question invites you to emphasize your desire to work for an organization that offers you greater professional development opportunities; better aligns with your values; supports a change in your life; or desire to develop a new professional skill set,” she says. “In short, a strong answer will emphasize how this job will support the vision that you have for moving forward in your professional life.”

Here’s how to frame your answer. 

Keep It Short

You might have multiple reasons for leaving a job and a detailed story that explains your motivations. However, keep the answer brief, professional, and light on details. 

Like answering any interview question, you don’t want to ramble. Not only could that make it seem that you’re not confident in your response or anxious about the interview, there’s a chance you could say things that you shouldn’t.

For example, if one of the reasons for leaving the job is that you don’t think you’ll ever move up the career ladder, don’t talk about how it’s because the company is small and people don’t leave very often. Therefore, positions that would be a promotion for you never open up and you don’t think the company will give you a title change because that’s just something they don’t do — and you’re kind of stuck and want to get unstuck.

Instead, focus on the fact that your current company is small and it’s very difficult to move up. It’s simple, to the point, and very professional.

Stay Positive

It’s possible you’ve had a very negative experience at your current job, and that’s why you’re leaving. It happens. However, no matter how negative the experience, how long, or how short the answer, you want to frame it in a positive light.

Using the above example, you could say your reason for leaving the job is, “I’ve stalled out and will never move up at my current company.” It’s short, which is good. However, it’s not a positive way to frame the answer. The hiring manager may wonder why you’ve stalled out. Is it because your boss is a passive-aggressive micromanager who’s punishing you for petty reasons? Or is it because you aren’t completing tasks, come in late, leave early, and can’t collaborate with your teammates?

For example, you could say, “I’ve gone as far as I can in this role and am looking for a role that offers more career advancement.”

Keeping the answer positive (as well as brief) limits the possibility of the hiring manager asking follow-up questions you may not have a good answer for.

Be Honest

Finally, honesty is the best policy. As cheesy as that is, it’s important you give a real reason why you’re looking for a new job. However, as noted above, you don’t want to be too honest. 

For example, your real reason for leaving a job may be that you don’t get along with your coworkers, but that’s not how you want to explain it in an interview. You could say something like:

While I like the job and the duties, the company and I are not a good culture fit, and I want to work somewhere that better aligns with my personal values.

or

The job was great at first, but things have changed, and I’m looking for a new role that enables me to experiment, test, and try new things.

Both of these answers are clear, brief, and professional. And they also explain why you’re looking for a new job without trashing your current employer.

Talk About the Future

While this tip applies to the last part of your answer, it’s crucial to keep it top of mind. The second half of your answer should explain why you’re interested in this particular role. If you’re not sure where to start, think about your elevator pitch or the “future” part of your answer to “tell me about yourself.”

Are you trying to move up the career ladder? Broaden your skill set? Have you been working at start-ups and want something more stable and predictable? Or the opposite?

Knowing what you want for your next job will help you frame your entire response.

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Example Answers

While your reasons for leaving a job are unique to you and your circumstances, here are a few example answers to get you started.

Example 1

My current company is small. It’s stable but has no plans to grow or expand. That’s fine, but the problem is I’ve gone as far as I can and don’t think I’ll have the kinds of professional development opportunities that could take me to the next level. I’m looking for something that offers more training and growth so I can expand my skills.

Example 2

The founders recently sold the company. While things are the same right now, I don’t know how long they’ll last, so I’m looking for new roles that allow me to keep doing what I’m doing.

Example 3

When I was first hired, the job was a great match for me. However, the company has undergone some reorganizations and pivots, and the role isn’t such a great match anymore. While I can do the job, it’s not what I was hired to do, so I’m looking for something that’s a better match for my skills and abilities, as well as something I can really engage with.

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