A reader writes:
I’m looking to leave my current position. I’ve been lucky enough to receive positive responses on informational interviews I’ve gone on and applications I’ve sent out so far, but I’m curious about how important it is to have a great “reason” to want to leave for something else.
I enjoy the industry that I’m currently in, but have grown tired of my company and I’m ready to leave. If I can continue within my current industry, great, but I’m also very open to other lines of work and opportunities that would utilize the skill set I’ve developed here.
I don’t think I have a problem expressing enthusiasm for other roles, but (and maybe this is more of an internalized pressure on my part) I struggle with crafting the perfect response as to why I’m looking to leave my current role for something else. My current role is somewhat unique and it’s for a very recognizable company, so I sometimes feel like I’m in the weird position of having to convince people why I want to leave without bashing my company (which I don’t want to do).
Do I need to have the “winning” response for when I’m inevitably asked this type of question, or is it enough to say “this job sounds great, and here’s why I’m excited to speak with you about it,” etc.?
You don’t need to have a particularly stellar answer to this; you just need to have an answer that makes sense and doesn’t raise red flags.
When interviewers ask this question, they’re trying to figure out the following: Are you being pushed out involuntarily or otherwise leaving because of problems on your end? Are you leaving on good terms with your current employer? Do you have unrealistic expectations that they won’t be able to meet either (for example, do you get bored with all your jobs after the first year, do you have chafe at being managed in a reasonable way, etc.)? Is there other context that will help them better understand your career trajectory and how their opening might fit with it?
So, what should your answer actually be? It depends on how long you’ve been at your current job.
If you’re been there five years, no one is going to question it if you say, “I’ve been here five years and I’m ready to take on something new.” That’s enough of an answer. You might get a follow-up question about what things you’re looking for in a new role, but you’re not likely to get pushback on why you’re ready to leave if you’ve been there a good, solid amount of time like that.
But you can’t use that answer if you’ve been there one year. In that case, you’d look flighty and like you you get bored with jobs way too quickly, or you’ll look like you’re covering up the real reason you need to leave (for example, because you don’t want to say that you’re being fired).
So what if you’re somewhere in between one year and five years? Then the specifics of your circumstances matter more. In some fields, as long as you’re relatively junior, you could mayyyyybe use “I’m ready to take on something new” after two years. That’s the absolute earliest for when that answer would be credible though, and in some cases it would still hurt you for the reasons above. Closer to three years is safer. And in lots of fields, if you’re fairly senior, you’re expected to be doing challenging enough work that you need to be there closer to four years (or longer) before that answer will be credible.
Other answers that can work, depending on what’s actually true for you:
* “I came here with the goal of accomplishing X and Y, and now that I’ve done that and my team (or the project) is in such great shape, I’m eager to figure out what’s next for me.”
* “I was hired to focus on X, but it’s turned out that that they really need someone to focus on Y.”
* “My company is making significant cuts to the program I work on, and I’m looking for something more stable.”
* “My company is going through a lot of change, and we’ve had a lot of turnover on my team and four different managers in the last year. I’m looking for more stability.”
* “My role has been evolving to have a heavier focus on X, which makes a lot of sense for the organization but is less aligned with what I love to do.”
* “I’m on the road about 75% of the time, and I’m looking for a position with less travel.”
I have some additional suggestions in this piece.
Again, it depends on what’s actually true for you, but those are some examples to get you thinking.
But as long as you give an answer that makes sense (i.e., not saying “I’m ready for new challenges” after one year), that’s really all your interviewer is looking for. And your answer doesn’t need to be super long and detailed. Most interviewers are just looking for a high-level overview of why you’re thinking about leaving — like two or three sentences.
And keep in mind that you don’t need to get into any of this unless you’re specifically asked why you’re thinking of leaving your current job. If you’re just asked why you applied for the new role, your answer can focus entirely on what excites you about it, without getting into the reasons you’re leaving.
do I need to give interviewers a great reason for why I’m looking to leave my current job? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.