The 5 Rules of Answering this Classic Job Interview Question
Imagine, if you will, the following scenario: You’ve been in your current position for a few years now.
And in that time, you’ve learned so much.
You’ve learned that your boss is an egomaniac. You’ve learned that the position you accepted with such glee and gratitude turned out to be a thankless road to nowhere. And yes, you’ve learned that your coworkers are, for the most part, willing to throw each other under the bus at the first sign of trouble.
More than anything, you’ve learned this:
You’re ready for a new job.
But are you ready for the interview? I ask because I’ve noticed something happening in this red hot, candidate-friendly market: candidate complacence. No matter how perfect you know you are for the job, keep in mind: you’ll still be judged on your interview performance. So prepare, carefully, to answer the full gamut of questions. And be sure you’re ready for the one job interview question that still trips up great candidates:
“Why Are You Leaving Your Current Position?”
Yes, why are you? If it were all sunshine and roses, you’d probably be staying. But this is not the time to share all of the ugly reasons for your departure. It’s also not the time to lie. (Because there is never a good time to lie in a job interview.)
This is the time to provide a thoughtful response that showcases your self-awareness, motivation and ability to be fair, appropriate and forward-looking. It’s a tall order. But if you handle this one well, you’ll impress your interviewer. As a headhunter, I’ve heard every conceivable response to this question. The best responses adhered to these 5 rules.
1. Motivation: you’re not running away from a bad job. You’re pursuing a better opportunity.
Even before the question gets asked, establish your reasons for wanting the job as early in the interview as possible. Match your career goals, skills and workplace values to what this employer and job have to offer. What if you’re interviewing for a position that’s a lateral move – or even something lower in the food chain? You need to present strong, convincing reasons that, for you and your current needs and goals, this job does represent growth. Speaking to growth in some form is critical. No manager gets excited about hiring someone who doesn’t want to grow. You want to grow by joining their team.
2. Bad-mouthing is easy. Staying professional takes practice.
Whatever grievances you have, you certainly do get to voice them… to your friends, to your family, to the bartender… but not to anyone affiliated with your job search. You already that, right? But when you’re in a bad job situation, achieving the “no bad-mouthing” goal is far more difficult than it sounds. Imagine being asked what you’ll miss the least about your current employer. You likely realize that you can’t say things like, “everyone knows our CEO is an idiot.” But did you realize that smirking, rolling your eyes and saying things like, “let’s not go there,” are just as damaging to you? When a hiring manager or recruiter sees that, all they’re really seeing is how you’ll talk about them later. But it’s hard to stay positive and professional when you’re asked about a painful situation. It takes practice. So practice the words you’ll use but also practice in front of a mirror or with a friend to be sure you’re voice, facial expressions or body language don’t give you away.
3. Go positive.
Tough as this sounds, you need to come up with some complimentary (and true) things to say about your current employer. You may not even need to say them. But have them perfectly scripted, natural sounding, and ready to say. Just writing this script will help keep you focused on the positive. It’s all about frame of mind. Your purpose is to demonstrate that, even in adversity, you stay motivated, trustworthy and focused on what’s important.
4. Back to the Future
What can you deliver to this employer? What does the future look like to you as you consider working there? How do this employer, this workplace and this role fit perfectly with your goals, your workplace values, and your proven abilities? Your current job is the road to nowhere? Ok, “At ABC, I’ve had wonderful opportunities to hone my digital marketing skills. I’m excited about your growth goals and would love the opportunity to apply my skills that challenge.” Stay upbeat. Practice making your point with different words and phrases. You’ll need them all if you’re going to seamlessly, gracefully drive this point home, no matter what question you’ve just answered.
5. Did I mention practicing?
Really. You need to practice. Even if you love, love, love your current job and you’re only interviewing because your spouse just got a job halfway across the country, answering this question takes finesse. Go overboard on complimenting everything about your current job and you’ll make the interviewer think you’ll never adjust to the new job. Go negative and you’ll torpedo your chances. So get a friend to ask you the “why are you leaving” question twenty different ways. Capture your responses on video, critique yourself constructively, and keep going until you’ve got it right.
Why are you leaving your current job? Because you’re talented, you’re good at what you do, you’re ready for more… and you deserve it. That’s why. Make sure you answer that question in a way that gets you there.