By Joe Stein
At some point in the Phone Screen or Interview, probably towards the beginning, you will provide a brief review of your employment history. This summary will generally lead to the inevitable question of, “Why are you leaving your current job” or, if you have already left, “Why did you leave your last job”.
This question is generally much trickier than it would initially appear because the answer is so subjective. What is an important reason to leave for one may not be for another especially in the important opinion of your Interviewer.
Let’s today take a closer look at how to answer this question by first exploring why it is asked, and then by listing what should and shouldn’t be done.
Why Is It Asked?
· Hiring Managers Are Insecure – Most Job Seekers hope that an employer would make their hiring decisions solely based on the qualifications and skills of the applicant towards the position. However, we all know much more goes into who is ultimately selected for an open job. Hiring Managers are naturally insecure and will generally question each hiring decision they need to make. If you are leaving for a reason that does not make sense to him or her, they may immediately begin to question their own judgment. This situation becomes magnified if you have not left voluntarily from your last position. The Hiring Manger may begin to wonder what he or she sees in you that the other employer did not.
· Understand What Motivates You – This question allows the prospective employer to get a sense of what drives the decisions you make. Is it opportunity, money, or work/life balance; whatever the reason, your motivation provides an inside look into what you value.
· Determine Fit – This answer provides the Interviewer with an opportunity to compare what he or she has to offer with what you are interested in. If opportunity is your driver but the organization you are considering is a small company with a flat organizational structure, the fit may not work. Another example would be if you are leaving for dollars and the company only has available a salary similar to what you are currently making.
· Negotiating Tool –The idea being that if you left involuntarily, you are potentially more eager to start immediately and begin to refocus your career. An exception may be if you received a very nice severance package and are still early in your search.
How Should It Be Answered?
· Make It More Than Money – I don’t recommend placing money overtly in the mix at all. Most prospective employers do not want to hear this is your reason for leaving your current position. Why? Simple - the fear is that as soon as you are offered more from someone else, off you will go. You can make a piece of the compensation part of the equation; such as if you are in sales and your current employer does not offer commission, or has significantly changed the structure.
· Match With Employer – The intent is not to deceive the prospective employer but to realistically match your reasons with the organization. It is recommended that you do this matching prior to the application process. For example, if career opportunity is what you desire, then focus on companies that are larger in size. In this example, small, family owned organizations can provide a wonderful experience, but often you will be limited in your career growth.
· Focus on the Prospective Employer – My general recommendation is to frame why you want to” join” the prospective employer rather than why you want to “leave” your current position. Whether it is the reputation of the company you are applying for, the responsibilities are greater, etc. frame the situation in a more general way that will make sense to the Interviewer. The added bonus is that the Hiring Manager may just get an ego boost thinking about how you prefer them.
· Downsizing is Okay – In the not so distant past, this used to be a major taboo carrying a stigma. In modern times, most everybody has witnessed or been part of a downsizing. It really no longer carries a stigma. You may be asked, however, how many from your area/department were released and what were the criteria? If this is asked, the Interviewer is probably trying to determine if you were part of a process to reduce bottom performers.
What Not To Do:
· Get Negative – This is not the time to air your grievances regarding your current employer or supervisor. The interview process should stay positive and focus on your candidacy. Save the ill feelings towards your current experience for your friends and family to listen to.
· Blame It On Hours – Work/Life Balance, as an answer to this question, is a real slippery slope. To provide this reason well, you will need to answer by: 1) not sounding like you are burnt out, 2) putting your negative feelings towards your current employer aside, and 3) expressing a commitment to the prospective employer. That is a really tough one to pull off. Good luck if you go in this direction.
· Lie – It is very tempting to make up a story to explain why you are leaving. The chances that your reason will not make sense to your Interviewer increases when it is not truthful. It is also difficult to remember lies, so you increase your odds of being caught in a shifting story.
The beginning stages of most interviews include a review of your work history. During this work history review, you can expect to be asked about your last place of employment. Besides the details regarding what you did at this company, why you are leaving will be asked. Be prepared for this question so that you can answer directly and quickly. This will allow you to move on to your qualifications and skills.