In my last column, I discussed the question every interview starts with, “Walk me through your resume,” or “Tell me about yourself.” Essentially, you’re being asked, “What is your career story?” The second question, you’ll be asked if you’re employed at the time you’re interviewing, is fraught with the potential of sending the wrong message to your interviewer.
Second Question: Why do you want to leave your current employer?
The reasons someone is looking to leave their current job are infinite. I’d hazard a guess that looking for more money is the number one reason, and not getting along with your boss or the leadership team is a close second.
I’m going to tell you a secret I learned a long time ago. In order to have a successful interview, you need to tell your interviewer what they want to hear. Therefore, you must understand why your interviewer is asking you a particular question.
I can’t speak for all hiring managers, but when I interview a candidate, I try to gauge the following:
- Ability to articulate. (Having above-average communication skills is paramount with me.)
- Problem-solving skills.
- Confidence and having a clear sense of purpose.
- Are they a flight risk?
The reason I ask, “Why are you leaving your current employer?” which is the question every hiring manager asks, is to gauge whether the candidate might be a flight risk. Although I don’t expect an employee to stick around until they cut their retirement cake in the lunchroom, I’d like to feel there’s a good chance they’ll stick around for a while.
I mentioned in my previous column that you want to be prepared with your career story so you can tell it succinctly and without rambling. The same “be prepared in advance” advice applies to answering why you’re looking to leave your current employer. You want to tell your interviewer why you’re looking to leave without hesitation. The key is to make your interviewer feel comfortable you won’t jump ship after 1 or 2 years just because the mood strikes you.
Before crafting your “why you’re looking to leave” answer, consider these two factors:
- Length of time at your current job. A short stint—less than 2 years—is a red flag to most employers. My suggestion: Use the “tame answer” example I give below.
- Your employer’s size, brand, and reputation. Wanting to leave a well-known financial institution or international pharmaceutical company might raise an interviewer’s eyebrows; therefore, your reason for wanting to leave needs to be convincing. Possible answer: “Acme Inc. has given me invaluable experience, however its made me realize that I would prefer to work at a smaller company where I can have a greater impact.”
You don’t want to seem like you’re only looking out for yourself. Employers and employees both have self-interests—it’s a given that you’ll look out for yours. During your first interview, focus on the employer’s self-interests. Avoid mentioning you’re looking for more money, better benefits, work-life balance, more challenge or furthering your career. Employers aren’t in the business of growing careers. Their success depends on having the right people doing the right things. You want to come across as the right person for the job and company, who’ll do the right things.
The standard advice is to never bad-mouth your employer. Again, I’m not able to speak for all hiring managers. I encourage those I interview to be completely candid with me. I’ve hired several candidates who said something along the lines of, “My manager and I no longer see eye-to-eye.” My follow-up question, to determine whether the candidate will be a fit for my management style: “What are you looking for from your next manager?”
Yes, I’ve hired candidates who admitted they were fired. (I’m drawn to candidates who are honest and transparent.) My follow-up question: What did you learn from being fired?”
Good reasons to want to leave your job:
- Recently received a degree or certification
The tamest answer you can give: “I wasn’t considering a move, but I saw your job posting and was intrigued. It seems like an exciting opportunity, and I believe it would be a match for my qualifications.” (This works well if you’ve been at your job for less than 5 years.)
Being more specific, “I earned my project management certification last month, and I am currently looking for my first job as a project manager,” will make you appear career-focused, which is positive.