Tough Interview Questions: Reasons for Leaving

February 15th, 2011 § 4 comments

What are decent answers to the “Why did you leave your last job?” question? Mine are always a bit complicated, and I never quite know how to respond, particularly in a situation where I hated the company and just had to get out.

Any recruiter or hiring manager will want to know why you’ve left previous positions. An answer to that question divulges quite a bit of information about a candidate – what their motivations are, how seriously they act to achieve their career goals, and whether title, comp or responsibility are most important in their search. Unless you were involuntarily terminated, each career move you’ve made should be supported with well-considered reasons that every proactive job seeker should be prepared to discuss during the interview. Without basic preparation for this very important question, you can easily say something that can hurt your chances of being successful in landing this role.

Never mention compensation as the primary impetus for looking elsewhere.

We’ve all got a job to do and each of us is compensated differently for it. Whether you’re enthusiastic or disappointed with the compensation you currently receive or for a role previously held in your career, never mention this as the primary reason you chose to leave that opportunity. Even if money was the true and sole guiding factor in pushing you away from that employer, there are better ways to present this to a hiring manager looking for a self-motivated, technically apt team player. No manager wants to constantly worry about a perpetually-dissatisfied, money hungry employee. If there truly were no other reasons outside of comp that caused you to look, focus not on the opportunity left but the opportunity gained, like in this example:

While I enjoyed my role with Widgets, Inc., I was primarily drawn to the increased responsibilities that were afforded to me at Gadgets Limited. The prior role required me to spend most of my time working only in CAD, developing technical schematics for their products and provided limited exposure to the product development lifecycle. I was interested in and ultimately accepted the role with Gadgets because it allowed me to gain a greater understanding of the entirety of product development, not just the technical aspect.

Perhaps the role at Widgets Inc. paid more and that was why you were interested. While that’s certainly valid, it’s not the impression an interviewer wants to have of you – the forever dissatisfied and jumpy individual who is less career-minded than they are money hungry. There are always other and, frankly, better reasons to discuss what motivated you to change jobs.

Be careful to not speak ill of a former employer.

When laid off or forced out of a previous employer, it can feel natural, even satisfying, to talk negatively about your experience there. Despite this, it is imperative that you refrain from casting your former or current complier in a negative light. Why, you might ask? If I’m not currently working there, why would being honest about my negative experience hurt me during an interview with a different company? The answer is simple and so obvious it’s easily overlooked. If hired by the company you’re interviewing with, what would prevent you from spreading potential falsehoods and a general feeling of distaste about them when you actively look next? A manager knows that while many hires are successful and result in successful, long-term employees, just as many do not. Having former workers floating on the market while continually spreading bad press about the hiring manager and their firm is something that no company wants. If you’ll speak ill of one employer, it’s a guarantee that you won’t be shy with your feelings no matter which particular company is the target of your distaste.

Relate the career moves you’ve made to a desire to advance your career.

Above all else, we should look for new careers when we feel we’ve gained all there is to benefit from our old ones. Searching for a new opportunity should be driven by a desire to manage a staff, learn a new product or service, or work in a different industry sector. Telling an interviewer you’re interested in a job for the challenges it presents is a good answer to a question, but weaving motivation behind that into your career history strengthens the impact. Managers want to hire employees whom they can challenge to continually do better and reward that by offering you advancement, new opportunities and increased compensation. Only when an employee’s progress outpaces a firm’s recognition and reaction of that success should an individual look elsewhere for employment.

Much that is said when speaking of past employers relates back to a candidate’s character. You must be restrained when criticizing former employers while being tactful and polite when relating stories about delicate situations. Strive to convey that you are a successful potential employee who works to beat the expectations of the company that employs them.

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