do I need to give interviewers a great reason for why I’m looking to leave my current job?

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.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. EA

    What I tend to do is think about the real reason I want to leave and put a positive spin on it.

    I worked someplace crazy toxic and needed to get out after 7 months. I couldn’t be like they are all CRAZY. I said I was looking for some place faster-paced, and explained I didn’t have a lot to do, and that this made me nervous for stability reasons. This seemed to work for most people. Some pressed more but most didn’t.

    The next time I was in a job for two years, and wanted to get out of admin work. I told them I had been exposed to X in my current job and wanted to transition into it. This worked for everyone.

    I think the goal of the question is to limit follow up and give people something relatively true that they will accept.

    1. zora

      “I had been exposed to X in my current job and wanted to transition into it.”

      Ooooooo!!!! I love this! I’m currently in admin, and at some point want to transition out, and I had never thought of this phrasing. Totally stealing it, thank you!!

    2. Mad Baggins

      This exactly! OldJob had major communication, transfer-of-knowledge/training, and workload problems and the industry was not a good fit for me. I said “I’m looking to move out of the industry into something closer aligned with my interests, which are X…” and “I want stability/sane hours/a collaborative environment/more control over my workflow.”

      I think this is another way how job hunting is like dating. Instead of “ex was CRAZY” you can say “ex wanted to text all day and I prefer more space/meeting in person”. Maybe “why did your last relationship end” is a good first date question after all…

    3. Elizabeth West

      I told them I had been exposed to X in my current job and wanted to transition into it.

      Oh that’s perfect. I’ve been struggling to come up with a way to say “I don’t want to do admin work any more” and haven’t been able to find one that didn’t sound like I was complaining. I’m stealing this; thank you.

  2. Lily Rowan

    Regardless of the actual situation, I’ve usually given the answer to why I’m excited about the new job, even when I’ve been specifically asked why I’m looking to leave my current job.

    1. Dotty

      Yes to this! In particular the answer on “looking for something more stable” needs to be immediately followed up with what interests you in particular about this new job/company. As a hiring manager I’ve been really put off by people just saying they want stability with no follow up – I don’t want someone who simply wants ANY stable job, I want someone who can demonstrate an interest in the job I’m interviewing them for (at least on as much as they can be expected to know from the outside)

    2. Ann O'Nemity

      Yes, this.

      I recently heard an applicant do this very smoothly. They said that they weren’t even actively looking; they had been forwarded the job advertisement and it caught their attention because it was so perfectly aligned with their skill set and career goals.

      1. Sexy Fashion Cactus

        I do this every time someone asks me why I’m looking! “I actually like X about my current role, but when so-and-so reached out to me about this opportunity, I had to explore it because of ABC!”

        Has not failed me yet, and is an easy way to be very honest about what you like about the new role and what parts of your previous role will translate without getting into detail about leaving your current company.

    3. Kindling

      That could look evasive. You could certainly focus the bulk of your answer on that, but if I were an employer, I’d want at least one sentence answering the question I asked.

  3. Katniss

    I’ve just been saying I’m looking to move out of the industry I’m in and into something that suits my strengths and interests more. I’ve been there a little over two years. Hopefully no one is looking askance at me for that.

    1. zora

      No, you should be good.

      What Alison is saying is, if you are leaving a job in less than 5 years, you need a more specific answer than “I’m looking for something different.” If you have specific strengths and interests that are not filled by your current job, you do not have to wait for 5 years to start looking, you can start looking for a job at any time.

  4. essEss

    A good one is also, “your advertised position is a step up in responsibilities from my current role and is more in line with my long-term career plans.”

    1. designbot

      I like this one. It’s related to one I’ve used (that was true) in the past, “As a team of one there’s not path for growth in my current company, and I’m ready to take the next step.”

      1. Typhon Worker Bee

        I’ve used the same one too, when I was looking to make essentially a sideways move into a bigger team that had more stable funding. The funding situation was my primary motivation, but the trick to making that reason work was that I was also genuinely happy to move into a bigger group where (I thought) I could move up and/or specialise. Didn’t work out that way (no-one above my level left, they didn’t create any new upper-level jobs, and they decided they wanted to keep everyone as a generalist), but it was still a good move for me overall.

        When I interviewed for my current job I said that I’d been in the same job for five years, and in a very similar one for five years before that, and had accomplished all I felt I could in that type of role. I then switched to talking about why the new role was such an attractive move (basically it combines parts of my old role with my hobby/side-gig).

  5. AdAgencyChick

    I also think the threshold for how many years it takes before no one will care why you’re trying to leave varies by industry. In my niche of advertising, it’s probably more like the three-year mark, not five, at which you probably don’t need to give much of a reason for leaving. Stays of around a year to 18 months to build up your salary are so common that three years already feels like quite a long time when I’m interviewing someone!

    (See, ad agencies? See what you get by offering a premium for new hires and not giving market-level raises to the employees you already have?)

    1. Connie-Lynne

      Yes, this. In tech it’s generally accepted that people will move every two years, plus or minus six months.

      It’s a super plus when a senior person expresses interest in longevity with the company.

    2. 42

      >>(See, ad agencies? See what you get by offering a premium for new hires and not giving market-level raises to the employees you already have?)<<

      I'm in an ad agency, and I approve this message.

      1. Car crash victim

        The problem with IT is there aren’t really jobs – it’s all this race to the bottom perma temp BS, with entitled upper management whining about how their temps won’t work round the clock for free. I was recently fired from such a job when my boss informed me that I was not to get a badly needed surgery, as HR had been praying for me and so I was healed.

          1. Julia the Survivor

            + 10,000, wow!!!
            After you’ve healed, can you move to an area that’s not completely bonkers?

  6. JeanB in NC

    “do you get bored with all your jobs after the first year”.

    This is me writ in 11 words. I’m having a hard time when looking for new jobs because a lot of the time, I actually literally don’t have enough to do after the first year during which I’m often cleaning up prior messes and getting everything streamlined and running great. But I don’t think it’s a good idea to say, I’m just bored at my current job! So I just try to come up with some other reason.

    1. Not a Real Giraffe

      But I think you can spin the sample above,

      “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.”/

      to fit your situation though! Even if your initial goal wasn’t to streamline processes or make your role more efficient, that’s what you’ve done, and that’s what makes you ready to tackle the next challenge.

    2. Samata

      I actually think marketing yourself as a “fixer” could work somehow – you might want to explore consulting or working in an industry where you work cleaning up organizational issues then move on to the next. I don’t have experience in that type of role but know one person who does this with a consulting agency; she does training in some organizations and in others actually is in a role temporarily and then helps hire the replacement once she has things running smoothly.

      1. JeanB in NC

        I’ve definitely thought about it. I should do some research – I don’t really want to be self-employed but working for a consulting company or a larger corporation would work for me. Thanks!

      2. Specialk9

        I was thinking the same. That’s not at all the same as getting bored, that’s being a fixer who has fixed and maximized all that’s possible. Consulting sounds like your thing. There are plenty of consulting corps that have full benefits and generous salaries. Seriously, look into this.

    3. hbc

      Hmm. I wonder if you can own it and say, “I seem to have a knack for landing positions where most of the work is in cleaning up the mess left behind by the previous person, and once that’s taken care of, it’s really no longer a full time job for me. I’m looking for something that will keep my plate full and keep me challenged.”

      You might put yourself out of the running for some slower-paced jobs, but a hiring manager who’s looking for drive will probably consider this a bonus. Or at least help mitigate the red flag of a string of short stays.

  7. question

    What about when you want to leave because you’ve been there for several years and there’s no advancement opportunities. I’ve seen several people on other job sites say that it’s bad to bring up this particular situation since it reflects badly on you (for not being able to secure a promotion, for bringing up seeking promotions in an interview, etc.)

    In my instance, I keep being told by my manager that he’d love to promote me because I’m already doing my job and someone else’s job (that is entirely different than my own), but the department promotes based on seniority and not ability. I don’t have a problem with the most senior person in the role being promoted if they’re excellent at their job, but this method has led to a lot of low performers being promoted just because they’ve been in the department longer. Not to mention that the people in the next role above me rarely leave, so even if they didn’t promote based on seniority, you have to wait 5 years just for one spot to open up and then 10 people are gunning for it.

    1. Clorinda

      There’s probably nothing wrong with saying that your current company doesn’t have the opportunities for development and advancement that you’re ready for and you need new challenges. Also, it’s literally true.

    2. Ann O'Nemity

      Eh, as an interviewer I’m not put off by this. I’ve worked in plenty of companies where there’s aren’t a lot of advancement opportunities regardless of potential or performance.

      1. Breda

        Also, this is pretty widely true! There are always fewer and fewer people in each tier as you go up the hierarchy, so unless there’s turnover at that level, there just isn’t anywhere to go. It’s just important to phrase this as “there’s nowhere to grow” rather than “I can’t get a promotion.”

    3. Q

      I’ve been at my job for 9 months and just looking through who’s been signing our documents when and what positions everyone holds…there’s little-to-no advancement. “Advancement” is being converted from a contractor to a full employee around here.

      Heck, a couple of my equal-level coworkers were shocked when I expressed interest in learning how to do things outside my current job duties, as if even moving departments was unheard of.

      1. Q

        (I wasn’t even saying “I want to do this now,” I was saying “well, they’re talking about changing things in a few years and adding in these responsibilities, maybe I could do this in that new capacity”)

    4. Genny

      I think this is fine to say as long as you are being reasonable. “They wouldn’t promote me after three months” probably isn’t reasonable. “They promote based off of seniority, and I would have to wait at least five more years to be promoted despite consistently stellar performance reviews” is reasonable.

    5. H.C.

      Ditto to what Clorinda & Ann O’Nemity said – you should be fine discussing that issue if you coach it in terms of limited advancement & development opportunities (instead of the more blunt “I’m being passed up on promotions”, which does place more burden/scrutiny on your performance).

    6. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      I think it depends a lot on delivery. For example, when I was interviewing I used that a lot — but made it clear in my answer that it was because I’d moved into a department that had a pretty hard limit on how far you could go before you had to move into doing something entirely different to move up the scale. I emphasized that the parts of the job I liked were ones I’d have to move out of to keep going.

    7. Oxford Coma

      Some places just don’t have the scale. I was the Lead Technical Llama person at my last company, because there were eight of us. Now I’m the only Technical Llama person at a much smaller company. There’s nobody to lead.

    8. Goya de la Mancha

      “I’ve gone as far as I can with my current position and now I’m interested in taking on new challenges”

    9. Lindsay J

      The only time this is a red flag for me is when it is clearly not objectively true.

      I interviewed one person who said that they were leaving their position because there was no room for advancement. But then she mentioned that everyone else she had been hired in with had been promoted, but not her.

      So there was room for advancement. She was just not getting the position. And it made me wonder if there was a legitimate reason for her bosses to not want to promote her.

      She was ultimately a pass for other reasons. But that raised concerns in my mind.

      In your case I would understand and not at all be concerned. Sounds like a union environment to me, which are common in my field, and it’s not uncommon for high performers to want to leave because of that.

      And, in most cases I don’t think it is at all a bad thing to indicate you’re interested in promotion, as long as it’s a role where promotions are possible. In the jobs I hire for, promotion is a possibility, but a small one. There are only a couple higher level roles, and one of us would have to leave to open it up. I still wouldn’t hold it against anyone that they said they were looking for a place where advancement is possible. I don’t plan on being in this job forever, and I don’t expect them to be in their job forever. They can either take my job when I move on or up, or move on in a couple years themselves.

      The only thing that would be a red flag for me is if I got the vibe that they expected to be promoted unrealistically quickly. If they sound like they think they can come in, impress someone, and get promoted in 6 months, it’s probably not going to happen, and both they and I are going to be frustrated and unhappy when they keep trying.

      1. Lindsay J

        And really, if the first person had framed the issue differently, I think I would have been more receptive to it. “You know, I’ve been here 5 years. I stumbled a little bit in the beginning, but I do good work, get excellent reviews every year, and have really grown into and even past the role. However, it feels like my bosses won’t look past that initial struggle and won’t ever promote me, so I’m looking for somewhere where I can start fresh.”

        Or

        “I’m a good worker, but it just doesn’t seem to be a great fit here. I feel like I am being passed up on for promotion opportunities even though I do excellent work, so I figured I would apply for higher level positions elsewhere instead.”

        Something like that that didn’t seem to just gloss over the contradiction I would have been fine with.

      2. question

        It’s not a union environment. We’re a big corporate company, but exec management thinks the promotions based on seniority and not on merit will prevent discrimination lawsuits and helps reward people who stay the longest (which is ridiculous to me because then they wonder why certain positions have high turnover).

        I definitely agree on the timeline. I’m a few months shy of four years and am doing the work of my position and a second position and it’s only the second position gives me something new to learn (the double workload isn’t great, but that’s a different issue).

  8. What about benefits?

    What if your real reason is to have decent benefits? Currently in a local government job where insurance for family costs $15,000+ (that I have to pay) and has a $10,000 deductible. My husband may be losing his workplace insurance this year and our county’s insurance has been gutted by recent actions by Congress, so that’s not a good option. Other local area governments have much better plans, so I’m looking at applying. Currently, I have a short commute, but a new job would mean a lengthy commute.

    I don’t really have any other reason for leaving my current post, so I fear it will be asked. I could kind of say that I want to expand my experience to other areas and such, but I’m not sure how credible this would be. Is it bad to mention benefits as a motivator? I have 8 years experience where I’m at, so clearly I don’t just hop around.

    1. Julia the Survivor

      I’m not an expert, but my instinct would be to mention it so it’s on the table. Then if the interviewing agency doesn’t have good benefits, you don’t waste any more time with them.
      Interviewers might be sympathetic?
      But again I don’t know for sure, I’m answering because I don’t want you to be left hanging.

  9. PlainJane

    I find this question difficult to answer when I’m unhappy with how my current employer operates. I usually try to say something vague and somewhat true about wanting to focus more on x vs y, but I wish we could be honest about mismatches in approach (or, heck, just bad bosses, because we all know they exist). Wouldn’t it be great if there were a polite, professional way to talk about that as a lead-in to which organizational cultures and management styles are the best fit for us? But alas, we can’t without seeming negative or hard to work with.

    1. theletter

      I had a similar problem, but there were specific technical terms for how I think a process should be done, which my company at the time did not follow, so I was able to say “I would like to do the LMN process, but my team prefers the old ways, so I’m looking a team that does LMN.”

      If you’ve got a micromanager, you could say you’re looking for more autonomy and responsibility in your position. If you’ve got the opposite problem, tell them you’re looking to grow your tech/business skills.

    2. NW Mossy

      I wouldn’t necessarily use this question as a lead-in to what you’re getting at, which is really trying to dig into the likelihood that the role will be a good fit for you. While the concepts of what you like in an environment and what your current environment provides are intimately connected in your head, they aren’t for your interviewers. Giving the two some separation in how you ask/respond to questions will allow to still get the information you need to make an informed assessment of whether or not you want the job.

      In your case, I’d suggest two approaches to mix in. First, give your interviewer plenty of clues in your answers about what things you really like to see in a work environment – it’ll help them see if your preferences align with the role. Second, ask your questions about their environment in an assiduously neutral way, by which I mean that you’re treating their environment as a given fact that you don’t intend to judge or change. For example, if you wanted to ask a potential boss about management style, you can ask more factual questions like “How often do you normally meet with your directs, and what do you usually discuss in those meetings?” It opens it up in a way that’s more likely to get you a candid answer with useful cues in it, rather than setting them up for an “I’ll tell you want you want to hear” answer that may not be accurate.

      1. Mad Baggins

        “While the concepts of what you like in an environment and what your current environment provides are intimately connected in your head, they aren’t for your interviewers.”

        Very true! I think the danger for pointing to any interpersonal issues is that the interviewer has no way of making a factual judgment on whether the other person was the problem or you were. If you say, “I’ve worked with llamas, now I’m looking to work more with alpacas,” the interviewer can look at their company and say, great, we want alpacas too, or oh no, we only have llamas. If you say “my boss micromanages me,” it’s harder for the interviewer to say, great, Eloise is super hands-off so this will work vs. oh no, this person doesn’t get along with others.

  10. PSB

    Alison’s dead on about why people ask this question and it amazes me how many people answer it poorly. To me the answer is only half the value of the question. How a candidate answers it – their words, tone, and demeanor – can say a lot about their judgment. A good answer doesn’t tell you much but a poor answer can be very revealing.

    1. PB

      Agreed. In my last round of hiring, we asked a candidate in a phone interview why there were interested in the position, and his answer was, basically, “My current employer is broke and it sucks. We’re all job searching. Oh, and I’d be good at this job.” It was an inauspicious start, and it didn’t get better. And, as Alison mentioned in the last paragraph, the way we’d phrased the question, he didn’t have to address why he was leaving his current job at all.

      1. Lindsay J

        See, if I asked why they were interested in leaving their current role, I would be fine with that answer. But I’m also not hiring for polished professionals in most cases, either. The company being broke is a completely reasonable answer to why they want to leave and that phrasing wouldn’t put me off.

        But if I asked why they were interested in the position, I want to hear why they’re interested in my position and not literally anything that isn’t their old job. I wouldn’t write them off for that answer, but I would probe deeper to see if I could get something else out of them.

    2. Mike!

      “A good answer doesn’t tell you much but a poor answer can be very revealing.”

      Co-sign! When this question comes up in interviews at my company, it’s more of a check to see if a person is going to be salty about their current/previous employers with people they have literally just met.

  11. Amber Rose

    I’m guessing “more money” is not a good one either.

    If you’re like me and keep ending up in bitty companies then looking for change or growth is fine after a couple years since there’s nowhere to go.

    Or my last reason, the untimely death of the owner. Probably (hopefully) the only time I’ll be able to use “need to escape the palpable aura of sorrow and despair” and have people nod in understanding instead of look at me funny.

  12. Drive like you stole it

    How would a more professional version of “I’m successful in my job but it’s not what I want to do when I grow up” land? Because that’s where I’m at.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Well, take out the ‘when I grow up’ reference and I think that’s pretty okay! ‘I’m doing well in this role, but it’s moving me in a direction I’m not as interested in. I’m much more interested in [thing the company you’re interviewing with does].’

      1. Drive like you stole it

        I actually said something similar to my phrasing above after weathering a busy day. I told one of my bosses someday, when I grow up*, I will have a job where the Super Bowl is a water cooler topic instead of an event to be braced for.

        *The joke being I am currently the oldest person in my position, and the only one over 30.

  13. Trig

    “My company is making significant cuts to the program I work on, and I’m looking for something more stable.”

    and

    “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.”

    Are really interesting to me! My department has had twice-a-year layoffs for the past several years, and I’m on my third manager in just over a year now. The writing’s on the wall, and while any interviewer in high tech would totally get it, I’ve never been sure whether saying so outright would be a ‘good’ answer, or more offputting (like, oh, she quits when the going gets tough). If I were interviewing, I think I would go with “ready for a new challenge”, because I’ve been with my company since I started my career six years ago, but interesting to see that the more real reason would be acceptable.

      1. Irene Adler

        But don’t these responses fall under the “don’t trash your current employer” category -albeit in a gentler form?

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          You’re not trashing them — you’re not saying they’re crazy or toxic. You’re saying “there’s a business situation that is making me think my position may not be secure.”

        2. theletter

          It sounds more like prudence to me. The instability could be due to processes or practices becoming obsolete for that company or industry, through no fault of the candidate. The general skillset of the candidate may be of great value, but there might just not be room/funds in the company to re-train and reorganize everyone.

          If the person is C suite or VP, I’d hope they do the best they can to help the company, but individual associates shouldn’t have to hold out against an industry shift for the sake of the organization.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            Exactly. I worked at a law firm that also did layoffs two or three times a year, and when I finally got an interview at my now previous employer, I told them that. Nobody held it against me – in fact, they were impressed I managed to last nearly three years at a place like that.

        3. LBK

          I’ve never really understood this kind of caution; just saying any less-than-positive thing about a company isn’t trashing them. “The company is on shaky financial ground” is not trashing them, it’s just a fact and a situation most people will understand is valid cause for job hunting; you’d frankly be stupid to stay at a company headed towards folding. “The company is on shaky financial ground because the CEO is a moron” is trashing.

    1. Dankar

      That’s kind of what I worry about. I’m not looking for a new job and am quite happy right now, but I’m seeing some signs that things will be a lot less stable in the next year or so.

      When that happens, I do want to be actively looking, but I worry about saying that cuts and instability are my main reasons for doing so. It reads to me as badmouthing my current employer (though I guess I would understand if someone else gave me the same answer).

    2. stitchinthyme

      I would definitely tell the truth in this case — and have done so before in similar situations. It’s not badmouthing your employer to say the company isn’t stable and you’re concerned for the future of your career there. It’s a thing that happens all the time, and says nothing about you not liking the company, or about toxic environments or crazy management. As Alison says, it’s you analyzing the situation and making a decision about your own life and career.

    3. The New Wanderer

      With those two reasons in particular, I think you have to be pretty confident that the company you are interviewing for isn’t known for significant changes. For example, both of those reasons are true for why I wouldn’t want to go back to my former company (which is generally considered very stable), but most places I have interviewed at recently are tech companies just coming out of the start-up mode and still hiring like mad and reorganizing quite a bit. One company had just made a major change that affected the department I would have worked for and while they were very up front about the situation, “stable” was not in the picture at all. Another company switched the hiring manager for the position I interviewed for between my phone interview with HM1 and on-site interview with HM2.

      1. Trig

        Yeah, I imagine I’d recast it a bit. My company as a whole is huge and pretty stable, but my department specifically is struggling. And they don’t shift you to a new team (even though there are currently a number of open jobs the same as mine in other departments on our external recruitment site), they just lay you off. And make you pay back your severance if you come back to the company in a different role.

        If I were to go somewhere else, I imagine it’d either be a comparable company, or much smaller and more startupy. I’d probably end up combining the two reasons in a “layoffs have been happening, and I’m ready for a change anyway after being here six years”.

        Really though, I’m ok with instability at this point in my life, so I’m gonna stick it out until they lay me off and give me that sweet, sweet, Canadian severance package. And then it’ll be easy to say something like “downsizing, which came at a good time for me, as I was ready for a change anyway.”

  14. designbot

    I’ve even actually said, “I’m not actually actively looking to leave but I’ve always loved the work the team here does and thought I should give it a shot when I heard you were hiring.” This only works if the company you’re interviewing with is fairly well known in their field. Of course what doesn’t work with this tactic is rushing their timeline for any reason really, so don’t follow this up a week later with an “I have another offer and I need your answer” type conversation.

    1. bonkerballs

      I said something similar when I changed jobs recently. I said I quite enjoyed the job I was currently at and wasn’t actively looking to leave it, but I stumbled on the job description that was exactly what I wanted my next step to be so I thought I had to give it a shot. Turned out rather well!

      1. Typhon Worker Bee

        Yes, I used a version of this one too – ‘not actively looking until I saw your job description and thought “wow, did they write this specifically for me?”‘

  15. Cordoba

    I have always answered this question with a polite answer that amounts to “because I want more money”.

    This has the advantage of being true, and also puts the company on notice that they need to be serious about competitive compensation if they want me to work there.

    Will some interviewers/employers object to this? Sure, probably. But in this scenario I already have a job, so who cares?

    The ones who object are also likely to be the ones who want to nickle and dime me on salary, or expect me to overlook being underpaid because of things like their work being “important” or the office being “like family” or trivial details like free coffee and a fooseball table. It was ultimately never going to work out with those places anyway, so no harm in sorting that out early on.

    1. lisalee

      Can you elaborate on what you say? I’m in a similar situation (I like my job but my responsibilities have steadily increased with no raise in sight) and I’m wondering how to phrase why I’m leaving.

    2. Calpurrnia

      Just curious, can you give any examples of how you phrase that so it’s polite and reasonable-sounding? I’d love to store some of those away for the future…

      1. Cordoba

        Here are a few that have gotten good responses:

        -“The compensation structure at my current employer requires that to get a significant raise I would have to switch from engineering to management. I really like engineering work and am pretty good at it, so I prefer to focus on that rather than manage people. I am looking for an opportunity with a company that will place more value on my technical knowledge than my current employer does.”

        -“My current employer determines compensation primarily by seniority rather than individual performance. I am interested in finding an organization that recognizes their top talent and rewards accordingly.”

        -“Based on research and conversations with others in this industry I have concluded that my current compensation is below market rate for my skills and experience; I am a big part of why I’m interviewing here today is that I would like to change that.”

      2. NaoNao

        My guess would be something like

        “Well, I’ve done a lot of professional development and taken on additional job duties in this current role, and taking a look at the market place, I’m actually looking to move up the scale in terms of overall compensation, considering my current skills and experience.”

        or

        “To be perfectly frank, the job duties and the compensation are a bit mismatched where I am now, and I’d like to move into a role where the compensation is a better reflection of the role and duties.”

  16. Bekx

    What about the CEO told me he had a crush on me and now I’m GTFOing of there ;)

    But in all seriousness. I have been hesitant to talk about my situation because he’s very well connected, so I’ve been saying things like “My department doesn’t have much room for growth” and “I’m looking for more ownership of projects.” But it feels really disingenuous.

    1. Bekx

      Oh, crap. Definitely used my normal name and not the one I’ve been using for open threads. Oh well. Cats out of the bag.

      1. Bekx

        Eh, it’s not the end of the world. I’ve sorta hinted at it in other posts and I highly doubt the ceo reads this since his behavior would not have happened if he did :)

    2. Person

      I’m interested in seeing what people have to say about this, in this kind of situation!

      I (naively) mentioned being sexually harassed reason for leaving, and it seemed to negatively affect my interviews. I ended up leaving the job off my resume altogether, despite all the success I had there professionally. It just wasn’t worth the intense anxiety I felt thinking what would happen if my prospective employer called the old one when they verified employment.

    3. theletter

      oh no that stinks! Best of luck!

      Before you interview, see if you can pick out some major differences between your current place and the company you’re interviewing with (industry/focus/practices/size /projects . .. anything that’s a positive to you) then say “the opportunity to work in SuchnSuch on the Llamapots platform was too exciting to pass up!” or “The work at currentjob is pretty good, but I’ve always been very interested in Llamapots, which is not a priority at current job.”

    4. Julia the Survivor

      I stayed in the job because I don’t think I can find anything better, and because it’s an excellent employer. It was much softer – he didn’t actually *say* anything and when it came to the point, pretended he hadn’t done anything.
      :(
      I’m in therapy for the stress and he is spinning out to the point I’m prepared for him to have a breakdown. I’m hoping I can outlast him. :D He’s not c-suite though, a few levels lower.

  17. RoadsLady

    I’m on this situation right now. Also disillusioned and to be honest, very much struggling under unexpected and semi-illegal challenges.

  18. Dana Lynne

    I think Alison’s advice is great, as always, but I have to put in that in some fields, like journalism, television, and some other media fields, leaving after a year or so is not considered a minus, especially if you are moving to a larger city (larger market). Turnover in fields like that, as well as advertising and some graphic design jobs in marketing, is very high.

    But I agree that in most fields you need to try to stay at a given job more than a year to look stable and dependable.

  19. Interested Bystander

    Is being the trailing spouse in a move considered an acceptable way to answer this question? I’m quitting my current job with nothing lined up because my wife has excellent opportunities in a bigger city.

    1. blondie

      My husband did this! He wrote on the cover letter that he left his previous position and moved for “family reasons.” During the interview he explained that his wife had a job opportunity and that promoted the move. He got a great offer from that company and is very happy there.

    2. Genny

      I work in an industry where trailing spouses are common, so I think that sounds perfectly normal. I would just quickly pivoting to why you’re excited about the company you’re interviewing at so you don’t appear reluctant about the job or like it’s a disappointment/back-up plan.

  20. stitchinthyme

    I have always just told the truth. When I interviewed for my current job, I told them that I had only gotten a single raise in nearly five years at my last job. (Annual increases are the norm in my industry; that was the only company I’ve ever worked at that did not do them. Even the struggling companies I worked for give *some* kind of raise, even if not a huge amount.) And the time before that, I said that although I really liked the work and the people I worked with, the company had been floundering, people were being laid off constantly, and many of the people I liked best had either been laid off or jumped ship, so I felt like it was time for me to do the same. Once, when quitting a place I’d only been at for four months, I said I hadn’t been given anything to do (I didn’t even have a computer for the first month — and I’m a software developer!). And another time, I liked my job but desperately wanted to move, and was willing to pay my own relocation costs if I could just find a job somewhere else. (Ended up getting relocation assistance anyway.)

    1. Fortitude Jones

      I told the truth (well, partially) to get my current job, and I’m still shocked they hired me. I originally wanted to move into X field in a few years, but needed additional experience in Y first before I could do it. So my current company had a posting for a job doing Y, I applied, and when they invited me in for my sole interview and asked this question, I told them I wanted to go into X, but need more experience in Y, and since I have transferable skills that would complement Y, I threw my hat in the ring. I immediately regretted being this honest after the interview (I’m so glad I was able to keep my desire for more money close to my vest), but apparently, they were willing to take a chance even though they know I won’t be here forever.

  21. Onanon

    After three months I’m ready to run from my current job, so I’m pretty glad this has come up! My job completely changed two months in, so I’m not doing the job I applied for – I figure if I explain that, interviewers would understand, but if I ran from my next job three months in and claimed the same thing it would look less convincing.

  22. Tired Commuter

    I’m looking to leave my job of two years because I’m miserable for various reasons (mostly related to my manager, but also a few other things).

    Is it okay to say I’m looking for a shorter commute? I really would rather have a shorter commute (especially during the winter when bad weather makes my commute even longer) and am only applying to places that are half or less the distance to my current job.

    1. Sutemi

      I woudn’t make it the main point. Have some other feature as the main reason, and also this job has a much better commute.

    2. The New Wanderer

      It probably really depends on the company and the environment. I just had a phone screen with a company in a major metro area. The first thing the recruiter asked me was to verify where I currently live (a suburb) and ask whether I would be okay with the commute, which regularly makes the list of top ten worst in the US. At another place, when the recruiter confirmed my location wrt their office, she commented that the commute would be really great for me and I admit it was a selling point. Some companies are very aware of commuting issues.

      But as Sutemi suggests, don’t make it a key reason because it does come across as you’d take any job with a shorter commute. Primary reason should always focus on what this company in specific has to offer.

  23. Kyoko

    My reasons for leaving a job are usually not great excuses, like being bored or wanting more money or better benefits :/

  24. Anon Amiss

    I’ve been in my new job for a year and a half. The first seven months were great – my new boss was just the kind of boss I wanted, with sane deadlines and for the first time in two decades, reasonable hours. There was a lot to learn, but everything was at a large-corporation pace, rather than the go-go-go pace I’d been used to in consulting. However, he retired somewhat suddenly after a health scare in the family.

    My new boss is also from consulting, the same area X that I was in. She wants to micromanage area X, though I was hired to be the manager of X. She also wants us all working the fast pace and long hours of consulting, along with the artificial deadlines. In this company, promotions are rare to non-existent, raises are tiny, and most of the team isn’t eligible for bonuses or overtime. We signed up for slower career and pay progression in exchange for better work life balance and less stress, and suddenly, we’re not getting that, either. I was a job hopper in my youth, so it feels too soon to leave, but being micromanaged is making me more miserable than ever. I hate to bash a current boss to a potential new boss, so I’m not sure what to say.

    1. Slartibartfast

      How about “there’s been a change in management/ job description and the position is no longer a good fit for my skills/ no longer plays to my strengths/ doesn’t align with my career goals”?

  25. Cute Li'l UFO

    I had a “long term” contract end two months in at a company that consistently ranks very high on the top places to work/most happy employees when my reality was a department in turmoil, promises being taken back, and utter nickel-and-diming on everything. Learning how to say that my time there was short (as most interviewers have noticed) because the department’s needs were shifting (move to video vs. still) and I arrived in at a time when the department was undergoing a lot of change in its management. I do keep a very honest tone without the accompanying grimace, I feel. And it seems to come across as I hope it does.

    I do not note that I was served something contaminated with crustaceans (literally deathly allergic and it was treated as an “eh”), I do not note that the initial hiring process was utterly jacked up and resulted in losing and gaining the contract after a month or two, or the fact that I constantly fantasized about jumping out a window and clinging to a girder and riding it all the way up and out to some new construction site. It’s an interview, not Festivus ;)

    1. Julia the Survivor

      Those rankings come from questionnaires sent to the employees. Employees who come off as negative or complainers don’t last long. It’s supposed to be anonymous, but you know…
      Also benefits are factored in – but a company that gives good benefits but is so bad people leave anyway, they don’t take that into account…

  26. Formerly Arlington

    I usually ask this question when interviewing and really just want to ensure they will be a good fit for the role—if they were unhappy because the culture was too corporate, they wouldn’t like my company. If there are looking for an opportunity to be more innovative in our field and they were unable to find that in their current role, that would be a good thing. It’s not that there is one right answer….i just don’t want to hear them describe their current situation in a way that makes it sound like our company will be the same situation they are leaving.

  27. Jessen

    Ugh, I’ve been struggling with this.

    I like my current job as far as the actual work, but I’m not very well paid and frankly the benefits are so terrible that I’m losing a lot of money. They like to tout their “cheap health insurance” – well, it’s exactly that, and it’s costing me a lot of money. If they gave me a raise without having to work night shift, or gave me a plan that wasn’t high deductible and high percentages even after that, I’d stay.

  28. Doggo

    Hi Everyone,

    In my current job I love the work and benefit, but couldn’t deal with the demanding and angry clients (they gave me severe anxiety to the point that I got panic attack every time my phone rings – because they always berate me through the phone). How could I phrase this to potential interviewer?

    Thanks!

    1. Naptime Enthusiast

      Is customer interaction a must-have skill in your work? If not, you could say that you’ve realized you find customer-facing work less rewarding and would prefer to focus on X any Y instead.

  29. Rhymetime

    This is a timely question for me, as I have an interview next week. I’ve been at my position for four years and wasn’t looking, but a recruiter dangled an offer that I’m pursuing. I’ve been happy where I am as a nonprofit fundraiser, and I’m being sought by another nonprofit in the same field that has an equally good reputation and collaborates with my current employer. The big draw is a substantial salary increase, and that’s not what I should say in the interview about why I’m interested. I appreciate any advice on this one.

    1. Takver

      Actually, I think you can be frank about that because you are in a powerful negotiating position. You weren’t looking, you already have a job you’re happy at, but they want you to come work for them. A commenter upthread, Cordoba, had some good phrasing for this kind of thing. You can also say something specific about the company (like that they have a great reputation) but I think you are in the perfect position to just say that you are interested because the salary they offer is more in line with the value of your work.

  30. E.

    Agreed that “aggressively job searching” should be left out, but I think conferences and using software are exactly the right type of thing to say (and to be doing) – maybe give specific examples if you can. Also if you have a chance to do any volunteer work, related to your field or not, I do think that’s also useful to be able to say.

  31. Notasecurityguard

    Couldn’t you also just say “I’m looking to make more money and that’s not possible at current job because of X” or is that overly mercenary? Because that hasn’t ever been my only concern but it’s usually a big one

    1. Echo

      I don’t like this one. I agree that it’s overly mercenary. If this is really the main concern, I would focus on whatever “X” is instead – you’re looking for a role with more opportunities to grow and that wasn’t possible at a small organization like Current Workplace, or you’re looking to move out of Low-Paying Field and gain experience in Lucrative Field, or something like that.

  32. insert pun here

    I answered this question with something like “I am not actively looking to leave my current job — I’m specifically interested in this position because [reasons relating to the nature of the work.]” That seemed to be well received (I mean… they hired me, so) and it had the advantage of being true. I don’t know how this level of bluntness would play in a more conservative/formal field, but my interview was pretty informal and conversational, so it seemed fine.

    1. Echo

      I think this one, if it’s true, is great – I think it shows enthusiasm for the role you’re applying for.

  33. Echo

    I went with “my current role is mostly focused on X and I’m interested in getting more experience with Y”. You can’t say this if it’s not true, but if it is true, it’s a very reasonable explanation for both leaving your old job and applying for a new one. (And I’m indeed much more focused on Thing Y now and love it!)

  34. Julia the Survivor

    I posted about my boss, and then remembered a few months ago an indication he had seen or been told about an AAM article.
    As a precaution I’m going to change my screen name going forward. :)

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