can I tell interviewers I’m looking for a new job because of money?

A reader writes:

I have a job, and I think a lot about trying to find a new job.

When I was previously looking for a job, the question “why are you looking to leave your current job?” came up a lot. Trying to answer that question is quite fraught. It’s challenging to say what’s wrong with the current job without sounding like a complainer. Trying to sound always professional and upbeat and very respectful of the people I work with leads to a lot of tricky dancing around actual issues inspiring me to job-hunt.

One thing that I think I should be able to say this time, truthfully and without dishing on anybody or any project, is: “I could be earning more money.” I have skills in a field in which salaries are typically 50% more than what I’m earning currently. My boss tells me that the organization balks at the idea of paying anyone in my group more. After my glowing performance review last spring, I got a 1% raise — not even cost of living. I’m behind on my career progression because of having spent a lot of time being just “Mom,” but I’ve just completed a relevant master’s degree (my second master’s) to try to jump-start things. It’s not all about the money — if I loved my job, this would not make me leave; I am able to live on what I earn — but more money would make it easy to justify making a move.

But a friend of mine (who has a great job, managerial-ish, at a prestigious company, so she should know what she’s talking about) says, “Don’t say that.” Rather than bluntly saying “I could be earning more money,” she suggested alluding to this issue in some much more vague, mealy-mouthed, roundabout way when I get the “why are you looking?” question. Like, “Oh, I just want to see what opportunities are out there for me.”

Is this true? Why? I don’t think my current lower salary should reflect badly on me; my current job is the kind of research-focused lab work typical of STEM-field graduate students. Is it tacky to mention the money dimension of the employer-employee relationship? Are you supposed to pretend that money isn’t a consideration, that you’re just so fascinated by the work that you don’t care? (I don’t think the people hiring actually believe that, anyway. One time I tried to apply to a job that paid less than what I was earning because the work seemed really compelling, and I couldn’t convince the recruiter that I was worth interviewing further — it seemed she couldn’t believe I wouldn’t decide against the move, because of the money?) Are they going to think that, if I think about the money at all, I’m perpetually dissatisfied and will forever be jumping towards higher salary?

I think that answering “I could be earning more money” conveys that I am a serious candidate, worth interviewing because they will think I am likely to take the job if they are offering more money. Also, like many female-presenting people, I should perhaps practice expecting recognition and respect. It does weed out employers who might be thinking that they would offer me only as much as I’m earning now. If there’s a potential job that has compelling other advantages (“save the world doing fascinating work in your own private office!”) then I would name those other advantages and not say anything about money. But until I see that dream-job listing … I’m allowed to want to move up to higher salary, yes?

Yes. You are allowed to want a new job for a higher salary.

That’s always the case, but especially when you’re earning half of what your field normally pays.

It’s true that there used to be a bias against talking about money in job interviews or indicating that money is in fact the primary reason most of us work. (Witness this ridiculous post from 2013.) That was always absurd, but it’s changed significantly in the last 10 years, and particularly in the last five.

“I could be earning more money” isn’t exactly the way I’d say it, though. An interviewer who wanted to really parse that might figure that you could always be earning more money no matter what job you’re in and might wonder if that means you’ll jump ship quickly if they hire you. But you could say it more like this:

“I love my work, but we’re severely underpaid for the field.”

“I like a lot of things about my job, but our salaries haven’t kept up with the market, so I’m looking at what else is out there.”

Those are fine. Those are normal and reasonable to say.

However, as a side note: I wonder if you feel a higher-than-warranted obligation to offer the complete story when an interviewer asks why you’re thinking of changing jobs. Your friend’s suggestion of “I wanted to see what other opportunities are out there” is always okay (as long as you’re not leaving after, like, six months — in which case it would raise red flags about what else might be going on). And you really don’t need to find a way to say what’s bothering you in your current job if it’s tricky to talk about; you can use a blander answer.

But in this case your answer is salary, and it’s fine to say that it’s salary.

{ 166 comments… read them below }

  1. e271828*

    Women are socialized to be excessively candid and it is very hard to overcome that unless you recognize the tendency in yourself and learn to stop. talking.

    “I love my work, but we’re severely underpaid for the field” is great! Everyone understands that! If the place you’re applying is larger or the position offers a chance to use new skills, you can follow up with “I want to work in an enviroment where I can use my training/expertise/accounting skills.” Because it sounds like you want both more money and to grow in a bigger, better job.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      “I love my work, but we’re severely underpaid for the field.”
      I like this.

    2. Knope Knope Knope*

      See, I would not do this! So many states are making it illegal to ask about salary history to make it harder for companies to lowball you. Why lowball yourself by volunteering that you’re probably at the bottom of the salary band? I would certainly mention salary, but I would add it more like “a competitive salary is part of my considerations” or something.

      1. HR Friend*

        Ohhh this is such a good point. A savvy/shady hiring manager might take advantage of LW’s position, given that information. This makes me think a vague, safe “looking for new opportunities” is the way to go.

      2. jasmine*

        maybe “I’m looking for a more competitive salary” would help keep it vague

      3. Jake*

        Because you are explicitly saying that you no longer want to be at the bottom of the salary band.

        Plus, if you are looking, and pay is the only reason, or even the main reason… why would you even accept a job that ends of lowballing you anyway?

        1. Knope Knope Knope*

          You’d accept a job that lowballs you if don’t have any better offers and they are offering you more than you make, not necessarily as high as you want.

          There’s what you want, and then there is what you can negotiate.

          If you’re a competitive candidate and you come from a place of wanting a competitive salary, the starting point for negotiations is likely to be higher than if you’re a competitive candidate who just wants to make more than “very low salary”. Why not get good talent at a steal?

          Companies will pay what they think they have to. It’s about convincing them they HAVE to pay you more to consider accepting the job, not convincing them that you WANT them to hire you to make more than a low salary you’re already making.

          1. Bored Fed*

            Very much this! They may be willing to pay $75k for someone with your skills, but if they think they can get you for $70k, that may be their initial offer. That might sound really nice if you’re currently making $50k. (All numbers notional, of course).

      4. Zeus*

        I guess it depends on how you deliver the line, but I would have read that as “I am aware of what a competitive salary is for this position, and I’m not willing to be lowballed.”

        1. Knope Knope Knope*

          Perhaps. Except they know you already are lowballed. So walking away literally meany willing to continue being lowballed. It’s just a negotiating chip you give up.

      5. MCMonkeyBean*

        I don’t think it opens yourself up for a lowball offer if you explicitly state that the primary reason you are looking to move is because of salary. Unless you are very desperate because you need more money RIGHT NOW, which OP clearly is not, then I think it should have the opposite impact of making it clear that a good salary is the primary thing OP would be considering in an offer and if they also offer something under the market then of course they wouldn’t bother accepting it.

        1. Knope Knope Knope*

          Maybe not under market, but you’re not getting top of the salary band offers off the top that way. OP may get a better salary this way. But will it be the best they could get? You never know, but I would argue they have a stronger chance of getting the most money by being more strategic in their wording.

      6. Ricky Raindrop*

        Good point! As a recruiter, I don’t think anyone is *trying* to lowball anyone else (ok maybe some are), but psychologically if you know you can hire someone at X, you’ll kind of pin them there. In many ways, larger companies will be better about this, because they’ll have bands clearly defined. Smaller orgs can be a little more all over the map.

        I also absolutely do not think it’s “mealy-mouthed” to say that you are looking for more challenge or to grow in X or Y way. Most companies still do want to hear that the money isn’t the only thing driving you. “I could be making more money” with nothing additional would leave me kind of cold.

    3. it's gonna be bye bye bye... oh, wrong song*

      Socialized to be candid? Typically women are socialized to err on the side of being deferential or self-deprecating, but not candid.

      Either way, I think OP needs to look at this from the interviewer’s perspective. They might be attracting candidates with the higher salary, but they also want to keep them, which means they’re interested in you having sustainable reasons to be interested in the position itself, not just what it pays.

      If your primary motivation is to get paid more, it’s not dishonest to put that aside and offer one of your ancillary reasons for being interested in their opening. Human beings are complex; just share a different one of your reasons.

      1. OP*

        “…they also want to keep them…”

        Yeah, I’ve had an ah-hah moment (after reading a lot on this site). The reason that the question “why are you looking for a new job when you have a job”, and the reason that I had so much trouble answering that question to the interviewers’ satisfaction, on my previous go-around of job hunting, was that I had been at my job for only a short time. Way too short! Painfully short. Like, less than a year.

        Looking back on that, I now realize that that was a big red flag for people who were interviewing me– and (painful to admit) rightly so. At the time I thought “life is too short to work with these bananapants jerks.” Now I realize that I should’ve spent another year there, working on the skill of working with difficult people, because difficult people are everywhere.

        Now that I’ve been at the current job for almost two years, probably the “why are you looking to change jobs?” question will be less critical/fraught next time I’m interviewing, and I don’t need to fret so much about this one particular question.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          No no no, OP, you were *absolutely right* that “life is too short to work with these bananapants jerks.” Leaving after only a few months in order to keep your own sanity was definitely the right move there. Yes, difficult people are everywhere but bananapants jerks are not and we should not put up with them! (See also: the reason I’m leaving my job, although in my case they’re not bananapants jerks but bananapants liars with a small touch of jerkiness.)

          When interviewing for my soon-to-be job, I got the question “Why do you want to work here at [big university]?” It threw me a bit, because I hadn’t expected them to be so specific (I know, I know, I totally should have, that’s on me), and also it seemed more like the kind of question they would ask a high school student applying to the school (even though the role and the dept has nothing to do with that aspect of the school). And now that I’m typing this, I can’t remember specifically what I said but it was something along the lines of “looking to use my expanded skillset that I’ve learned while at my current job” and “excited to work somewhere that values learning and knowledge.” Since you’re in a STEM field, these could be good answers for you too. “Looking to use my expanded skillset” was code for “they’re not paying me what I’m worth.” And in your case, you actually have a brand-new masters degree, which means you can use that to your advantage too! “I’m looking to find a job/career that is more in line with the skills I learned while earning my masters degree.”

          (CW: the paragraph below is mostly just me venting.)

          I’m in the same boat as you, a few steps further on; my current job keeps saying they don’t have the budget for raises for us underlings but then keep hiring high-level staff members who don’t really do the actual work here. As I realized I was not going to get the raise I really need, I knew I needed to look elsewhere to bring my salary up to market rate for my skillset (thanks in no small part to AAM!). My new job pays 40% higher than what I’m earning now. And my current org has decided that in order to replace me they need someone with not just the certification level I just earned but an additional certification (they don’t), and they intend to pay this person basically what I’ll be making at my new job (insulting much? yep), except that with the job requirements they say they need (which they don’t), the market rate is more than double what they pay me. So…..good luck to them finding someone who will work for that little, and especially good luck to that person, who they will move to the team run by our terrible coworker instead of the team run by my amazing and wonderful boss. That person either won’t stay long or will also be terrible.

          Good luck, OP! Please let us know when you get your new job!

          1. Baunilha*

            OP, I totally agree with Slow Gin Lizz. You shouldn’t stay at a job where people are bananapants jerks! As Alison often says, it could warp your senses of what’s normal and do a lot more damage long therm.

            Even though it is not great to leave a job after a few months, is not a dealbreaker either. (And it’s perfectly normal to leave a job where people are bananapants jerks AND you’re underpaid)

    4. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Women are socialised to be demure and discreet, not candid!

      My macho boss called up a former intern to see if she would be interested in a position, and she said “yes if it pays well”. He was furious, because he only ever hired women, fresh out of uni, because he could lowball them. Of course, she knew what the work would be like, having already worked with us (interns did get real experience with us, in that they worked just like employees, just with more supervision than for a fully-qualified new hire). I understood her comment to mean that she was now fully qualified and would no longer be interested in what she was previously paid as an intern.

  2. Goose*

    I did a “the job wasn’t was was presented to me and I’m underpaid” when looking after six months, and the HR rep understood–plus my resume showed I wasn’t a job hopper.

    1. OP*

      I’m coming to realize that the first half of your answer (“the job wasn’t what was presented to me”) is in the category of probably the best kind of answer to the “why looking to leave” question. Alison lists a bunch of possible answers that can work, if they’re true; and a bunch of them are variations on “current job not currently what I set out to do”:

      * “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 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.”

      (All of these copied and pasted from )

      And… guess what… All of these are similar or adjacent to my current situation. I was hired to do a great project that required skills X, Y, and Z, things that I do well and enjoy. Then the money for that project dried up after less than a year (and so it was declared to be “done”). I’ve been kept on to try to do less-compelling projects, which require skills A, B, and C– not things that I have aptitude for or background in or even really want to learn.

      I’m now thinking that I can just talk about how my job has changed into being less of a good fit, interest-wise, and leave aside the subject of money, at least initially. Much more fruitful, conversationally, to open up discussions about what I like doing and why.

      1. Cheshire Cat*

        In my last job search, I said something along the lines of “I’ve grown as much as I can at my current job without becoming the library director” (which I didn’t want to do anyway) and then pivoted into why I was excited by the position I’d applied to. It seemed to work, as I received two job offers. (This was pre-recession; the library job market has changed quite a bit since then.)

        1. Ace in the Hole*

          This is exactly what I’ve done in my most recent job search (and also got multiple offers). I mostly said something like “I’ve grown as much as I can at my current job,” or “I recently finished my degree so I’m looking for new opportunities.”

      2. ThatOtherClare*

        This is a great idea, because it conveys that the primary driver behind your move is to find a role that’s better aligned with your skills and interests than your current job. You’re presumably only applying for roles that fit this description, and if they’re hiring you they’ll be doing so because they’re happy that the role is aligned with your skills and interests; so they won’t have any reason to fear you moving on again quickly out of job dissatisfaction.

        If they’re not happy to hire someone who might move if their role changes too much much, they won’t hire you – but you wouldn’t want to work for them either, it seems, so that’s perfect.

        The subtext is “There’s nothing bad about my old job, but this work seems more enjoyable to me.” Or in schoolyard speak: “You guys seem really cool, can I come join your game?” The nice kids are always happy to let the friendly new kid join when there’s a space.

      3. Ron McDon*

        Also – you don’t need to be honest about why you want to leave your current job!

        I’ve recently been job hunting because one of my co-irkers does whatever she likes, pushes her work onto the rest of us, and her team lead seems to be frightened of managing her appropriately and having difficult conversations with her. But at a job interview, I wouldn’t say this is the reason I’m looking to leave, as it isn’t whet interviewers want to hear!

        I feel that perhaps you’re believing you need to be completely truthful when you’re interviewing- and generally you do! – but not when you’re explaining why you’re looking to leave your current job. That’s an opportunity to give an answer about something that’s lacking in your current job and how new job excites you because of X – but it makes you a more appealing candidate if you can make it seem like something specific about the job drove you to apply, rather than just the higher pay.

  3. Justkim*

    The last time I faced this question, I told the truth: I loved my current job, but it was with a small firm. I had maxed out the salary they were willing to pay me in that role, and there was no opportunity for growth into a different role that might pay more. I was too young and too good at my job to be stuck at that salary level for the next 30+ years.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I like this answer because it shows you’ve tried to tackle the salary issue. OP isn’t just being mercenary about salary (which is fine – I certainly am) but it’s also helpful for a reviewer to know you will raise issues, be somewhat patient while they’re being worked through, and negotiate reasonably, since as A says you could always find a better paying opportunity and they may worry you’ll be someone who bounces the minute they do.

    2. penny dreadful analyzer*

      “lack of growth opportunity” is a great phrase because it can mean stuff like room for promotion or skill-building or expanding your responsibilities, but it can also mean “they won’t give me more money,” because in theory more money is supposed to come in tandem with all those other things.

      1. MCMonkeyBean*

        Yeah, I think I’d tack that onto one of Alison’s script. Probably something like “I like a lot of things about my current job, but frankly our salaries have not kept up with the market and there’s not a lot of opportunity for growth.”

    3. Immaterial*

      I also usually use looking to grow. particularly since you just completed a new degree, you might mention using those new skills.

    4. Annie*

      Yes, I have done something similar. I moved on from an employer where my area of practice was a very, very small part of what they did, so I was a one-woman show and took on all related responsibility. It would be true to say that the salary wasn’t keeping up with that, but more interview-friendly consequences that I mentioned in interviews included not having colleagues to learn from or bounce ideas off of, not having the ability to expand my skills to apply to larger projects or different kinds of projects, and also just wanting to be in an organization that sees this area as valuable.

      From the OP’s letter, it sounds like it could be truthful to say that her current organization doesn’t prioritize her functional area. One symptom of that is the salary, but I bet there are other symptoms that would be reasonable to talk about, too. OP, if your organization isn’t interested in paying any more to folks in your area, is that also coming across in their funding for professional development? For keeping your area up-to-date in the current best practices? Investing in technologies, methodologies, something else that shows they aren’t the best place for someone who wants to grow in your industry? With your new degree, I’m sure there are lots of things you are excited to get to try, and are currently in an organization that doesn’t see the value.

      1. OP*

        OMG a resounding “HAH HAH HAH” to all these questions. I’ve found it really hard to not stagnate here.

        * Being told that the budget for going to conferences is really, really, really tight (I am going to one conference, paying the budget excess myself, and will be beheaded when I get back, since if they spend $1,600 to fly me to a conference I better bring back the moon)

        * They have no idea what up-to-date is– boss just posted to Slack a link to article on best practices, like “aren’t these ideas cool”, and the article dates from 2000 (!)

        * Organization does not prioritize our area, example 1: call IT help desk, they have never heard of our building

        * Example 2: Boss says to Director “this policy makes it really hard to do X” (X being something my group specializes in and what my most recent master’s degree is in) and Director says “why do you ever need to do X?”

        All this, Annie, yes.

  4. I have opinions...*

    I’d keep it vague. Not because I worry it would scare off an employer, but because it might make it easy for them to confidently lowball you. “Oh, she’s making 50% of our offer rage? Drop the offer and she’ll take it anyway.”

    If you really know that all new pay will be substantially more, talk about growth and opportunity, and leave it at that.

    1. Chalk Dusted Facsimile*

      That’s if they assume that they’re your only offer outside of sticking with the current employer, but that’s not typically a safe assumption for a competitive candidate who’s already employed (as opposed to, say, someone who’s out of work and has been searching for a nontrivial amount of time). As long as the job is remote or in a location where there are competitive number of other employers in the same field, I wouldn’t share this concern.

      1. I have opinions...*

        That’s fair. I may be being paranoid in stating that risk. When I’m hiring someone, I wouldn’t use it against them. But I’ve worked with hiring managers who would.

      2. Parenthesis Guy*

        Or if they don’t particularly care whether or not you take the job. I remember interviewing at one place that had a policy of only offering people a 15% salary wage increase. HR wasn’t really connecting to the hiring manager, so they didn’t care so much if you didn’t take the job.

    2. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      You say you’re being paid below market rate. You don’t need to say by how much.

    3. Lauren19*

      Came here to say the same, as I just did this. I was SEVERELY underpaid, but didn’t realize exactly how much until I got an offer worth 65% more than I’m currently making. I said that I was looking for growth opportunities, as I was! There were no salary increase options where I was, so therefore no growth opportunities. But I did not address my low pay because I was afraid to get too deep into a convo for fear of somehow revealing what I was making and having them either think I wasn’t worth more or lowballing the offer. Maybe that wouldn’t have been the case, but my approach worked!

    4. MassMatt*

      Her two references to interviewers knowing her current salary were really jumped out at me. Revealing your current salary basically never helps a candidate–if it’s lower than their range, they can lowball your offer, if it’s higher, many employers use that as a quick way to screen out candidates.

      Get the focus off what your prior/current salary is and onto what it should be for the job you are interviewing for and the skills you bring to it.

  5. Clearance Issues*

    I did “This company offers 0 opportunities for career growth and their pay is out of line with industry standards.”
    It opened the conversations for career growth in the interview and did not shut me down.

    1. Tess of the D'Atabases*

      Yes to career growth! Especially for me since we’re dreadfully understaffed and the likelihood of a transfer within my company is 0. Even if I did transfer, they’d still want me to do my old job + the new one.

    2. Sloanicota*

      I think I’d slightly rephrase as “I’m looking for more opportunities for career growth and to get my pay in line with industry standards” to make it about me being pro-active and making choices, vs seeming to rag on the employer. Annoyingly, I have found that OP is right that even a hint of negativity about current/past employers, even when entirely warranted, goes over poorly for me in interviews, so I’m gun-shy on that point. Much though it irks me.

      1. I Have RBF*

        So if someone said “I fear my current employer is headed for financial difficulties.” would that count as negativity?

        Every employer has issues and downsides. The question is, which ones can you live with and are outweighed by the positives.

    3. Not A Raccoon Keeper*

      I also like how this brings up the industry standard – a hint of ‘so I know what I’m worth, don’t bother lowballing me’ :)

  6. why exactly am I moving?*

    I would say that I’m looking for growth. (Growth in career, pay, skills, learning – all are covered under this)

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      “looking for growth opportunities”
      Truthful and doesn’t specify that your chief motivation for job-hunting is growth of your paycheck.

    2. Annie Nominous*

      I’m writing this down; I have a 1st round interview coming up and while my main issue is that I’m underpaid (and overworked/burnt out/bitter but trying to hide it) the looming issue is that the senior positions in my department currently outnumber the juniors (me) nearly 2 to 1. Growth growth growth I’m looking for opportunities for growth!

  7. DC 18*

    I think you’re reading way too much into your friend’s comments. It’s not that money is a bad reason for wanting a new job, it’s that as Alison says you don’t want to make it seem like that’s the ONLY reason you’re looking.

    1. it's gonna be bye bye bye... oh, wrong song*

      Yeah, if anything it’s just kind of tactless to offer that first and solely as the answer you give. You can definitely work that in, but it’s a) not necessary info for them to have – you’ll negotiate on salary later – and b) not presenting your most sophisticated self in the interview.

  8. HailRobonia*

    I like my job, but it’s not like it’s filling a deep-seated spiritual need. It fills the deep-seated need I have for food, a roof over my head, and healthcare.

  9. Yup*

    Women—and especially mothers who take time off careers to raise families—are so often left behind on the salary curve. I think you can absolutely frame it as money, as in “I enjoy my job, and recently went back for a Master’s so I can continue to learn and grow in our field. Unfortunately, my company has a salary cap that cannot meet today’s wages for my job, so I am looking and excited to grow elsewhere.”

    Good luck. They’ll be lucky to have you.

  10. Lisa*

    LW, if you want some wordsmithing, “I like many things about my job, but I’m looking to bring my compensation more in line with with the industry and with my skills and results.”

  11. Another Ashley*

    Being a woman, especially a Black woman, I wouldn’t disclose that I’m currently being paid less than market rate because some employers would use that info to lowball you and/or they may follow up by asking how much you make or your desired salary. I don’t want to negotiate salary until I know they want to hire me.

    1. Harried HR*

      The flip side to this is…We list a salary range in our job postings, and during the phone screen we ask “What salary range are you looking for to move on from your current company”

      The reason we ask is there are many times candidates apply to a job with a $65k – $ 75k salary range and are looking for $100k+.

      Asking the question stops the process and saves the company and candidate from wasting any more time

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Do you also share your salary range when you ask the candidate for their range, or are you relying on candidates to remember the ad?

        1. Harried HR*

          Typically the conversation goes like this.
          What Salary range are you looking for to move on from your current company
          I’m looking for $100 to $120k
          Well unfortunately the Salary range for this role is $65 to $75k there may be some wiggle room but probably not $30k, does it make sense for you to continue the process or did you want to withdraw?
          99/100 they withdraw

          1. Bored Fed*

            A more appropriate approach — which may be legally required in some places — is to say “The salary range is $65-75k. Might you be interested in a position with that initial range?”

          2. Plate of Wings*

            Yup this happened to me before and I was in the 99% who withdrew of course (no posted range in this case though). It felt really good to be asked this question, have an answer, and get to move on after a 3 minute call! No time wasted!

            Of course it would have been great if they DIDN’T have that limit, but they did, and it would have been really deflating to find that out after one or more interviews.

            I’m in STEM/tech by the way, senior level (but might be mid level at a different company).

            Keep doing exactly what you’re doing! From my point of view, I think this is the best way to be approached! I found what I was looking for and I’m sure they did too, and it was NOT a lowball salary for someone with less experience (which is probably what they found).

            That said, I am not worried about being lowballed because I had a very specific target salary in mind during that time. If someone doesn’t have a good sense of what they should expect, due to position, industry, or experience, this might not feel like it solves their problem. But it seems like the best approach I can think of when there’s a range depending on candidate.

        2. Allonge*

          Um – this is salary, not a minute detail of the job description.

          I would expect candidates to be able to remember it* – not that I would not reiterate it in the phone screen but it’s not that big an ask to recall.

          * Unless the phone screen is not scheduled, then of course it’s not reasonable to expect any particular.

  12. Nosferatu Higgins*

    I try to focus on what I like about the new job, not what’s lacking in the current job. “I want to get more into X skill,” and if necessary “my current role is more oriented around Y skill.”

    My company doesn’t do raises. At all. It’s very stupid but not something I am mentioning as I interview.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I would definitely mention that! That is utterly ridiculous, and someone who has the ability to recognize that and try to get out of there at least is showing some initiative.

  13. DameB*

    I always give the same answer, “I wasn’t actively looking actually, but I saw your job listing and I was so intrigued by this one that I had to apply. I really love XXX about your mission.” Alt: “I love XXX and YY about this company and I’ve kept an eye out for an opportunity to work here.” (edit as necessary for the fiction to fit.)

    1. Sloanicota*

      I admit I do lie like a dog in interviews, which has made it made it awkward when the interview asks “are you interviewing elsewhere?”

      1. Sloanicota*

        Real reason I’m looking: “well, my current job is bananapants and I figure we can’t fit any more clowns in the clown car at this point.” My answer: was just so intrigued by your posting!!

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Hahaha! I actually emailed AAM a few weeks ago to see if she’d be willing to do an “ask the readers” where people post this exact thing: why I’m really looking and what I actually said to my interviewers (in either order).

          Why I’m really looking: we have a terrible lying coworker who doesn’t do any work and leadership won’t do anything about her, plus they continue to pay her salary which is double my salary even though she doesn’t do any work but claim they can’t give me a raise.

          What I said in interviews: I’m looking to stretch my wings and use more of my skills than I use here at my current job.

      2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

        In my opinion, interviewers who ask that question are throwing up a yellow flag. Of course I’m interviewing elsewhere…but how is that at all relevant to this interview? That’s such a normal thing to be doing, so it’s not adding any value to the conversation to confirm it.

        The only time it’s relevant is towards the end of the process, when the hiring manager wants to make an offer but know the internal processes will slow walk it and even then, the question should be, “Do you have any deadlines we should be aware as we (the employer) work through the final internal steps of our process?”

        1. Managing While Female*

          I agree. It’s a weird question and I don’t understand its purpose. I want a job, not a weird, jealous lover who wants me to have only eyes for them.

          1. Boof*

            The most generous interpretation is maybe they have some idea how their workplace compares with others nearby and would be willing to talk about it. Or maybe they want to ask about what the candidate thought about the other places.

        2. TeaCoziesRUs*

          If I didn’t NEED a job badly, I’d be so tempted to return awkward to sender with a blank stare and something along the lines of, “Of course I am…. just like I assume you’re interviewing other prospective candidates. Let me ask you about ___”

      3. nnn*

        Does anyone know why interviewers ask that? What changes for them if you are or aren’t interviewing elsewhere?

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          If you’re a top candidate, it helps them know how fast they should be moving.

          1. The Other Virginia*

            Exactly this. It’s not that you owe them an answer because it’s actually not their business but they figure it doesn’t hurt to ask. They should automatically assume that everyone is interviewing elsewhere and willing to entertain competitive offers. They shouldn’t drag things on for two months regardless but sometimes they do and sometimes knowing that they might let “the one” get away if they take too long is all the motivation they need to fast track the process.

          2. amoeba*

            Yeah, I’ve only ever heard it in that context – like “if you receive/are close to any other offers, please let us know so that we can potentially speed up the process”. Which is good!

      4. Bored Fed*

        Wait a minute there — I’ve always found that dogs are much more honest than humans. They’re not great communicators, to be sure, but what they do communicate is not deceptive.

        1. ee*

          It’s a common saying based on a pun — lying as in telling falsehoods vs lying as in lying down, which many dogs spend a significant amount of their day doing. I also found this to be a confusing figure of speech the first several times I heard it.

          1. Sloanicota*

            I always thought it came from the idiom “let sleeping dogs lie” (meaning, leave well enough alone and don’t go looking for trouble) and then yes is a pun with lying as in telling falsehoods. To be fair, “like like a a rug” is also a phrase with the same underlying (heh heh) pun.

          2. Caramel & Cheddar*

            Similarly, I’ve heard people say “lie like a rug” and obviously rugs can’t literally lie, but they can indeed lie on the floor.

    2. Anon this time*

      My answer was very similar to this in a recent interview (I got the job). Now that I’ve transitioned, I’ve actually found that money is a pretty safe answer to “why’d you leave Big Well Known Employer In A Closely Adjacent Industry?” I actually did love my job and the people I worked with (even my boss!), but BWKEIACAI was and still is a hot mess, and people at my level of the org are going to be bearing the brunt of it for the foreseeable future. I don’t want to say that, especially since maintaining good relationships within that industry is a HUGE part of my new job. People totally understand “I liked my job, but I like this job too and make a lot more money now.” (My industry is notoriously underpaid and a lot of people jump ship for this reason, so YMMV.)

  14. RNL*

    Maybe it’s a bit… I dunno, consultanty, but I always try to spin this kind of question to the positive. “I have really enjoyed growing X skills in my role, and I feel that I’m ready for my next growth opportunity and to level up my career. Your company draws me because [X opportunity exists] [you’re market leader] [I can leverage my skills in a new way].”

    I typically don’t even really disclose that I’m “looking” broadly, but frame it that I’m there for that particular opportunity and am “hard to get”. A recruiter friend once analogized it to hockey trades (we’re Canadian lol) – you get the best deal when you’re succeeding and wanted by your current team. So I try to come across like I’m happy, wanted, etc in my current role but would move for the right opportunity.

  15. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws*

    The downside of mentioning money and only money as your reason is that they may think that you’re looking to get an offer to leverage for a counteroffer. Lots of people do this, and it’s fine, but from a hiring perspective, if you get the sense that that’s someone’s goal, you’re not going to want to invest your time in interviewing that person.

    If you can point to anything specific about the job you’re interviewing for as something that excites and interests you alongside whatever language you use about wanting higher pay, that can help assuage any concerns along those lines.

  16. Lacey*

    Answers I’ve given in successful interviews:
    “I’m looking for something with more competitive pay & benefits”
    “I’ve enjoyed my time there, but I’m ready for a new challenge”
    “The job has changed over time and I’d like to be doing work more closely related to X”

    And after a particularly short stay:
    “When I interviewed it looked like the job was a good fit for my skill set, but they really needed someone who was more experience in Y and neither of us realized that when I started.”

    Ironically, I’ve learned how to do “Y” really well at my current job.
    The previous job just didn’t have anyone to train me to do it!

  17. Adam*

    I think the main thing is that if you appear too singularly focused on money, the company might worry you’ll leave them for someone else if they offer you more money. (You still can do that! But you don’t want them focused on that possibility when deciding whether to hire you.) That’s why Allison’s phrasing is good, because it says that you’re looking for a step up while also sounding like paying a market salary will be check that box for you.

  18. FG*

    The last few times I interviewed in this type of blind application – a long time ago – I said something like, “I’ve gone as far as I can in this organization.” That can mean career ladder or salary or my boss hates me or whatever. NOT that mentioning salary as Alison laid out is a bad idea – those are great. Just another angle

  19. Ben*

    I don’t think “more money” even with the slightly more professional phrasing Alison offers is the right approach.

    It undercuts your bargaining position from the start (“why is she making so little? if her employer thought she was great they would pay more. also, if she’s so underpaid she’ll be grateful for something even below market rate!”) and it paints you as entirely mercenary; as a hiring manager I would expect you to jump ship the second your salary demands (which I have no way of knowing are realistic or reasonable) aren’t being met, or else to be constantly pushy and dissatisfied about something that may be largely out of my control.

    I would consider positioning it as an opportunity for career growth, a way to take your skills and education and apply them somewhere new with the opportunity to learn and grow. I like the framing other people have offered of “for the right opportunity I’m willing to move” and focusing on the pros of the job(s) you are applying to rather than the cons of the one you are leaving.

  20. dear liza dear liza*

    I’ve noticed job seekers often get hung up on the “why are you leaving your current job” question. I think it’s because the decision to leave a job can be fraught and often comes with a lot of emotions (and sometimes trauma), so even when I suggest to those I informally mentor or coach more vague phrasing/spinning it to “why I’m interested in coming to your job”, they resist. It can be hard to shift people from wanting to share their truth.

  21. HugeTractsofLand*

    Wouldn’t using the phrase “severely underpaid” tempt the new employer to lowball on salary? Not even maliciously, just like, “oh, we can probably still interest her for less.” I prefer Alison’s second phrasing for that reason.

  22. Viette*

    I don’t think wanting a change is “vague, mealy-mouthed, [or] roundabout”!

    Obviously in this case you want a change for a clear reason that is socially acceptable to discuss — you want a change because you’re very underpaid — but you can also just want a new job if you feel like you’re stagnating or things are getting boring. Interviewers aren’t trying to get dirt on your current job; they just want to know roughly what’s going on with you and what you expect from THIS job that you’re interviewing for.

    1. Managing While Female*

      Yeah, I think for a lot of people “wanting to tell the truth” can verge unwittingly into “venting about your current employer” which doesn’t play off well.

  23. ticktick*

    “I believe my skillset and work production is worth more than I am currently being paid.”

  24. Tracy*

    I would love to be completely honest about why I left my last job, but employers don’t want to hear that. that it was unacceptable to be making under $20 an hour as a veterinarian because I was salaried. I just make something up about work-life balance.

      1. Tracy*

        I was an equine vet. We work insane hours all hours of the night and day, get paid the least and our work is super dangerous. The practice owners are scratching their heads as to why half of us quit within 5 years. My boss in particular would use any excuse he could find not to pay me anything beyond my $55k salary. Some weeks I was over 70 hours and I never broke $70k/year with $250k in student loans.

  25. Glazed Donut*

    “I’ve come to realize that I’m underpaid for the market given my experience, and my current workplace isn’t in a position to make any budgetary adjustments.”
    “I’m looking for greater opportunities and a chance to grow” (if at least in salary)
    “I’d like to explore new options and learn in a different environment” (or whatever another job may be offering)

    If I heard someone ONLY say they were looking to make more money without any qualifiers, I’d be concerned they’d jump at a higher offer later without much time at the new org.

  26. All het up about it*

    Interviewers aren’t trying to get dirt on your current job; they just want to know roughly what’s going on with you and what you expect from THIS job that you’re interviewing for.

    THIS. So much this. Yes, avoid badmouthing the company, because it’s not a good look (ask past baby 19 year old me how she knows!) But you can be generally honest about at least one reason why you are leaving. And sometimes it’s helpful to the interviewer to determine if you are or are not a good fit. “I’m leaving my old job because they only use lama combs instead of lama brushes and a really prefer to use both.” If the new company loves to use both great! If they only use combs or brushes, that’s something you AND the interviewer need to know.

  27. bamcheeks*

    I think I’d slightly disagree with Alison on this one. IMO it’s very much a match-your-employer thing.

    Commercial organisations which pride themselves on paying a good market wage + bonuses (and which say $competitive in the job as) are very unlikely to balk at someone saying they want more money. If the way they sell themselves is, “wok hard, meet targets and we’ll reward you with mone, they actively want people who are motivate that way! On the other hand, if you’re looking for jobs in the non-profit sector, government, or academic research, they typically expect salaries to be more constrained and the benefits of working there are more like to be work/life balance, the chance to do interesting work, helping people and so on. If you go there and say, “I want to be earning more money”, they might well think, “well, you’ve come to the wrong place then.”

    I think you’re really seeing this as, “tell me why you’re leaving your current job”, but it’s worth remembering that the interviewer is hearing your answer as equal parts “this is why I’m interested in your job” and “this is what motivates me in general”. To you, more money might feel like the biggest part of the package, especially if your current job is actually still reasonably interesting and poor pay is really the biggest problem. But the new employer doesn’t have that context, so your answer can come across as, “money is the biggest motivator for me”, when what you actually mean is, “once I’ve narrowed it down to stiff which is interesting and serves a useful purpose, I’m thinking about money, because that’s what’s missing in my current role.”

    So I would always think it through in relation to the whole message you’re giving to an employer. Personally, I’d always answer this question with no more than a brief sentence about why I’m considering leaving my current job, but then 2-3 things about what is attracting me about their new role, and make sure that matches to the way they portray their company of the kind of opportunities they offer. That’s the impression you want to leave them with!

    1. amoeba*

      “I think you’re really seeing this as, “tell me why you’re leaving your current job”, but it’s worth remembering that the interviewer is hearing your answer as equal parts “this is why I’m interested in your job” and “this is what motivates me in general”.”

      Yeah, I think that’s actually an important distinction. And I’d say being underpaid is a good answer to that part of the question, if they actually ask specifically for that! However, I’ve rarely actually had that question (probably more likely if you leave after an unusually short time or for a seemingly “less attractive” position?) – mostly it’s more “why did you apply for this position while employed at old job”. And yeah, in that case I’d rather talk about what I like about new position, plus some general “looking for a change” (with actual concrete examples, if possible – like “chance to employ skill X” or “work in area Y”).

  28. IT Manager*

    I rarely disagree with Alison but I do here … and I hire a lot (14 so far in 2024).

    of course “what is the salary range for the role” is not a disqualifier. But, if I ask what is making them look (or the corollary what are they looking for in their next job), and the only answer is salary? I would think they won’t stick around if a higher offer comes along (which it always will. The grass always looks greener).

    I’m looking for career goals, scope and responsibilities, skills focus areas etc. If someone mentions salary as another consideration, fine.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Can you ask what their career goals, etc. are then instead of asking a proxy question about why they’re looking?

    2. Epsilon Delta*

      Same. If the only thing you can come up with is “more money,” it pings as a yellow flag and I want to make sure they’re going to be a good fit and not just jumping at the first job that pays more. It essentially sets the bar higher for all their other answers.
      I try to phrase the question as “what’s important to you in your next role?” because it focuses on what’s drawing them to my company or what will make them happy/unhappy in the role. That’s more useful to me than the reason they’re leaving their current job.

  29. EngGirl*

    I think it’s going to somewhat depend on your interviewer. Some people will think it’s crass, some people will think it makes perfect sense and appreciate the honesty.

    I do think Alison’s right and you need to wordsmith it a bit though. Personally I like something like “Company X has been great, but unfortunately there aren’t opportunities for me to move into roles that better suit the more advanced skill set I’ve since acquired.”

  30. djx*

    There are certain fields in which saying you’re looking for more money is very helpful. Commission-based sales is an example. A fair amount of finance jobs. The owner of a restaurant my spouse worked at as a waitress pitched money-making as a reason she should take the job.

    1. S*

      One of my favorite things about becoming an economist is that I no longer have to waffle around money at work. I work for money. I want more money. Obviously.

  31. Parenthesis Guy*

    “I love my work, but we’re severely underpaid for the field.”

    I wouldn’t say that. There are a good number of employers that hear that and think that you’re being paid $50k below market rate so they can offer you $25k below market and you’ll take it because you’ll get a raise. If you tell people that your salary is a joke, that really ruins your bargaining potential.

    I also wouldn’t say that “I could be earning more money”. There’s someone out there that will offer you more money. If I’m an employer that sounds to me like you’re going to leave in a year to try and find something better.

    Your friends advice is better.

    1. Shauna*

      Yes, why would you reveal that they can lowball your offer? Unless you’re leaving after less than a year, just say “ “I wanted to see what other opportunities are out there”

  32. Blue Pen*

    IDK, I guess I don’t really understand why you have to give this specific answer to this specific question. What does it matter why you’re looking to leave your current job? The very notion of you having a conversation with them proves that you’re at least entertaining the idea of leaving because there’s something presumably compelling—actually or potentially—about this new place that’s caught your eye. You should be candid about your salary expectations, absolutely, but I don’t understand why it needs to be framed as a response to this particular question. “I’m looking for a new opportunity” is more than fine; “I’m looking for a better fit,” “I’m looking to do more with my skills X, Y, and Z,” etc., too.

    1. Gilgongo*

      A lot of interview questions are just to see how the person answers.

      my favorite interview question is “tell me about a time you made a mistake,” and listen to what they say. Some people can’t admit that they’ve ever made a mistake! Some people gloss over the mistake and get really into the “And this is what I learned from it” because that’s what they think I want to hear.

      I don’t actually really care about the answer. I have found that the WAY the person answers that question tells a lot about them.

  33. Blue Pen*

    Also, and maybe it’s just the way I’m reading it, but “I could be earning more money” reads as kind of snotty almost..? It shouldn’t be because, hello, get that bread, but it just sounds kind of curt or cutting in my head.

  34. KateM*

    “Salaries are typically 50% more than what I’m earning currently” means “I am earning two thirds of what my field normally pays”, not half.

  35. WhyIsEverythingBananas*

    It’s completely fair, in my opinion, to frame this mostly as a “taking the next step in my career” type move.

    “After being home with my kids for a number of years, I’ve been eager to use my skills in a professional context again. I went back to school to make sure I’m current and have been happy to re-enter the workforce. However, I’m now ready to take the next step in my career.”

    I think that reads as “seeking a raise but also interesting/challenging work” in a way that avoids directly talking about money (if you feel concerned about that) and isn’t tacky or negative about your current workplace.

    Another reason workplaces ask why you’re moving on is to get a sense if there’s something you’re really unhappy with now, that you’d ALSO be unhappy with at the new workplace! So it’s worth including things like “where I work now, I’m very independent, and I’ve learned that I really prefer working in a strong team environment. Can you talk to me about what the balance is in terms of independent work vs. teamwork in this position?” (or you know, whatever it is that you’re looking to move on from). Flip it back on them, make them show you how the position will be a good fit as much as you try to be a good fit for the position!

  36. Anon in Canada*

    Companies that don’t increase salaries to keep up with inflation deserve to be burnt to the ground.

    Companies that don’t give cost-of-living increases, and give “performance” increases that are less than inflation deserve to be twice burnt to the ground.

    During the high-inflation 1970s, salaries were going up too! The same needs to happen now!

    1. Orv*

      Unfortunately, that would incinerate like 50% of companies and 90% of nonprofits and government agencies.

      Government agencies in particular often institute wage freezes when budgets are tight and then don’t make up for it when things improve again.

    2. I Have RBF*


      My last university job only gave “merit” raises, of no more than 3%. They did not give COLAs, and although they claimed to pay bonuses, there never were bonuses. So by the time I left, I was underwater with respect to inflation.

  37. Jake*

    As a hiring manager, I’d want to here, “I like a lot of things about my job, but our salaries haven’t kept up with the market, so I’m looking at what else is out there.”

    It lets me know exactly where we stand in terms of what is important to you, and it allows me to take the track of figuring out what parts of your current job make you like it. This allows me to decide if we offer the same upsides. It really is a win, and it isn’t going to impact how much I offer.

    A vague answer doesn’t help me get to the root of whether or not we’re a good mutual fit, and therefore is pretty much a complete waste of my and your time.

  38. Gilgongo*

    I just interviewed someone I really liked, and her reasoning for leaving her current job was that she was seeing what other opportunities were out there.

    I found this to be a red flag. What if we offered her the job, and she continued to “window shop?“

    It wasn’t enough to not go forward with the interview process with her (on everything else, she was great)… But it was brought up, after her interview, when we were discussing her.

    When I was looking, I always said that I was ready for a new challenge. But, really, it was because my old company basically didn’t give raises or promotions (and a host of other reasons).

    Personally, I wouldn’t find it to be a red flag if somebody said they were changing jobs to make more money.

    1. Sneaky Squirrel*

      I don’t find it a red flag because realistically, everyone should be window shopping if they want to get ahead quickly. It’s the fastest way to get ahead nowadays. But I would probe on it myself. What made them want to see what other opportunities were out there in the first place?

    2. Orv*

      I’m not surprised by that attitude, but I always find it a bit galling that workers are still supposed to be loyal to employers, when employers won’t hesitate to lay them off at the first sign of a slowdown.

      1. I Have RBF*

        Yeah, my loyalty to my employer last as long as my paycheck does. If my paycheck does not meet my ordinary bills, then I have to look elsewhere, even if I otherwise like my job. Mercenary? Probably, but if I won the lottery tomorrow I would be looking to retire.

  39. Archigamer*

    I have been saying that my workplace has no cost of living adjustment and the wages have not kept up with inflation. So far I have had good luck with this but ymmv.

  40. Ashley*

    I’d go for something that doesn’t open the door to asking about your salary history/current pay. I think outright discussing that your current pay is low opens the door for them asking what that pay is, which can work against you (you can try to pivot by talking about what you’re looking for instead but once you specifically discuss that you’re unhappy with your pay, you open that door and could end up getting offered less).

  41. Dovasary Balitang*

    I really wish interviewers would stop asking this question. Balancing answering the question with not speaking negatively of a former employer, as per unspoken rules of interviewing, usually creates a fluff answer. Very rarely do people look for new jobs because cable’s out and they’re bored for the afternoon, but, “I’m trying to leave because a truck driver tried to assault me and management didn’t care,”* somehow reflects badly on the applicant.

    * Yes, this is cribbed from real life experiences.

  42. Sneaky Squirrel*

    So here’s the thing… people tend not to leave jobs for money. As LW says, if they loved their job, the money wouldn’t matter as much. Money is often a secondary issue to a bigger problem. People might SAY money is the reason and if I only had more money I’d be able to put up with X issue, but the other issues are still there. There’s never enough of it to put up with a bad situation.

    LW says that they have skills in a field where salaries are typically 50% more than what what they currently make and that the organization balks at paying anyone in their group more. Perhaps the root of the issue is that they feel their skillset is being undervalued by their employer. They also state career progression which is an extremely valid reason to leave a job. Both are also reasons to expect more money in a future career without saying so directly.

    1. Maeve*

      That’s interesting because money is why I’ve left most jobs, including some that I’ve really loved. I mean, what’s more important to my day-t0-day life than money?

    2. Scarlet ribbons in her hair*

      “So here’s the thing… people tend not to leave jobs for money. As LW says, if they loved their job, the money wouldn’t matter as much.”

      That is SO not true. I once quit a job where I liked my supervisor, my co-workers, and my work very much just because I wanted more money. TPTB had decided that there would be a committee to evaluate all of the employees (approx 85) at the same time to determine who should get a raise and how much. Unfortunately, we were told that the committee was never able to meet, because someone was always out sick or on vacation or on a business trip. We were not told who was on this committee, ostensibly so that we couldn’t bother them by asking, “Hey, when is the committee going to meet?” but so that we couldn’t say that all of them were in the office on such-and-such a date.

      When I found about this alleged committee, I waited for six weeks, hoping and hoping that they would meet (and that I would be given a raise). No such luck. So I started asking people that I trusted what I should do. Everyone, except for one person, said that it was up to me. That one exception said that I should quit, because if I stayed at that company, TPTB would lose all respect for me.

      So I started to look for another job (no, I didn’t tell prospective employers that my motive was getting more money), but I wanted more money. And I managed to find a job that paid more than what I was getting. I gave two weeks notice and said that I was tired of waiting for the committee to meet (just as other people who left before I did). During my last two weeks there, I walked around telling everyone that I was tired of waiting for the committee to meet, and wasn’t it funny that this other company, who didn’t know me from a hole in the wall, was willing to give me more money, but my current company, who had known me for over eleven years and was familiar with my good work, wasn’t willing to give me even a wooden nickel.

      I eventually found out that the company didn’t give out raises because they wanted us to quit (so that they could hire cheaper replacements). Those who didn’t quit got fired abruptly a couple of years later, and then they had to explain to prospective employers that they were fired, even though they had been at the company for years and years (over twenty-five years in a number of cases) and hadn’t heard any complaints about their work. This was in the 1980s, when companies felt free to tell their former employees’ prospective employers that the former employees had been fired. It was years later when it became the norm for a company to merely confirm the starting and ending dates of someone’s employment.

  43. nerdgal*

    I was at a standstill career and pay wise for several years ending in 2001. My boss did NOT take my wishes for a promotion, raise etc. seriously until I made it clear that I would eventually quit if he didn’t. When he asked me why I was so interested in getting promoted, I replied that it would mean significantly more money. He then asked, “Why do you need more money? Your husband has a good job.” After I picked my jaw up off the floor, I said, that’s how for-profit business keep score of who they value. I’m valuable. I want my compensation to reflect that. And that’s how I got the biggest promotion (and raise) of my career. To this day I am convinced that he would NEVER had pulled that crap with a male subordinate.

    1. RVA Cat*

      He actually said that out loud in the 21st century?! Thought that only happened on the set of Mad Men…

  44. Whoa Nelly*

    Just say you’ve gotten some good experience at Company A, and feel it’s time to look for opportunities that have more responsibilities and upward mobility.

    Never say you just want more money. It just looks bad. By default, the given reason someone is looking for a job is usually for a higher position and earn more money. Most people’s next job pays more. It makes it sound as though you don’t care about the job you’re interviewing for or the company mission, and all you want is money. As greedy as companies are, they don’t want employees like that.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      But why is it okay for the company to be greedy, but not for me to be greedy? This is a major failure of capitalism. You are hiring me, not buying me.

      (FWIW, I do agree with your reasoning. But the system we are struggling under is utter crap.)

  45. FL*

    I feel like “I’m looking for new challenges” is the only response anyone ever needs to this question.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, and the new challenge I’m looking at is making more money. Only, I’m not going to tell them that.

  46. Raida*

    Instead of lying with something like Like, “Oh, I just want to see what opportunities are out there for me.”

    I’d go with a combination of saying you’re not complaining about your current job *and* you want more money.

    “Well, I do enjoy my current role and my co-workers but it’s been made clear there’s no appetite for payrises that even keep up with inflation. So I’ve had to decide to be responsible with my finances and look for better opportunities pay-wise.”

  47. K*

    I am a team lead hiring lab-based scientists, in an industry where “we are making the world a better place” mindset is quite common. It is true that we strongly prefer hiring candidates who are passionate about the work they do. It is fine to mention money, but it should not be your only motivation.
    – Why are you looking to leave your current role?
    – I could be earning more money
    – Why do you want to join [our company]?
    – I support company’s mission/ I enjoy [doing a particular type of work]/I would like to continue building up my skills in X/Whatever makes most sense for your situation

  48. Mikey*

    I’m looking to move on after 3 years because my employer doesn’t provide any raises. Is this something I should reveal during an interview? I don’t want it so sound like I’m not getting any pay increases because I’m not a high performing employee.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      You can say that despite your high performance reviews, the company has been unable to offer a meaningful raise. You get the sense that there are cost pressures on the company and it is making you somewhat nervous about their financial stability.

      Entirely reasonable to say.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      You explain that you don’t feel that your high performance is truly appreciated. You’ve been there a while, you are presumably faster and more efficient than when you started, and this should be reflected in your salary.

  49. Project Problem Solver*

    This is me trying to figure out how to tell interviewers why I’m looking to leave my company of *18 years* except in my case it’s because they cancelled all the pre-Covid remote agreements and are forcing everyone into the office AND hotdesking AND forcing an open office plan AND literally none of my coworkers or clients are even in the same city I’m in, much less the same building.

    So I’m trying to figure out why to say I’m leaving the company I thought I’d retire from without saying all of above + “and that all sounds marginally less pleasant than ripping out all my fingernails.”

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I think it is fine to say this. A) it’s entirely true. B) that’s a nightmare, esp. if you’re in a client facing role. C) if the hiring company has the same setup, you don’t want to work for them, anyway. I would say something like “It would be one thing if any of my team were in my city, but I am literally the only person from my team here. That makes me concerned about whether they will decide to move my role to where the team is. It also means that I’m more isolated now then when we were all working remotely.”

      Then pivot to what you DO want in your next role (and weave in stuff that the company wants in their new hire).

    2. Parcae*

      The short version is “unfortunately, my current employer is in the process of making major changes to our work environment that won’t work for me. I’m disappointed to have to leave a job I loved for so long, but I’m excited about your company because…”

      You can provide details if they press. They probably won’t, but you should be prepared for it. The key is to sound very calm about everything. The vibe you want is “generally pleasant and optimistic, but disappointed in my current job.” I really believe that you can say almost anything to interviewers as long as you strike the right tone. Practice it out loud until your story starts to bore you. I know it feels very dramatic to you, but your interviewers are just not that invested. If you can calmly articulate a way the job they’re offering is better than the one you have now, they’ll tick the box and move on.

      1. Project Problem Solver*

        Gods, that is SUCH good advice. I’m immediately going to work on sounding faintly regretful instead of like the incandescent ball of rage I feel like. (None of this is sarcasm, to be clear – that really does help me get my head where it needs to be for interviewing)

        1. I Have RBF*

          Yeah, I started looking when my pre-covid job went from shared offices and cubicles to a very spartan open-plan that prized uniformity over comfort and productivity. I don’t work in sweatshops, which is what it felt like.

    3. I Have RBF*

      Yeah, they are pulling a Vader and changing the terms of your agreement.

      100% in-office in an open plan with hot-desking sounds like an utter nightmare to me – it’s a combination of all of the things I hate about modern office fads.

      I might say “Our working conditions have changed post-covid, and not in a positive manner. Apparently they are under some budget pressure since they are now requiring 100% in-office in a crowded open-plan with hot-desking. I do not perform my best in that environment, and I want to be able to do a good job.”

      If the new company has the same kind of set up, you want to be able to avoid it.

      The whole “slaves in a sweatshop” mentality that is evinced by open plans and hot-desking with no remote is a fad that needs to die. The only way it will is if no one with any real skill with take or stay in those kinds of jobs, IMO.

  50. learnedthehardway*

    If you can, I would sandwich the compensation bit in with what you’re trying to achieve professionally.

    Eg. I want the opportunity to do X and Y / achieve career progression / use ABC technologies – but don’t see an opportunity for that at my current company, due to (insert reason that makes sense – eg. no management openings will come up until the VP retires). Compensation is also a factor, of course, but I mainly want to progress my career / use my full skill set / move into a management role / whatever, in a company where I can really make a meaningful contribution.

    I wouldn’t flag that you’re severely underpaid – you don’t want to get lowballed. If you’re asked your current salary (and in many places you aren’t supposed to be), I would talk about what your salary expectations are.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      If you are asked about your current salary, you should always deflect with “What is your budget for this position?”. Always avoid putting your salary expectations out there, as they could be lower than what the company was considering paying.

      If they really press about your salary, just say something along the lines of “I’d like to make about 10% more (or whatever) than I’m making now.” Deliberately be vague. Make them put a number out there first. You shouldn’t have to step down the salary ladder just to move up the career ladder.

  51. Karyn*

    I disagree that it always sounds complain-y to talk about problems at your current job, too. Obviously wording matters but I’m doing interviews now where two of the people have said frankly there were layoffs and now they’re doing too much work or work that doesn’t interest them. I didn’t see that as complaining, just a reasonable explanation! It’s true you’re not under oath to explain everything that’s going on but it’s also okay to have negative comments about your current role.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yep, totally agree. Jobs and job duties can change and you can end up doing something completely different than what you were hired for. This is a legitimate reason to look elsewhere.

    2. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I think the trick is to turn the negatives into positives. “I’m looking for an environment where my initiative-taking will be appreciated” rather than “I can’t stand my micromanaging boss breathing down my neck”

  52. Mmm.*

    I hate the question of why you’re leaving your job. Why not ask “what interests you about a job with us?”

    There are almost no good answers to the question about why you’re leaving. The main reason I’ve left jobs is because the people there are horrible and/or the leadership is morally and ethically bankrupt.

    That said, I did have one interview where they said “we know how they are, so we likely know why you’re leaving and don’t need to ask.” Stayed at that new job for several years, ha!

  53. MaskedMarvel*

    I took a job 7 months ago because I had to leave the previous one for family medical issues (had to help my spouse).

    It turned out the job was decidedly meh. The company had been very complacent about their core product, and had lost market share.
    I kept looking. When asked about why I wanted to leave, I said they were nice people but it wasn’t growing and mentioned the tech stack. Frequently the interviewers winced when I described it. Nobody seemed to feel it was a bad reason.
    I will say a lot of comments seem to take the view that they have little agency, worrying about being lowballed.
    I had one interviewer mention a number of X. I laughed out loud and said I would need X plus 47%.
    “We could look to meet in the middle? X plus 25%”
    “No, sorry. That’s less than I’m on at the moment. And I’m being underpaid. Look, the amount I mentioned was not an opening position. I literally need that amount to consider moving. I’m not saying I will take it. I may get offered more somewhere else. I’m just saying that if you offer me less than that, I will definitely refuse ”
    The interviewer sighed and said
    “Thev bands are being set by our head office in the UK. They are being ridiculous… they aren’t allowing for the local market… you are a great fit.”
    “Yep. But I don’t have to settle for that salary. You can tell them I laughed out loud.”
    “Yeah, that will be useful feedback.”
    I didn’t get that job. But at that pay, I didn’t want it.

    I got an offer that was very acceptable somewhere else. They offered me the right ballpark immediately, I asked fot an extra 4% and they got back to me 10m later to say OK

  54. Azure Jane Lunatic*

    I think “I don’t really feel appreciated — despite a fantastic annual review, they didn’t even offer a raise that kept up with inflation / the cost of living” would make an interviewer wince in sympathy. And if their company’s annual raises are also that low, you’d have dodged a bad situation if they screen you out for that. You could possibly pair it with a question about what their company’s annual cost of living raises are like.

    You could probably think of other small signs of being undervalued that wouldn’t be happening at a more functional workplace. Especially when it’s the workplace not using the valuable skills that you happen to have worked hard to get. (Though if they don’t need those things, that could be risky.)

  55. Also-ADHD*

    I’ve always just said I’m looking for growth and something that either interests me in the particular job or that I truly am looking for in a new job (the latter requires understanding what you’re looking for beyond just “more money and career growth “ at a granular level). I tend to field this question well, and I think the trick is to not think too much about your current job at all but more about what you want.

    I wouldn’t give away that you’re well underpaid necessarily, unless it’s public knowledge (like when I moved from teaching back into corporate, I was clear that teacher pay was a factor in my decision). And I’d blend pay with growth opportunities if that really is a factor or performance culture if you don’t have high potential/want growth but are a high performer wanting to stay where you are. Something like, “I’m looking for companies with more growth potential, and salary is a consideration in that. My current company doesn’t feel like there’s room for anyone to grow or track anyone for potential, and salary growth seems like it will slow down as well. I know I have done good work and I enjoy my day to day but I need to take care of my own career health too.” Or, if not interested in growing, something like, “I really value a performance culture and have been rated as a high performer consistently, but there’s no financial reward or culture of performance at my current company, and I’m looking for some place that will be recognized more actively. This includes salary but I also want to make sure my career stays on track, my performance matters, and I’m honing my skills.” I try to be way more specific to my actual situation and wants but do things like this to align the answer to values/characteristics I’m looking for in my next company/team/role.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I like this. You’re linking pay rises with increased experience and skills, rather than saying you’re underpaid. You want your salary to reflect your competence, because that’s what drives you. It’s your employer’s way of showing appreciation. So the employer knows you don’t just more want money for the sake of it, but as a reward for better performance.

  56. NoToPayReason*

    Most interviewers want to hear why you want their job. They’re evaluating your answer in that context. Talking about money is risky because it doesn’t provide positives about you. If you say you’ve been lowballed in the past, it either makes them think they can lowball you or might cause worries that they can’t make you happy if they have a policy around how much they can jump your salary (good or bad they exist). They’ll also wonder if you’re going to leave for more pay or if bonuses or raises don’t come through some year or aren’t as high as you like (which happens everywhere at least some if the time).

  57. TheBunny*

    I’ve found that you can pretty much say anything when asked why you want to leave, the focus (as Alison mentioned) is the HOW.

    I recently left my job at a start up due to a micromanager who was so awful the micromanagement made it’s way to abusive in the majority of conversations with her.

    I didn’t want to say that in interviews, so I figured saying the start up was going under would work. And it did…eventually.

    At first I told people I was leaving because the start up I joined last year was running out of money. (Ignore that I was told when I started that the company had more than a year of runway which was a lie.) And it was clear that they seemed to think at least part of this was on me for going to work at a s

  58. Gem-Like Flame*

    LW1: This employee should NOT be managing an intern – she’s not even managing her OWN schedule AND she’s turning in sloppy, substandard work herself! Why on earth would your company put her in charge of teaching an intern how to behave on the job and how to complete tasks well?

    With the best of intentions, your company may have taken the laid-back, we’re-all-adults-here vibe too far. There’s a difference between micromanaging your staff and letting an employee break the most basic attendance rules and produce unacceptable work! This is hurting your company’s responsible employees (who almost surely must be drafted to complete/correct your problem employee’s poor work) and it’s not helping that IRresponsible employee to become mature, accountable and productive, either. For everyone’s sake, please address this ASAP. And please do NOT give her interns so that she can model her scatterbrained behavior for THEM!

  59. TheBunny*

    I’ve found that you can pretty much say anything when asked why you want to leave, the focus (as Alison mentioned) is the HOW.

    I recently left my job at a start up due to a micromanager who was so awful the micromanagement made it’s way to abusive in the majority of conversations with her.

    I didn’t want to say that in interviews, so I figured saying the start up was going under would work. And it did…eventually.

    At first I told people I was leaving because the start up I joined last year was running out of money. (Ignore that I was told when I started that the company had more than a year of runway which was a lie.) And it was clear that they seemed to think at least part of this was on me for going to work at a start up. There wasn’t a good way to say the company lied to me when I joined…

    Then it occurred to me it was HOW I was telling the story.

    I thought about better ways and it dawned on me that the reason I believed the company was in trouble was really relevant…both co-founders left within a month of each other. Tying that bit of info to my concern about the stability of the company all of a sudden made me smart for seeing the writing on the wall instead of an idiot (no interviewer said this but it was implied) who took a job at a start up expecting financial stability.

    So I really do think it’s the how you say it…for me it was giving a reason that showed how something had materially changed at my job. I also had the benefit of it being totally true.

  60. J!*

    Alison, that older link is killing me. “It makes you look as though you’re applying for the job because of the money.” I *AM* applying for the job because of the money. That’s why everyone applies for every (paid) job. To engage in the exchange of work for compensation.

  61. Greg*

    I mostly agree with Alison’s advice, but I also wonder if calling our your current low pay might impact your negotiating leverage. If they know you’re underpaid, they might try to lowball you, knowing that even the lower amount represents a huge bump from your current position and betting that you won’t be able to turn it down.

    If you’re the type of person who can say, “I know my market value is $X and I’m not accepting a job for less than that,” maybe that doesn’t matter. But if you really do feel like you need to get out of your current role, telling them that might make it harder to be paid what you’re worth

Comments are closed.