Careers advice

Tough interview Qs: why are you leaving your current job?

Keep your answer positive.

As you prepare for your job interview, the majority of your thoughts will, quite rightly, be on the role and company you’ve applied to. Your current job will likely be far from your mind.

However, it’s important not to totally lose sight of where you’re coming from. Not only will you need to demonstrate how your position has prepared you for the position you’ve applied for, but the interview panel will almost certainly want to know why you’ve decided to move on.

This can be a tricky tightrope to walk, and there are a few things you really need to avoid saying if you want to give a good first impression while also answering their question. Here are our tips to help get you through.

Answering the why are you leaving your current job interview question: our tips

1. Focus on the job you’re applying for

As we explain below, while this question might sound like it’s about the job you’ve left, it’s actually about you. At its heart, this question is asking “what motivates you?” – what would make you leave one opportunity in favour of another?

There are several reasons why the interview panel are interested in knowing the answer to this question:

  • To judge whether you’d be a good fit: if your answer to this question is that you want more career development opportunities, and they know their role offers none, they might think that you won’t stick around too long. This is why it’s so important to carefully read the job description, so that you can tailor your answer accordingly.
  • To get a measure of your why: companies want to hire people who are going to meet challenges head on and motivate those around them with their energy. If you give reasons like “I’m just looking for a raise”, this will be unlikely to make you a memorable candidate.
  • To understand you as an individual: as well as getting to know you as a professional, the interviewers will also want to know you as a person, to understand how well you will fit into the team you’ll be joining. An idea of what inspires and motivates you will go a long way towards doing this.

Keep things focussed on why the role you're applying is the perfect fit for you.

2. Don’t rag on your current employer

It may well be that you’re leaving your current job because you can’t bear the thought of another day there. This could be for a number of reasons from workplace conflict to being bored with the opportunities your job offers. Whatever the reason, you don’t want to use your job interview to criticise your current workplace. There are three reasons for this:

  • It doesn’t achieve anything: your job interview is your precious opportunity to prove you're the person they’re looking for, wasting that time to vent about your current employer won’t do that.
  • It gives the wrong impression: if you launch into a monologue listing all the things you don’t like about your job, the interview panel will likely start to wonder what you might say about working for their company when you move on from this role.
  • New Zealand is a very small world: deciding to talk badly about your current organisation could well come back to bite you, especially in a country as small as ours, where everyone seems to know everyone.

Talking badly about your current employer could well come back to bite you.

3. Turn negatives into positives

Just because you don’t want to dish on your old employer doesn’t mean you can’t take elements of the real reason you want to leave and present them in a positive light. Here are a few examples:

  • If you’re bored: talk about how you’re looking for more opportunities to learn and grow, and give examples of how this role will help you do this (you can take these from the job description).
  • If you’re not enjoying the social side of work: go into how you’re looking for a culture that’s more aligned with your own values. Companies put a lot of emphasis on their culture, so if you can show that you’ve read up on theirs, and explain why it speaks to you, this will definitely count in your favour.
  • If you're looking for a better work-life balance: spending all hours in the office? You might think this sounds like the kind of thing employers want to hear. In fact, a much more attractive trait is an employee who looks after their own wellbeing so they can offer 100% when it really counts. So telling the panel that you’re looking for a better work-life balance shouldn’t be something to shy away from. Again, refer back to the job ad, and mention specific policies, for example if the organisation offers remote working.