Job Search Tip of the Week #25 (2018)


How to Ace Your First-Round (or Really, Just About Any) Interview

Think Like an Interviewer – Q19

Of the 19 most commonly asked questions, this is one we’ve heard at every interview: “Why do you want to leave your current position?”

Interviewers ask this question in the interests of cultural fit and employee retention — they want to make sure you’ll be satisfied in your new position and won’t walk out after six months. It’s a win-win for you to be honest!

That said, whether you’ve decided to leave your current company for personal or professional reasons, it’s important to keep your response positive and focused on the future.

Talk about what attracts you to this particular job/company, rather than what makes you want to leave your current one. There are four fail-proof reasons you can give as to why you’re considering new opportunities:

  1. You hope to gain new experience. You could use this reason if you’re looking to specialize in a specific technology or learn a new one: “I’ve learned a lot at my current company, and have had some great opportunities there. But they’re not quite ready to adopt React/Redux and the possibilities of that technology are so exciting, I’m looking to join a team like yours that’s using it now.”
  2. You’re looking for a different challenge. Use this reason works whether you’re changing careers or making a lateral switch. Make your case as to why this move makes sense by identify commonalities between your current job and this opportunity, as well as what you hope to gain in this new role. For example, say you’re looking to leave the technology industry and teach at a local college. You could say that you loved mentoring interns and recent graduates at your current company, and would like to devote more of your time to teaching the next generation of software development professionals.

    Or, say you’re currently a web developer at an advertising agency but interviewing for a similar position within Franklin Sports. You could begin your answer with, “At my current company, I got to work on marketing campaigns and digital experiences for multiple industries including sports & entertainment and consumer goods. I found that my favorite projects were for clients in those two spaces because they have to constantly innovate and come up with new ideas for packaging, marketing and advertising, and communicating their brands. Working at Franklin Sports would give me the opportunity to combine my technical skills and my passion for these two industries…” This is a good start because you’re emphasizing your experience (web development) in a context (their industry) that would be of value to your prospective employer, as well as touching on what challenge you want to tackle next and how the role in question provides that (applying your web development skills to your passions for the industry).
  3. You desire more responsibility. This is the reason to cite if you’re looking to climb up the corporate ladder or to advance in your career, and leads you right into talking about how this position/employer fits into your five-year career plan!

    For example, if you’re applying for a senior software engineer position, you could begin by saying, “My current job has been a great experience, but growth is limited because the company’s small and they’re not looking to hire in the foreseeable future. So, to continue to learn and grow, particularly since I see myself leading a team in five years, I need to explore other opportunities.” Or if the reason you’re leaving is there’s no room for advancement, you could begin with, “The people above me have been with the company for years and are unlikely to leave unless it’s to retire. While long tenure suggests that the company’s a great one to work for — and it is — I realized that I have to look elsewhere if I want to keep growing professionally.”

    Either way you start, could finish with: “This opportunity interests me because at my current company, I’ve been working closely with a junior developer to improve his programming skills and performance, and thus have undertaken additional tasks and responsibilities. I’ve found that I really enjoy mentoring, and am looking for a new position that’ll enable me to further develop my managerial skills. I understand the senior software engineer position here has a few direct reports and collaborates closely with the Director of Engineering, and I think this would be a good opportunity to apply the technical and leadership skills I have now and bring them to the next level.”
  4. You want a change of environment. This is a good reason to use if the reason you’re leaving is related to the company culture, like you’ve been there for a while. For example, maybe you find that you thrive in the fast-paced, ever-shifting environment of a startup, and helped build your current engineering team from the ground up and now that it’s more established, you’re itching to do it all over again. Or, perhaps our company was acquired and/or is restructuring: “The atmosphere of my company has changed since…and I miss…” Just make sure that your answer fits with the culture and work environment of the company you’re interviewing for!

    You can also say you’re looking for a different environment if you’re looking to move away from what’s become a cushy maintenance job: “I’ve been working for my current employer for x years now. I feel I’ve I’ve reached the point where I know the products like the back of my hand and am doing things I’m already really good at. I’m ready to go off autopilot and continue to improve myself. I know right now your team is trying to solve some complex technical challenges, like…”

Again, begin with a brief statement of what you liked about your current employer/ what you learned about yourself, then mention one of the reasons above. Explain that your current employer cannot offer you what you’re looking for, but this role provides an opportunity for growth where you can utilize your skills and strengths while realizing your full potential.

Take this opportunity to share what you’ve learned about your prospective employer and why you’re a good fit for the position and organization. In fact, your response should include answers from these other common interview questions:

Interviewers want to hear that you’re leaving your current job after thoughtful consideration and for a valid reason. So talk about how you’re excited for the opportunity to adapt to change and learn new skills, as well as to apply your strengths to the company. Describe your accomplishments and put this position in context with your career trajectory. And of course, don’t speak disparagingly of your current situation, because that indicates you may not be leaving voluntarily and/or on good terms — and that’ll make the hiring manager think twice about offering you the job.

Remember: Your answer to “Why do you want to leave your current position?” should say enthusiastically “Because I have a lot to learn and offer, and room to grow,” not “Because my current job/boss/company sucks.” Keep it positive and focused on the opportunity at hand!

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