How to Answer {Why Are You Leaving Your Current Employer?} in an Interview

by Laura McMullen

Here's a last-minute, panicked prayer the Interview Gods have heard a million times:


Please, have the interviewers ask me about my brilliant solution to their company's branding problem.

Have them ask me about my greatest professional achievements.

Have them ask me what I thought about the latest Matt Damon movie, because I have some theories that will blow them away.

But, please, I beg: Don't let them ask me about why I'm leaving my terrible job. That one's too tricky.


Unfortunately, no amount of wishing or hoping or praying will get you out of this common interview question. It's too important a query for employers, who ask it to gauge how risky of a hire you are, writes Tony Beshara in "Acing the Interview." In other words: If hired, will you stick around for a while, or will you quit or be fired six months in?


"The answer to this question is one that will immediately end the interview process for you or enhance the rest of it," Beshara writes. Instead of crossing your fingers for the latter outcome, follow these tips:


Never, ever, ever bad-mouth your current or former employer. "Even if you were miserable, save it for happy hour – don't dump that in the interview," says Mary Ellen Slayter, Monster's career advice expert and founder of the marketing company Reputation Capital Media Services. "If you bad-mouth the previous employer to me, I'll assume you're going to bad-mouth me to your next employer."


Be honest. OK, maybe don't choose the I-was-a-lazy-jerk-so-I-got-fired degree of honesty, but never lie about being fired. In fact, that's about the worst thing you can do, Slayter says. More on discussing the firing later, but in general, follow Slayter's advice: "Tell me that it happened, and be as factual and as unemotional about it as you can."


Remember that it's not all about youDiscussing how your current or former position didn't provide opportunities for growth, for example, is fine. But avoid answers that revolve around your wants. "If you communicate self-oriented answers like, 'I need more money,' 'I want a better title,' or 'I'm going nowhere in my present firm,' you'll be dead in the water," Beshara writes.


Practice your answer. Practicing for interviews is (hopefully) a no-brainer, but Slayter points out that this particularly tricky answer warrants lots of rehearsing. "You really want to come across as best you can as nondefensive and open and self-aware," she says. "You don't want to clam up or start sweating at this question. Assume they're going to ask it, and have a good, positive, future-oriented answer."


Still not sure how to formulate your answer to "why are you leaving your current company?" or "why did you leave your last job?" Below are a few sample answers for various situations.


If everything is fine at your current employer, or if you left your former company on good terms:

"This is the easiest situation in which to keep it positive," Slayter says. So, go ahead, speak well of your current or former employer, and explain what interests you about the position for which you're interviewing. You could even tell your interviewer about how you learned about this opportunity or about a particular aspect of it that sparked your interest, Slayter adds.


If you loathe your current job or former employer and position:

In this situation, the advice to "be honest" and "don't bad-mouth" in your answer can seem contradictory, and pulling it off requires some soul-searching ahead of time. First, try to muster up a kind, true statement about your employer. Then, consider what you've learned from this disappointing work situation. Bonus points if you can loop in why the position at hand will be a better match. Slayter gives the following example: "I learned a lot at this company, and I appreciate my time there. However, while I was there, one of the things I learned about myself is that I just don't work well in a remote environment. So, I'm really looking forward to a position where I'm in the office every day and get lots of face-to-face time with my co-workers."


If you were fired from your last job:

Again, reflect on what you learned from the experience, and plan to work those lessons into your answer. "I don't need you to sugarcoat it for me," Slayter says. "I want to hear what you learned and why you are going to be a better employee now than before you got fired." While explaining the situation, use "nonemotional, nonjudgmental language," says Andrea Kay, career consultant and author of "Work's a Bitch and Then You Make it Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful," in a U.S. News article explaining what to do if you're fired.


Answering with maturity and grace will likely send a big message to interviewers, Slayter says: "This is a person who has dealt with adversity – and they're still standing; they didn't fall apart."


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