- Low salary
- Poor management
- Looking for better work-life balance
- Inflexible work schedules
- Insufficient benefits
- Limited advancement opportunities
These are all valid reasons. Some of them may even resonate with you. But before you quit your current role, you’ll need to consider which reasons will hold up in an interview for your next gig.
Your new employer will want to know why you are leaving your current job. Some answers will bode better for you than others. Whether you mean to or not, your response says something about your beliefs and values as a worker. And that helps hiring managers determine whether you’ll fit into their company culture.
Thankfully, every interview question is an opportunity for you to put your best foot forward. This one’s no different. Let’s look at how you can make this question work for you.
Why do interviewers want to know?
Of the five Ws, “Why” is probably the most intimidating. When a question begins with this word, it can sound accusatory, putting you in a defensive position.
But there’s a reason “Why do you want to leave your job?” is a common interview question. Potential employers want to know:
- Whether you have a good reason for leaving a job. There are good and bad reasons for leaving your current company. Hiring managers want to know if you left voluntarily or if you were let go, and if you left voluntarily, why. They also want to make sure you’re not a job hopper who’s going to quit in a few months.
- What you want in a new job. Your answer will help the recruiter understand what motivates you and what you hope to get from a new job. They want to make sure your wants align with the company’s needs and if you’ll fit in well on that team.
- That you’re serious about your job search. Interviews take a lot of time and energy. Recruiters want to make sure you’re serious about changing jobs and not casually exploring your options.
This job interview question isn’t meant to be a trap — they just want to know more about you. They may also use alternate phrasings like:
- “Why are you looking to leave your current position?”
- “Tell us about why you’re looking for new opportunities.”
- “Why did you decide to start looking for other jobs?”
6 best responses to “Why did you leave your last job?”
Answering “Why are you leaving your current job?” requires self-awareness and tact. You want to be honest, but you don’t want to make your previous employer look bad. There are plenty of good reasons to leave a position, so focus on those. Here are some rationales that managers tend to view favorably:
- Looking for more responsibility and career growth opportunities. Managers love employees looking to learn new skills and take on new challenges. If you feel you outgrew your last job, say so. This is your chance to expand into a new role.
- A career change. Sometimes a job or industry simply isn’t a good match. Trying new things doesn’t make you fickle; it indicates that you’re curious and value meaningful work. Explaining your career plan and professional goals are great ways to endear you to your interviewer.
- Company restructuring. Your company culture might have changed or be restructuring, leading you to worry about recent or potential layoffs. In your interview, highlight how you’re adapting to a changing work environment — even if it doesn’t pan out in the end. This is your chance to demonstrate resilience in the face of adversity.
- Work-life balance. Something may have changed in your personal life, prompting your new job search. If you’re starting a family, you probably don’t want to work 10 hours per day at a busy startup. Or maybe you don’t have a new family, but you can’t keep putting in so many extra hours. It’s okay to seek balance; just be up-front about it.
- Relocation. Moving to a new city might require you to find a new job. Whether you’re looking for a fresh start or following your spouse abroad, you might not have the option to work remotely — especially as organizations switch to hybrid work models.
- Personal reasons. It’s possible you’re leaving for reasons you don’t want to share. In these cases, you can keep your answer vague while justifying your departure. For example, If you’re applying for a part-time role, you could say: “Some personal factors in my life have changed, and a full-time position is no longer the right fit.”
Need help crafting your answer? No problem. At BetterUp, we can help offer career advice to land your dream job. One of our coaches can review your work history, identify your skills, and help put you on track toward acquiring that new position.
Watch out for these landmines
A strong interviewer should put you at ease. They want you to feel comfortable so you can show what you have to offer. But if you relax too much, it’s easy to fall into a disgruntled spiral of negativity or be much too casual. As a job seeker, here’s what to avoid when discussing the conditions of your departure:
- Complaining. Even if you left your previous job under poor circumstances, avoid casting your workplace in a negative light. This only makes you seem bitter and resentful — qualities that will work against you in an interview.
- Bad-mouthing a manager. You might not have agreed with your boss on everything, and that’s okay. You can be truthful but remain tactful. If your previous supervisor micromanaged you, explain that you appreciated their investment in your work, but you ultimately want more autonomy. Show your interviewer that you left on good terms despite your differences.
- Using a boilerplate answer. Your response should always tie back to the job for which you’re interviewing. Don’t just say “It wasn’t the right fit.” Say something like, “My current job doesn’t allow me to flex my skills as a writer, so I’m looking forward to the creative components of this role.”
- Citing money as your main reason. A higher salary could be your primary reason for leaving a job, but you shouldn’t mention it to your interviewer. If you bring up money right away, you’re telling them you don’t care about the work as much as your paycheck. This red flag could cost you a job offer.
The hallmarks of a perfect response
Your response to “Why are you leaving your job?” should follow three main principles:
- Be brief. You don’t need to linger on this question for long — a couple of sentences is enough. The interviewer might ask you to expand on some things, but you don’t have to volunteer more information than necessary at first.
- Stay positive. We already addressed this, but it’s worth mentioning again: never bad-mouth your current or former employer. Word travels fast in some industries, and you don’t want a reputation as a trash talker. Focus on your skill sets, what you learned, and what you’re looking forward to.
- Be truthful. People constantly leave jobs; there’s nothing wrong with pursuing better opportunities. As long as your reasons are thoughtful and positive, you’re in good shape.
Let’s see what these principles look like in action. Here are two strong explanations for leaving a job and why they work.
“I really loved my two years at X. My goal is to lead a team of passionate, high-performing workers, and I was able to do it temporarily as acting manager during my boss’ maternity leave. When she returned, I returned to my previous role. We’re a small team, so there’s no room for me to lead anymore.
That’s why I’m excited about this job. It’s a chance to take charge of exciting projects with inspiring people. I love the work your company does, and I want to play a central role in it.”
Why it works: This answer hits all three marks: brevity, positivity, and truthfulness. You showed gratitude for your previous employer but explained why the job is no longer the right fit. You then turned your attention to the future, explaining how your new opportunity fits your career path. And you showed why their company is the place for you to do that.
“When I was hired as a graphic designer two years ago, I was told I would play a central role in the company’s rebranding initiative. But with the recent change in leadership and organizational priorities, this long-term project was put on the back burner. In the meantime, I’ve compiled all my rebrand ideas for when they’re ready to proceed.
I’m grateful for everything I learned and the support of my team. But when I saw you had an opening for a creative lead, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to immediately take point on a larger project.”
Why it works: This answer is brief and focuses on your own ambitions rather than the shortcomings of your current employer. You also highlight that you didn’t hang your team out to dry — your ideas are there when they’re ready. This shows maturity and a commitment to your workplace, despite any potential disappointment from reprioritizing.
Be prepared to keep it simple
It helps to thoroughly prepare and rehearse your answer to the question, “Why are you leaving your current job?”
Ideally, you would already have a clear reason. If you don’t, you might want to step back and create a Career Matrix. This is a self-reflection tool that will help you figure out:
- Why you actually want to leave
- What excites you about this new position
Even when it feels tough, you have a professional reason for leaving your job. You just need to frame it properly. If you aren’t passionate, challenged, or supported at work, you might want a change.
Once you’ve sorted that out, you can easily condense your thoughts into a concise answer. Then you can rehearse it before your job interview, making sure to hit the right notes. As long as you’re brief, honest, and positive, you’ll knock it out of the park.