“Why are you looking for a new job?” is an interview question that trips up plenty of job-seekers. It seems innocent enough, but there’s no doubt that your interviewer will be scrutinizing your answer.
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This post will teach you how to answer this question when interviewing for a new position.
Why Interviewers Ask It
“Why are you looking for a new job?” is one of the trickier ones your interviewer may ask. It might seem straightforward. However, it’s a multi-faceted and layered question that provides tons of information about you and your motivations.
Hiring managers ask this question for many reasons. One of the biggest reasons is to understand what is causing you to want to leave – relationship with your boss, your satisfaction with work, have you outgrown your work, or other issues. How you answer the question says more about you than it does the organization you’re leaving.
Interviewers want to know what type of employee you will be. Do you run away from challenges or face them head-on? Are you a team player? Do you take constructive feedback well? It’s a nuanced query, but how you frame your answer can give the interviewer plenty of insight into whether or not you’re a good fit.
Providing a carefully thought-out answer is crucial. Hiring managers look for red flags and remember the details they don’t like.
Another reason you’ll hear this question is because companies want to know more about what motivates you. It’s about learning why you’re there and what brought you to this particular position. At the end of the day, hiring managers want motivated and eager people who want to excel at the work they do.
Having a genuine interest in the company or this line of work goes a long way. It indicates that you’re in it to learn and grow. Engaged and motivated employees tend to perform better and stay with a company longer.
“Why are you looking for a new job?” provides all that information in one answer. Needless to say, thinking things through before you answer is very important!
How to Answer “Why Are You Looking For A New Job?”
Given the importance of this question, figuring out how to answer it can seem daunting. That’s why it’s so important to spend some time preparing for this question before you’re asked it!
To help you answer in a way that benefits you, here are some crucial tips to keep in mind.
1. Be Truthful
Honesty is always the best policy. Lying gets you nowhere and could hurt your chances not only with the company you’re talking to now but others you want to work with in the future. Word travels fast, and hiring managers can often determine if you’re skirting the truth.
It’s not always easy to talk about why you left an old job. That’s especially true if you were terminated (here’s a handy guide if you’re not clear on the difference between being laid off and being terminated). But don’t try to cover things up by creating a lie. Be truthful and plan your wording so you focus on how you have taken control of your situation.
All that said, you don’t want to go into too much detail, either! Oversharing can turn off a future employer. For example, you don’t want to say that the only reason you want a job is that it cuts down your commute or that you want to make more money. You have to strike a delicate balance.
A good answer to “Why are you looking for a new job?” will show you have thought through what you are looking for and why you are making a change. It’s truthful, straightforward, and concise.
2. Talk About Your Skills and Capabilities
This question is a great chance to talk about your skills. How? It’s all about linking your experience to why you left.
Maybe you’re looking for opportunities to advance your career. Alternatively, you might have outgrown your old job and didn’t have any way to get a promotion. Whatever the case is, use that moment to highlight your skills.
It’s a good chance to mention what differentiates you from other candidates and shine a light on what makes you the perfect fit for the role.
3. Keep Things Positive
So how do you talk about terminations or conflicts with your past employer? The best approach is to provide a positive spin.
It’s always a good idea to lead with one positive thing about your past employer. Start with that to establish a sense of professional decorum right off the bat. It might be hard but dig deep to find something good you’re taking away.
For example, maybe you learned new skills, or your old position helped you hone existing ones. Whatever the case may be, lead with that.
When you talk about negative aspects of your old job or why you separated from a previous company, highlight the good that came with it. If you were terminated, show how you’ve grown and what that experience taught you.
Everyone makes mistakes, and hiring managers understand that. What’s important is that you grew from that situation and took steps to improve. Focus on that, and you can easily come up with a great answer that bolsters your position.
4. Don’t Point Fingers
Here’s an important tip. It’s easy to lay the blame on others and point fingers. If you’re interviewing with a direct competitor of your previous company, that urge to “talk trash” can be even stronger.
But avoid doing that at all costs. Remember that word travels quickly, and you don’t want to burn bridges. Talking negatively of your previous company, boss, managers, or colleagues can make you come off as petty.
What if you eventually leave the position you’re applying for now? If all you did during your interview was trash your old company, you’re essentially letting the new hiring manager know how you’ll act if you depart in the future.
It’s not a great way to start things off. When you’re asked “Why are you looking for a new job?” it’s best to focus on the positives instead and try to say at least one good thing about your old position.
5. Focus on the New Opportunity
Finally, always find a way to steer the discussion back to this new job opportunity. “Why are you looking for a new job?” is a question about what you are looking for so don’t linger on the past for too long. Find a way to circle back around and guide the conversation toward the job opportunity you are discussing.
For example, you could say that the details in the job description you’re interviewing for sound like a better fit for your skills. Or, you could mention the work culture and say that your capabilities seem like a perfect match for it. Either way, creating that link will leave a lasting impression.
How to Prepare for This Question
You shouldn’t rely on coming up with a good answer in the moment when it comes to this question. Adequate preparation is a must.
The tricky thing about this question is that your interviewer can frame it in many different ways. Furthermore, it can come up at any time. You have to be well-prepared and capable of making little adjustments on the fly to be successful.
Use the tips above to get a general idea of how to answer this question. Choose your words carefully and go over different options. Then, say it out loud and in front of others your respect and ask for their feedback.
Prepare enough to know the basics of what you will say. You don’t have to know your answer verbatim. In fact, rehearsing an answer and reciting it can potentially make you come off as inauthentic. Know your answer well enough to not stumble over your words and get caught off guard.
But during the interview, mold your answer to how it’s asked. As long as you have the core points in mind, you should have no problem sounding genuine and providing a great answer.
Things You Should Avoid in Your Answer
Being candid and relaxed is always a plus. However, there are some things you should avoid saying no matter how well you think the interview is going. “Why are you looking for a new job?” is an interview question that can trip you up if you’re not careful.
Here’s some advice that should help.
Don’t Name-Call or Badmouth
As we mentioned earlier, laying the blame and speaking poorly about your previous employer will never work in your favor. It doesn’t matter if this new organization is a direct competitor or the interview starts talking negatively about your former employer.
Leave any negativity behind and focus on the positives instead.
Don’t Get Into the Finer Details
When answering this question, one huge mistake is getting too deep into the details. Your interview might ask for clarification or want you to talk more about a part of your answer. That’s alright, but you should keep things brief and steer the conversation back to your skills and this new opportunity.
When you start going “off script” and talking about things you didn’t plan for, you might accidentally say something you regret. Be honest and talk about what the interviewer wants, but don’t get too caught up in those finer details that could get you into trouble.
Avoid Talking About Salary
There are plenty of opportunities to talk about salary expectations. Answering this question isn’t the time. Even if your most prominent reason for leaving the previous company is money-related, it’s best to avoid salary talk at this stage. You don’t want to give the impression that your only motivation is money.
Retool your answer and focus on other things. For example, you could say that your skills outgrew your old position instead of saying that your previous employer wasn’t paying you enough.
The only exception is if the interview directly mentions your previous salary. That’s the clear “go ahead” from the hiring manager.
Steer Clear of Lies
As always, never lie! Lying is unacceptable in a job interview, and one of the worst times to lie is when you’re talking about your time at a previous company.
Be honest, even if the truth doesn’t necessarily paint you in the best light. You can adjust your wording and focus on the positives instead.
Don’t Be Overly Vague
Last but not least, don’t even think about providing this answer:
“I just wanted change” or “it wasn’t a fit.”
These answers are too vague. They don’t provide any of the information the interviewer is looking to learn. And even worse, it often sounds like you’re trying to hide something. Another possible issue with these answers is that if taken at face value it could indicate that you’re unpredictable and likely to move on whenever you get bored.
Use our tips above to help you answer “Why are you looking for a new job?”. This question is bound to come up when seeking a new position, so it’s best to have something in mind for when it does.
To help you get some ideas, here are some great example answers.
Sample Answer 1: Looking for New Opportunities
“I’ve worked at my current position for several years and have had many successful experiences. In that time, I’ve refined my management skills through taking on new responsibilities and more intensive projects.
I feel that it’s time to explore new challenges and take the next steps in my career. I’ve followed your company for many years and am a fan of the work you do. I believe that my skills are a great match, and I’d love the opportunity to be a part of your team.”
Sample Answer 2: Ready for New Challenges
“My time at my previous job helped me grow my [specific skills]. For that, I’m forever grateful. However, I no longer feel challenged by my work.
I believe that I’m ready for new challenges. I’m ready to make a difference in another position while growing and developing new skills.”
Sample Answer 3: Addressing Termination
“My goals and aspirations didn’t align with the position. While I tried to make things work, I realized that I was not a suitable fit for my previous job. Being let go was a learning experience, and I’ve taken time to reflect on what is important to me and assess my strengths.
After learning more about your company’s vision, I believe I’m better suited to have an impact here. I’d love to share what I’ve learned and how I can bring the lessons of my previous job to this position.”
Now that you know how to answer “Why are you looking for a new job?” it’s time for you to start practicing!
Devoting time to prepare will make answering this question a breeze and help you make a great impression. When other applicants stumble, you’ll shine!
Hannah Morgan speaks and writes about job search and career strategies. She founded CareerSherpa.net to educate professionals on how to maneuver through today’s job search process. Hannah was nominated as a LinkedIn Top Voice in Job Search and Careers and is a regular contributor to US News & World Report. She has been quoted by media outlets, including Forbes, USA Today, Money Magazine, Huffington Post, as well as many other publications. She is also author of The Infographic Resume and co-author of Social Networking for Business Success.