It’s the interview question we all dread. The one where everyone tells you, “Be honest but don’t be too honest.” That question is: “Why do you want to leave your job?”
There are many valid reasons why you might want to leave a job. And, although your potential new employer will understand your desire to move on, they will still want to know your reasons.
- Before You Start
- Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job
- Things You Should Avoid Saying
- Explaining Why You Want to Leave a Job
- Final Thoughts
- Further Reading
Before You Start
The purpose of this article is to help you express your reasons for leaving in a way that will satisfy your current and prospective employers. Therefore, before reading the top 10 reasons you might want to leave your job, make your own shortlist of reasons (however vague they may be). Keep them at the forefront of your mind as you read on.
Top 10 Reasons for Leaving a Job
1. You Are Looking for Opportunities to Progress
For example, you feel you have outgrown your position. Employers will like that you are proactive enough to look for new opportunities, so long as you:
- Mention specific career goals – such as a desire to take on more responsibility.
- Appear motivated – Do not imply that you didn’t progress at your last job because you didn’t chase any opportunities.
- Don't badmouth your previous employer – never imply that they were holding you back.
"Although I enjoy my current role, I am looking to accept a bigger challenge and move into a position that allows me more space to develop professionally.”
“I got passed over for a promotion. I’m fed up with people barely even noticing I exist.”
2. The Company Restructured or the Dynamics Changed
Companies grow and evolve, and internal dynamics change as a result. Acceptable answers for leaving a job will focus on the positives of the situation. Try not to appear resentful or suggest that you were unwilling to try and adapt.
“My team recently downsized and the scope of my responsibilities narrowed. Although this was necessary for the company’s new direction, I think it’s time for me to pursue opportunities which better fit my skill set.”
“My old manager left, and my new manager is useless.”
3. You Weren’t Enjoying the Work
An employer will be impressed by your motivation to find a career which you enjoy and which fulfils you. After all, a satisfied employee is a productive one. Just make sure you don’t blame your lack of enjoyment on your employer.
“Although I appreciated the opportunity, after reconsidering my long-term goals, I decided I want to pursue a career in social research instead.”
“I don’t like the job because my manager only gives me boring tasks to do.”
4. Personal Reasons
Family and health always come first and are good reasons for leaving a job. But remember, you do not have to disclose your health problems or disabilities to your employer if you don’t want to. Therefore, be as vague as you like.
“I had family issues which required me to move closer to home.”
“I have to leave this job because of health issues.”
“I decided to be a stay-at-home parent to my children. Now they are in school, I am ready to re-enter the workplace.”
5. You Decided to Pursue Other Goals
Alternative goals might include a total career change, or a return to school to gain further qualifications.
These reasons are acceptable, but make sure you are always focusing on your professional development. For example, if you left your last job to travel the world, focus on your discovery of different cultures, and the life lessons you learned along the way. Don’t focus on the nightly beach parties you attended in Thailand.
“I decided to take a bit of time to re-qualify in social care as this is where my passions lie.”
“I wanted to take a year out to travel so I could learn more about the world. I now want to use what I have learnt in my future career as a teacher.”
“I inherited some money from my grandparents so I decided to just have a bit of fun for a year.”
6. You’re Self-Employed or a Part-Timer Looking for Full-Time Employment
Whatever the reason for becoming self-employed or going part-time, a prospective employer will be interested in your decision to return to full-time work. To satisfy them, always give positive reasons for returning.
For example, if you ran your own business which subsequently failed, focus on your entrepreneurial spirit, what you learned from the experience, and how you can bring your new skills to a full-time job.
“I pursued my own business for three years. Unfortunately, the market down-turned and the business became untenable. Despite this, I have gained valuable skills, such as the ability to manage my time well, which I now want to bring to a full-time role.”
“I tried to run my own business but I wasn’t making any money so I have had to look for a full-time job.”
7. You Want More Flexibility
Perhaps you work odd hours and are looking for a more traditional nine-to-five job. Or maybe you have family responsibilities that mean you need a flexible employer.
This reason needs to be phrased carefully to avoid making you sound unreliable. When applying for jobs:
- Ensure you recognize the employer’s need for a dedicated employee.
- Emphasize your ability to manage your time well.
- Emphasize that you aren’t avoiding responsibility, but ensuring you can balance the demands of your job and your personal life.
“My previous job didn’t allow the flexible schedule I needed to care for my children and focus on my work.”
“I don’t really want to work so many hours; I’d rather be at home.”
8. You Were Offered a Better Opportunity
Unless you are job-hopping every few months, leaving one job to take up a better opportunity at another company is never a bad thing.
You don’t need to embellish your reasons. A good answer may be, “A great opportunity came up that I wanted to accept.”
9. Your Current Job Requires You to Travel Too Much or Transfer
A respectable employer understands that a good work/life balance is essential to maintaining happy, productive employees.
“The company is closing its head office and moving to [far away city]. I was offered the opportunity to transfer. However, my family and I would prefer to continue living here.”
"My company sends me abroad for two weeks every month against my will, and it’s tearing my family apart.” – This answer is bad because it pushes blame onto the employer.
10. You Were Laid off or Fired
Remember, you do not have to disclose to an employer that you were let go from a previous job. However, if you are directly questioned in an interview about how your previous employment ended, it can be difficult to side-step the issue. Sometimes honesty is the best option, though always put a positive spin on the situation.
- You were laid off. If you were laid off, the reason was related to the company rather than your performance. For example, the company downsized or restructured. Ensure you mention that you left the employer on good terms.
Good answer: “Unfortunately my team was absorbed into a larger one and my position became redundant. However, my former employer will be happy to provide a reference.”
- You were fired. If you were fired, the reason would have been related to something you did. For example, your performance was not reaching the expectations of your employer.
When expressing this to a prospective employer, do not lie or criticize your employer. Instead, accept any mistakes you made, and explain how you learned from them.
Good answer: “Shortly after I was hired, my responsibilities progressed beyond my experience level. Although I relished the challenge of learning on the job, I appreciate my employer required someone with more expertise. I am therefore looking for a role which better suits my interests and skills.”
Things You Should Avoid Saying
In addition to the top 10 reasons above, here are some things you should not say:
- Do not criticize your employer.
- Do not get defensive. Your interviewer is only trying to get a feel for the kind of employee you might be.
- Avoid using unprofessional words such as ‘boring’, ‘annoying’, or ’tedious’ to describe a previous job.
- Avoid using company politics as a reason for leaving. It can be taken as a criticism of your previous employer.
Resist saying how unhappy you are in your current role.
Explaining Why You Want to Leave a Job
Now you can express your reasons for wanting to leave your job, here are some tips for success in three vital contexts.
1. Your Job Application
In addition to a resume and a cover letter, many companies also require you to fill in a formal job application, which might include the question “Why do you want to leave your job?”.
- First, ensure your answer is consistent with the rest of the application. If you answer a question on career goals with, “I want to pursue a career in sealife conservation,” do not later say, “I left my last job because I hated rescuing turtles”.
- Second, keep it brief, but ensure you can expand on your reasons in your job interview. The job application is often a jumping off point for your interviewer’s questions. Don’t say you left to pursue other goals if you don’t actually have any goals to discuss.
- Finally, focus on your professional development, skills and career goals rather than your previous employer’s shortcomings.
2. Answering the Interview Question “Why Did You Leave Your Last Job?”
Your interviewer is asking the ‘reasons for leaving’ interview question to discover:
- Whether you left your last job for the right reasons. Your interviewer wants to know that you will be a loyal, dedicated employee.
- Whether you left of your own volition. If you were let go, your interviewer will try to gauge whether you had any performance issues that might affect you in this job.
- Whether you are on good terms with your previous employer. If you are, this suggests you are adept at maintaining relationships.
Follow-up Questions to Anticipate
Depending on your reasons, your interviewer is likely to ask you some follow-up questions. For example:
“Did you try to resolve the situation with your employer before leaving your job?”
Here your interviewer will want to find out whether you resolve conflicts proactively and professionally.
- Ensure you do not blame your issues on your previous employer.
- Give specific examples of how you tried to resolve your issues. For example, “I discussed the possibility of moving to a role within the sale team with my manager. However, no position was available. My best option was therefore to pursue other opportunities.”
“Why did you apply for this position?”
- Do your reasons for leaving your last job coincide with your application for this job?
- For example, “I am prepared to manage larger projects than are available at my current job. I applied for this position because I would be taking the lead on four to six major projects a year”.
“What are your expectations for your next role?”
- As above, you need to link the reasons for leaving your last job with your reasons for applying for this job.
- For example, you could mention the opportunities for progression, or the opportunity to take on a management role.
3. How to Tell Your Current Employer You Want to Leave
It is vital to give your manager valid reasons when informing them you want to leave your job because:
- You want a good reference.
- Your reputation as an employee could reach the ears of prospective employers.
Here are some tips for telling your current employer you want to leave:
- Prepare thoroughly – Consult your employee handbook and familiarize yourself with your notice period. Write detailed notes of your reasons for leaving so you don’t forget anything. Make an appointment with your manager in a private room so you can talk at length without being disturbed.
- Be honest, confident and direct – Tell your manager directly that you want to leave. Don’t embellish your reasons or act like you don’t have a choice but to leave. It is better to say, “I’ve accepted another opportunity” rather than, “I’ve received another offer. I can’t say no. My family needs to eat. Surely you understand?"
- Be appreciative – Thank your manager for anything you gained from this job, such as specific training or relationships you built with colleagues.
- Don’t burn bridges – Don’t imply you can’t wait to escape the company. You might need to call upon your connections in the future.
- Tie off the loose ends – Discuss how you will manage your last few weeks at the company. For example, if you need to distribute your workload to colleagues.
This article has outlined the top 10 reasons you may want to leave your job, and how to approach the situation in three different contexts. You now have the tools to express your own reasons sufficiently, but here are some key points to remember as you go:
- Keep your answer brief and straightforward.
- Never disparage your employer.
- Make sure your answer is consistent across your job application, interview and when you tell your current employer you want to leave.
- And, most importantly, be honest but positive.
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