Updated 29 May 2020
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.
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.
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:
"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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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:
“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.”
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.”
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.
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.
In addition to the top 10 reasons above, here are some things you should not say:
Resist saying how unhappy you are in your current role.
Now you can express your reasons for wanting to leave your job, here are some tips for success in three vital contexts.
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?”.
Your interviewer is asking the ‘reasons for leaving’ interview question to discover:
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.
“Why did you apply for this position?”
“What are your expectations for your next role?”
It is vital to give your manager valid reasons when informing them you want to leave your job because:
Here are some tips for telling your current employer you want to leave:
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:
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