How To Explain Your Reasons for Leaving a Job
Updated July 31, 2023
A pair of hands holds a box containing items like a clock, a pencil cup, notebooks, a plant and a clipboard. There's also a list with the title "Common Reasons for Leaving a Job" and these items:
- Moving to a new city
- Looking to grow in your field
- Interested in more challenging work duties
- Ready for a change in environment
- Changing careers
- Laid off or let go
- Hoping to receive higher compensation
- Wanting to work with new management
- Looking to work in a different industry
One of the most common questions interviewers ask is, “Why do you want to leave your current job?” Hiring managers want to know why you’re leaving so they can learn more about what’s important to you in a job and how you handle undesirable situations.
In this article, we review the most common reasons why people leave or consider leaving a job, what you should say to a hiring manager when asked why you left or want to leave your job, what not to say to a hiring manager and tips for handling this question during an interview.
Why employers ask why you want to leave your current job
Employers ask this question for several reasons. Mostly they want to understand your career goals, the kind of work environment that you're seeking and the kind of work that you find fulfilling. They also want to see if you're on good terms with your prior company and whether you'll be a good fit for their company and the new role.
What’s a good reason for leaving a job?
There are several ways to answer this question, so take time before your interview to prepare a thoughtful answer that will give your interviewer confidence about the decision to hire you.
No matter the reason for leaving your job, ensure you respond to this question tactfully. A hiring manager who's asking this question is trying to determine what you may be looking for in your next opportunity that you didn't have previously. They may also hope to identify your preferences to ensure you're a good match for the role.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
Here are a few examples of how to answer, as well as some tips on choosing the best option for you.
“My values no longer align with the company's mission.”
“I’d like additional compensation.”
“The company I worked for went out of business.”
“I feel undervalued in my current role.”
“I’m looking for a new challenge.”
“I want a job with better career growth opportunities.”
“I had to leave due to family or personal reasons.”
“I don’t like the hours at my current job.”
“I decided to relocate to a new city.”
"I want to change career paths.”
"I decided to go back to school.”
"I personality didn’t align with the company culture.”
"I want to pursue a better opportunity.”
"I had to leave for health reasons that have since been resolved.”
"I was laid off/let go.”
"I wanted to work in a different industry.”
How to explain your reasons for leaving a job
Here's some guidance on how to answer the interview question "Why do you want to leave your current job?"
1. Be clear about your reasons for wanting to leave
Take time to write down all the reasons you’re looking for a new opportunity. If you’re not sure t what your reasons are, consider the following questions to help you get started:
What are your values?
What are your career goals? Where do you want to be in five years? 10 years?
What are your needs in a workplace environment? What do you need in a job?
What do you like about your position? What do you dislike?
What are your relationships like with coworkers? Managers?
What industry do you want to be in?
Are you passionate about your company’s mission?
Does your current situation align with these answers? Why or why not?
After you’ve written your answers down, circle a couple of key reasons you want to give in your interview. You should select reasons that stand out as professional rather than personal. For example, you may be looking for a new job because of a recent life change such as a marriage or move—these are not the reasons you should lead within the interview.
2. Keep your answer short
Though it’s important to fully answer your interviewer’s question in explaining why you want to leave your job, keep your response to around one or two sentences. Then, point the conversation back to why you’re the best person for the job.
3. Stay positive
Even if negative experiences have informed your decision to leave a job, it’s extremely important to find a positive way to explain your desire to move on.
Employers want to hire employees whose positivity increases morale. Find a way to positively frame your rationale for leaving, even if your reasoning for leaving was due to a negative work culture or other concerns. As an example, instead of indicating that you witnessed unethical behavior, you might say that your values were no longer in alignment with the organization's.
—Genevieve Northup, MBA, SHRM-CP, HCI-SPTD
Employers want to hire problem solvers who can work through difficult situations. Focus on the skills you learned in your current role, good relationships you may have built with your coworkers or positive interactions you had with customers or stakeholders.
4. Be honest without being too detailed
When answering this question, you don’t need to go into all the details. If you find your current job unsatisfying, there is always a way to share that without disparaging your current employer (tips on this below). Keep your answer focused and short, and move the conversation back toward why you are excited about the opportunities ahead of you.
It’s important to keep in mind that the company you’re interviewing with may contact your previous employer, so what you’ve told them should be in line with what they’ll learn in those conversations. If you’re unemployed, be honest about that situation as well. If they get in contact with your previous employer to confirm start dates, salary range or get a reference, this could hurt your chances of getting the offer if you’ve provided different information.
What you should say as a reason for leaving a job
There are many reasons you can and should explain why you’re looking for a new opportunity. As professionals grow in the workplace, there is a natural flow from one job to the next as people seek out new learning opportunities, career development, new environments and other factors. Let’s look at a few examples of good reasons you’re looking for a new job:
1. “I’m looking for career growth.”
Depending on how companies are structured, some may provide more opportunities to grow than others. It might also be challenging to change teams or departments if you’re looking to grow in a different direction. The desire to move to a new level in your career is a common reason for leaving a job. Here’s an example of how someone in this situation might explain why they’re leaving:
“I love my role and coworkers, but I’ve come to a point where there are no longer growth opportunities on my team. Can you tell me a bit about growth opportunities for this job, and what the company does to develop employee careers?”
2. “I want to change career paths.”
It is increasingly common for people to explore several different jobs and careers in their lifetime. Whether you want to go back to school, change industries or pivot what you’re working on, changing careers is a great example of why you may want a new job:
“I’m looking for a new opportunity that doesn’t exist at my current company where I can develop and expand my account management skills.”
3. “I want to pursue a better opportunity.”
Perhaps you’re looking to leave your job because you simply have a better choice. Whether that means your work environment will improve, you’ll get better pay or the new company’s mission better matches your values, it’s reasonable to seek out a new work situation when a better opportunity comes up:
“Though I’ve learned a lot at my company, from my research about this opportunity, I can see that this position is a better fit for where I want to take my career—specifically, collaborating with cross-functional teams to develop innovative products for your users.”
4. "I left to pursue an advanced degree."
Potential employers understand that not everyone can juggle a full-time job with education goals. Leaving a position to attain a degree, especially if you're switching industries, is a common reason and shows that you're invested in your career goals.
"I enjoyed my role as a legal assistant but felt I would find more challenging opportunities if I completed the educational requirements for a paralegal. Going back to school full-time allowed me to complete my studies more quickly and keep my long-term career goals on track."
5. "I was offered a job by a former colleague."
If you were contacted by a former colleague and referred to a position at their company, this shows the hiring manager that you get along with other employees and you understand the value of networking.
"I had been at my job for three years and felt I had advanced as far as the role would take me. I had stayed in touch with a former colleague so when a new position became available at their company that seemed tailored to my skills and goals, they were quick to recommend me."
Related: The Complete Guide to Networking
6. “I was let go/ laid off.”
This is a reality for many people and can understandably be a cause for anxiety when it comes time to explain why you’re looking for a job. Take some time to prepare your answer and follow these guidelines:
Be truthful without going into unnecessary detail
Avoid using the word “fired” if you can
Explain what you learned from the situation
Direct the interviewer toward why you’re a good fit for the position
Here are two examples:
If you were let go: “In retrospect, I understand my former employer and I had different expectations about what success meant in my role. As I reflect on that experience, I realize there are some things I could have done differently. I learned a lot, and I’m excited about the opportunity to bring that maturity to my next job. This role is in line with my skills and abilities, and the direction I’d like my career to take.”
If you were laid off: “Unfortunately I was impacted by a company restructuring that resulted in a loss of 15% of our employees. In the meantime, I’ve been thoughtfully considering my next move, reconnecting with my network and researching opportunities. I’m excited about this position because it exemplifies the parts of my past work I enjoyed the most and will position me in the direction I’ve always wanted to pursue in my career.”
These are just a few of the many valid reasons you should explore new opportunities. If you’re unsure about what your answer may communicate to interviewers, try to get feedback on your reasons from trusted friends or mentors.
What not to say as a reason for leaving a job
After you’ve thoughtfully listed out your reasons for leaving a job, the next step is to consider how an interviewer might interpret your answer. Here are a few examples of reasons that might not present well in an interview, and a few alternatives if any of the following are on your list:
"I don’t like the company."
There are positives and negatives in every company, including the one you’re interviewing for. Take a moment to think about why you don’t like the company you work for, and use this to craft a more positive, clear response.
“At my current organization, I’ve expanded my professional skillset and built great relationships. Recently, it became clear to me that I need motivation from a strong mission while continuing to grow professionally. The mission of your company to serve underrepresented communities is something I’m excited to work on.”
“I’ve been working on my communication and collaboration skills when it comes to facilitating large, complex projects. The opportunities to grow that expertise are limited in my current role, so I was excited to learn about this opportunity, where collaboration and transparency are mentioned as important components of the job.”
"I want more pay."
Think carefully about whether this is the reason you want to share—it can be interpreted by interviewers in a number of ways that can be hard to predict. If you decide it needs to be addressed, try framing it in a way that focuses on the larger topic of incentives and your motivation to take on challenging work that comes with big rewards:
“I’m motivated by a lot of factors, and client satisfaction, as well as peer and manager approval, are at the top of the list. But compensation is also a motivator for me and I’m excited about the opportunity to sell a product I’m passionate about, exceed my targets and celebrate when I’ve surpassed my goals.”
"I’m bored at work"
This reason for wanting to leave likely comes from dissatisfaction with the work you’re doing in your current role. Often, this means that you’re doing work that doesn’t fit with your skills and abilities or isn’t challenging. Try explaining this with a response based on the skills and opportunities you’re seeking:
“I’ve learned a lot in my current role, but I’m looking for an opportunity that provides more challenges as I continue developing my skills and abilities.”
“While I’ve gained important skills in my experience with this role, like communication and time management, I want to focus more on honing my leadership and writing skills. I’m excited that this role provides more opportunities to grow those skills.”
"I don’t like the hours at my job."
If the hours and flexibility of your next job will play a significant role in your decision to accept an offer, this may be a good detail to share with your interviewer. However, the way you frame this response is crucial. You don’t want to come across as someone who isn’t willing to work hard. Instead, give an answer that positions you as a responsible and mature professional who knows how to manage your time well:
“I know that I do my best work when I have a healthy balance between work and life. The commitments I make to my managers and colleagues mean a lot to me, and I plan my days around following through on those commitments efficiently. It’s important to me to work for a company that values my ownership of my schedule and allows for flexibility when appropriate.”
Related: How To Quit a Job the Right Way
More tips for how to explain your reason
No matter your reason for leaving a former job or wanting to leave your current job, there are some common things to keep in mind:
1. Avoid negative language and stay as positive as possible in your phrasing.
2. Don't mention prior conflicts with colleagues or managers.
3. Don't offer unnecessary details but do offer a simple and concise explanation.
4. Keep your answer focused on your career goals, whenever possible.
How to handle follow-up questions
Depending on the way you’ve answered the question, your interviewers may have follow-up questions, such as:
“Did you try to pursue this position at your current company?”
“How did you try and resolve those issues before deciding to look for a new role?”
“How do you plan to prevent miscommunication about expectations in your next role?”
Consider these as you complete your answer, and develop a few ideas for what your answer may look like for follow-up questions. Remember: Leaving a job for a new opportunity is very common. It's likely that your interviewer has also left a job so they will be able to understand your position. Be clear on your reasons, plan your response and continue directing the conversation toward why you’re the best person for the job.
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