How to explain why you're leaving your current job in an interview

It’s inevitable. If you’re interviewing for a new job, chances are you won’t get too far into the process before you hear something like, so tell me why you’re leaving.

This question seems to make a lot of people nervous, but unless you’re leaving under severe circumstances, I don’t really think it needs to. As a recruiter, I’m looking for a few different pieces of information when I ask this question:

  1. Are there any red flags? Basically, what kind of risk are we taking by hiring you?

  2. Are you unhappy and, if so, why? If you’re leaving to get away from something (a job you don’t like, a manager you can’t stand, even a commute that you’re tired of), I want to make sure that you’re not just going to find yourself in the same situation here.

  3. How do you approach this topic? It’s perfectly understandable that you may have some negative feelings or resentment toward a job or a company that you’re leaving (whether on your own or involuntarily), but I want to see that you’re a professional and that you’re leaving on good terms. This is not the time to complain about everyone you worked with or how your boss is a major micromanager. Save that for girls' night. 

A lot of people ask me how they should answer this question, and the first rule of thumb is to be honest - always, always, always. And start with the positive aspects of your experience.

The culture and mission of the company are incredible, but I’m really ready to move forward in my career and unfortunately the opportunities for advancement just aren’t here right now.

I have a lot of respect for the work that my manager does and the expertise she brings to the team, but unfortunately we don’t see eye-to-eye on management style. I’ve found that I work best in a more structured environment, so that’s what I’m really looking for in my next opportunity.

What if you’ve been laid off?

Working at X has been an incredible experience for me, but unfortunately our office is being closed (or there’s been a change in strategy and my role has been impacted). Now I’m taking this opportunity to find my next great fit and I’m so excited to be speaking with you today.

What if you were let go?

I definitely understand the concern around this one, but again, be honest. I promise it will come back to you at some point if you’re not, so have the uncomfortable conversation now and show how you’ve learned from your mistakes and are moving forward.

Unfortunately, I was let go from this position. I thought the role would be a better fit than it was and I was unable to perform the work as it needed to be done. I respect the company’s decision and we parted on good terms. I’m excited to move forward and find a role that is more fitting for my talents and skills.

Depending on the situation you’re in, this can be an uncomfortable question, but prepare yourself to address it head on with truth and poise and you can’t lose.