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May 24, 2010 7:32 AM   Subscribe

How do I answer the "Why do you want to leave your current job" question during interviews?

I was recently promoted to a management position that I thought I really wanted and actively pursued. Now that I'm in that position, it's horribly unmanageable and makes me want to die. I went from an hourly employee to a salaried manager and into a position where my workaholic boss schedules me 20 of 21 days in a row including very early mornings and weekends, calls late meetings that extend well past midnight, work 12-14 hour days, harasses me via text and email and voicemail in my little time off. I got the titled position two months ago, but have been working in position since the holidays and it wasn't like this before promotion. I mildly loathed my employer for the few years that I've worked there, but I haven't been in a position to up and quit and still am not (financially speaking).

So, I think I've come to terms with quitting. It will be better for my sleep, health, and marriage if I do.

However, I wonder how I should appropriately answer the "Why leave your current employer after several years for an all new job?" question without seeming like I'm lazy/overly demanding/a quitter, etc.?

Also, it won't really be a "career" change, like from doctor to teacher, or something similarly drastic. I'm looking to move from my current position to an office position that will provide me with more stability, regular hours, less stress on my health, and time to spend with my husband. It doesn't really matter what I'm doing; I just need to break ties with my current employer and move on with my life.

What's the most successful way you've pitched leaving one position for another during the interview process?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (23 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
my workaholic boss schedules me 20 of 21 days in a row including very early mornings and weekends, calls late meetings that extend well past midnight, work 12-14 hour days, harasses me via text and email and voicemail in my little time off

"My previous position did not allow me to have a good work/life balance". If pressed on details, describe some of the above in an objective fashion (i.e. don't call your boss a workaholic).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:35 AM on May 24, 2010


You wrote your own answer really

"my workaholic boss schedules me 20 of 21 days in a row including very early mornings and weekends, calls late meetings that extend well past midnight, work 12-14 hour days, harasses me via text and email and voicemail in my little time off."

If you want to put this into more palatable terms, you can say you're looking for a job with better boundaries that gives you a better life/work balance, where you could predictably be home by midnight and not get harassed by your boss who did not share your life/work balance ideas. Really, it's your story to tell, they're not going to ask your boss "did you really make Anonymous work past midnight?" and I can think of very few jobs where willingness to be on-call and hassled like this is a necessary requirement. In most jobs, having normal boundaries for this sort of thing is considered a good thing. Only you know exactly what line of work you're in, but I think you're not in a lot of danger of being considered lazy or overly demanding for not finding this to your liking.
posted by jessamyn at 7:37 AM on May 24, 2010


The traditional method for answering questions like this is to highlight the appeal of the new job by pointing out that those very appealing things are missing from your current job. So you might say things like "I found I really missed having direct contact with customers" or "At this stage of my career, being responsible for myself and my job seems like the best way for me to have reasonable work/life balance" or "I found that the chaos of a rapidly-changing company was more stressful than I imagined". Having a good answer will be especially important if you're stepping back from a management to a non-management position.
posted by DrGail at 7:48 AM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


I just hired someone to work 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week, with late night meetings, and constant harassment via text and email. That is, however, industry standard.

The above answers are good, but if that is how your industry is it might be time for a career change.
posted by munchingzombie at 7:51 AM on May 24, 2010


The traditional method for answering questions like this is to highlight the appeal of the new job by pointing out that those very appealing things are missing from your current job.

I think this is the best answer...and unfortunately even if its not true what they want to hear. Same with where do you see yourself in 3 or 5 years question? If you dont tie up to the position you are applying you'll not get it.
posted by The1andonly at 7:58 AM on May 24, 2010


I think that an even more palatable way to put if would be to say that your current department is understaffed, and you'd like to join a team that is more fully staffed, so that your schedule is more manageable and predictable.

At least, that's how I would do it.
posted by Citrus at 8:12 AM on May 24, 2010


There's a golden rule on interviews:never, ever say anything bad about your last employer. Never indicate that you're leaving for reasons of dissatisfaction. It sends up red flags that you're a complainer. If you talked about "a better work/life balance" in an interview with me, I would be concerned that you are not particularly dedicated or might be unmotivated. Unrealistic and undeserved, I know, but employers are highly sensitive to unspoken messages in interviews. It is their one chance to prevent themselves months or years of a potentially problematic employee. They leap on the smallest things.

So couch everything in positive terms. You have a history of being promoted and taking on more leadership. You have tremendous experience on the front lines/with customers, and your interest in the field is drawing you on. You are ready to explore different aspects of your field, be in closer touch with strategy or behind-the-scenes efforts, contribute your understanding of day-to-day operations to the administrative support side, etc.
posted by Miko at 8:20 AM on May 24, 2010 [5 favorites]


There's a golden rule on interviews:never, ever say anything bad about your last employer.

Bingo. What I have been told by a friend who interviews and hires is to emphasize your desire to grow. Think back to when you were dating, would you want your date to tell you that the reason he wanted to see you was because his last girlfriend was too clingy and he was sick of it? Probably not. On the other hand, I bet you'd find it complimentary if they stated they wanted someone who was independent and assertive. Carve this job's description out of your old job and emphasize that you want what this job offers and not what the last job lacked.
posted by griphus at 8:26 AM on May 24, 2010


Seconding everything that Miko said. Never say anything but positive things about your previous employer. Talk about how the new position is attractive to you and about how its a pull to the new position rather then a push from the old. Its also fine to talk about wanting to stretch yourself trying something new/different, stress you're seeking personal growth in a new direction.

I focus on reasons why a person left their last job(s) when I see an employment history of many short tenures at different positions. This is a pretty big red flag that if I hire them they either won't stay very long or that there is some fatal defect. Thus I dig into why they moved from position to position to try and understand what was going on. If I see a long stint (for example >5 years) at their last employer then I'm not going to care that much why they left. 5 years is a long time and sometimes it's just time to try something new.
posted by Long Way To Go at 8:32 AM on May 24, 2010


It sounds like your current job has irregular hours, is that correct? You could spin it as "I've been able to handle the challenge of an irregular schedule, but I think I perform best in a more structured environment."

Additionally, if there's something you'd like to learn, or if you have strengths that you could bring to the new job but don't really have the opportunity to use in the job you're leaving. Phrase things in terms of what you're looking for and not what you're looking to get away from.
posted by Metroid Baby at 8:48 AM on May 24, 2010


Hmmm... Speaking as someone who interviews people for positions, if you only say positive things about employers where you're have or are voluntarily quitting the position then as as interviewer I know you're lying!

Just say "I don't like working 10 or more hours in a single day." Will that prevent you from getting the job? Yes, but you didn't want that job because you'd have worked 12 hour days there! Will that prevent you from getting an 8-hour a day job that never requires overtime? Of course not, the interviewer can then see why you're quitting and why you are not a risk for quitting the new job.
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 8:57 AM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


TeatimeGrommit makes a valid point. By which I mean it's one I agree with.

You should be as honest in an interview as you can stand/afford to be. I don't mean you should slag your former employer - it's unprofessional, borderline childish, and I assume that if you speak that way about them that you'll someday speak that way about me. But if you have things that are important to you then you should be as up-front about them as possible.

In a perfect world you're looking for find a flawless match between your goals and your employer's goals. I think of it as a broken plate theory - nobody should be claiming to be perfect, but you hope to find a situation where your jagged edges match up with theirs and makes a seamless fit.

Obviously that's an ideal and it presumes you can afford to pass up jobs that aren't right. Most of us can't afford to be completely picky. Sometimes you're in situations where you can't afford to be at all picky. I once took a job that practically prevented me from having to dumpster dive for food, so I'd have put up with almost anything.

Getting to your exact question, I personally would use some variant of the phrasing "I was moved into a position there which was overtime-exempt and the culture was that 60+ hour weeks with highly irregular schedules was the norm. That wasn't right for me - I'd prefer to be closer to 40 hours weeks and keep more typical business hours, on average." You can reassure as much - or as little - as you like that you don't mind the occasional overtime or that you don't mind odd hours. For me, with my priorities, I'd probably say "After about six months I felt that the compensation and satisfaction I was getting there didn't match up with working doubletime and never being able to have dinner with my wife."

That's me, but personally I am very much a believer in being as close to myself and as honest in an interview as I will be once I'm in a shop 40+ hours a week. I don't want to be faking it 1/3 of every day, so putting on a face/attitude in an interview that I'm not prepared to wear in the workplace if I get the job is important to me.
posted by phearlez at 9:32 AM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


"Never say anything bad about a previous employer" ignores two facts: the interviewing company has a position they need to fill; and that your resume has a long list of accomplishments with increases in responsibility.

A lot has to do with rapport in the interview itself, but I've never had any problems in (e.g.) describing the distasteful changes in a previous employer of mine where the founder had sold the company to the VP Sales. For me it's a way to describe my appreciation for standards of business and the kinds of companies I want to work for. Companies with positions to fill are looking to be the kind of company a qualified person would want to work for, after all.
posted by rhizome at 9:38 AM on May 24, 2010


Just say you wouldn't leave your current job, but you've always wanted to work at this new company.
posted by anniecat at 9:57 AM on May 24, 2010


No, honesty is not the point of an interview. An interviewer appreciates honesty, but it doesn't get you the job.

An interview is a sort of artificial situation, and is really about problem-solving. How do I solve this particular problem: presenting myself in a good light, which is reflecting how I would solve the sort of problems I would encounter in this prospective job.

There is a stock answer to the original question:

"I would like to leave my current job in order to explore new opportunities..."
Then you add a personal spin to it. You could even imply that your current job is not challenging enough.
posted by ovvl at 10:04 AM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


On the other hand, I was more likely to hire someone who was brave enough to tell me the truth (especially if they did it without sounding like a whiner). I needed employees that I knew were not going to blow smoke up my ass.

And, FTR, I always found a way give my TRUE reasons for leaving in a manner that was not nasty towards my previous employer. I always got hired.

However, don't rely on that. Most employers are not like me - most people WOULD rather you knew how to blow that smoke (especially if you'll be working with clients!)
posted by _paegan_ at 10:53 AM on May 24, 2010


I just hired someone to work 12-14 hour days, 7 days a week, with late night meetings, and constant harassment via text and email. That is, however, industry standard.

In what industry??

Telling the truth (they are asking me to work too many hours and not respecting my off time) tells them what your expectations are for employment.

My rule: if a prospective employer falls for obvious bullshit, they are bullshitters and I don't want to work for them.
posted by gjc at 11:50 AM on May 24, 2010


That question doesn't mean "Please list all the things wrong with your current employer." Even if they are manifold. Really, it's a test of your emotional intelligence to see if you hold grudges or if you have the capacity to handle problems with discretion when necessary. If you are super positive and give the impression that there's absolutely no conceivable reason for you to leave, that makes you look like you don't know the difference between discretion and transparent lying, which is also a fail.

One classic dodge is to point to multiple reasons: more challenging work, making sure you staying competitive, you've been there for X years and you're ready for a change, shorter commute, looking for further opportunities for advancement, etc. As a man, it doesn't reflect negatively on you to say you want more regular working hours because you have a wife and kids. The implication is that you need that time for other obligations, not to spend more time with your video game collection. But maybe for a woman, this might be interpreted as signaling that work is not your top priority. If you said you wanted to work more regular hours so that you could get your master's degree at night, that might play well. The main thing is to not imply that you think of work-life balance as work vs. play, but work obligations vs. life obligations.

If you do imply negative things about your employer, you should emphasize that the situation couldn't be helped. You made efforts to address the situation, but because of 100% understandable and unavoidable constraints on their part stemming from the economic cycle, the nature of the business or whatever, and despite both sides making every possible effort, you were unable to reach a reasonable accommodation that suited both parties. The great temptation you want to avoid is using the interview as a time to get some emotional validation for a shitty situation you were in.

One other issue I'd be concerned about is listing your new title in your resume. If it comes out that you were promoted 2 months ago and now you're quitting, that definitely raises a red flag. You might consider leaving that part out, and instead stress that you were taking on management responsibilities in your previous role.
posted by AlsoMike at 11:57 AM on May 24, 2010 [2 favorites]


I had a great deal of luck with "it got boring, I'd been there 5 years and wanted to get back in the creation phase from the nursing-along-the-successful-product phase." But it really depends on your role, industry and locale.

I've been a hiring manager. To be honest "work/life balance" tells the person you're talking to that you want to cruise even if you're not; companies in general are looking for people who are easy to get along with and manage above all else, and whether or not it is unhealthy or healthy that kind of focus telegraphs troublemaker.
posted by rr at 12:35 PM on May 24, 2010


"My current job requires me to work 84 hours a week, and I'm looking for a job that will allow me to work closer to 40-50".

I doubt that'd hurt you in an interview. I would think that any company that rejects you based on that comment would just be a job you'd end up qutting two months after getting hired anyway.
posted by Vorteks at 1:38 PM on May 24, 2010


I somehow managed to come up with this during an interview (a miracle since I'm more of a planner and don't think too well on my feet).

"I am not finished with everything I set out to do in my current position, but opportunity doesn't always come when it is convenient."

Then I went on to describe what I found particularly interesting about the position i was interviewing for.
posted by getmetoSF at 1:51 PM on May 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


I emphasized that I was looking to develop my skills in a different direction, and that I felt that $POSITION would more effectively play to my strengths. I stressed that I enjoyed my job, but felt that it was time for me to move from my current department and responsibilities to avoid the silo effect on my career.
posted by winna at 4:43 PM on May 24, 2010


Really, it's a test of your emotional intelligence to see if you hold grudges or if you have the capacity to handle problems with discretion when necessary.

That's exactly right and well said. Interview questions are often not about the questions - you're probing for trouble spots.
posted by Miko at 4:51 PM on May 24, 2010


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