What to tell interviewers about why I'm leaving my job?
November 25, 2014 6:48 PM   Subscribe

I've received a "Performance Improvement Plan" due to poor output and communication problems. This is almost entirely due to issues in my personal life that are resolving themselves. However, at most companies (probably including mine), a PIP is basically a way to build a paper trail before firing someone. While I'm going to work as hard as I can to improve performance, this is probably the time to start looking for other jobs. What is ethical for me to tell interviewers about why I'm leaving my current position? There are plenty of things I can cite that I don't like about this job, but none of them would normally be enough for me to quit.

The PIP gives me about two months to improve my performance or I'll be terminated. I started in August, so depending on if I quit early, that will be 3-5 months at this job. That's short enough that most places will be concerned and ask why I'm leaving.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (18 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
You say that you and the organisation weren't the "right fit" and that the work you were asked to do wasn't something you were comfortable with in that particular context. Or something.
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:49 PM on November 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

"not the right fit", "ready to move on and use my skills in a different way", "wanted more of a challenge ' (if that's true)
posted by bearette at 6:52 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I am of the opinion that you are not ethically bound to tell anyone anything about yourself or your employment history unless you are explicitly asked to do so. So if someone asked you, "Are you under performance review at your current position?" I would not answer that question with a "no" because that's.. well, lying, and it would really suck for you if they hired you and later found out that you lied during the interview. But that's unlikely to happen. So you do what everyone else does: you make up some bullshit story that is honest enough while casting you in a positive light.

It helps if you have some particular thing you are looking for in the new position, and not just desperately scrambling to get out of your current job. In other words, make this about positive career advancement rather than focusing on the fact that things aren't going well at your current gig. That attitude will help you avoid ending up in a bad job as well.
posted by deathpanels at 7:04 PM on November 25, 2014 [11 favorites]

I would cite "company culture". The trick is (imo) to then praise that culture, and then backhanded-ly separate yourself, and your greatness, from it altogether. Whatever it is you decide to say, just don't try to make your current or former work environments sound shitty. Definitely don't say something like, "i'm not one to bash my current employer, BUT [goes on to bash]". Its transparent and backfires every time.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:07 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Feel free to memail me too- I hire and consult on hires for a living.
posted by stinkfoot at 7:09 PM on November 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

However, at most companies (probably including mine), a PIP is basically a way to build a paper trail before firing someone.

This varies and you shouldn't assume it's that way unless there are indications. As a supervisor I've used them both ways, and honestly I think it's usually pretty clear whether we are going through the steps towards dismissal or if this is an attempt to help a valued worker fix some issues. Firing and hiring are huge hassles, so if an existing person can solve whatever is wrong it's both easier and better.

That said, if you do go out and interview, I'd try to give bland but positive answers -- looking for more challenges, things like that, rather than talking about getting written up or about whatever is going on in your personal life.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:12 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

That's short enough that most places will be concerned and ask why I'm leaving.

It's also short enough that various versions of "Bad fit" will be acceptable answers. Something more along the lines of poor expectation setting "They said I'd be doing X but it was a lot more of Y and I'm really excited to do X" or "More opportunities for where I want to be going at this job..." or something similar. 3-4 months is enough for either side to cut their losses so while I agree with Dip Flash that I wouldn't presume this is you on a firing path, I also don't think it's too red flaggy unless your entire work history is like this.
posted by jessamyn at 7:16 PM on November 25, 2014 [7 favorites]

"Not the right fit". Yelling here; It wasn't that you were a bad fit with the corporation but you found their business model to be one that won't prevail in the future. This will be especially flattering to potential employers [and their HR] if you are looking for a job with a company that is a competitor in your current industry.

Be perpared to provide examples. This is really important. My current company "X" seems to be focusing on an area which is less likely to result in future growth. I am looking at employment here because it shows more promise and is focusing on "this" direction. Read up and be prepared to parrot the company line.

Interviewing for a prospective job is quite common even when you are feeling loyalty to the company you have been working for so don't treat this as a desperate act but rather an opportunity.
posted by vapidave at 7:29 PM on November 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think you should focus more on the positive aspects of the company/position you want to join, rather than elaborating too much on the negative aspects of the company/position you're leaving.
posted by Frenchy67 at 8:41 PM on November 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

You know, if you've been there less than six months, you're free to just leave it off your resume entirely. There's no rule that says you have to tell people you're working.

YMMV, I've also heard that it's easier to get a job when you have one, but all things being equal, you could sidestep the question by leaving the current job off your resume. If you left another job to take it, have that be your last job, and just say you've been job hunting for the whole time, which isn't unusual nowadays. As for why you left that one with nothing lined up? You had an exciting job opportunity that failed to materialize.

If you need to keep your current job on your resume, "Not the right fit" is the term you need to use. Be honest and upfront but be sure it give it spin that makes you sound mature. I've hired people before who have said to me, "I knew about three months in that it wasn't the right fit. I'm more of a work-separately-then-come-together kind of guy, and while I work well in teams where everyone has a defined role, the culture there was so communal and already established that I felt out of place. I'm looking for somewhere where my work style is a good cultural fit." As a hiring manager, I do ask a lot of probing questions about fit, culture, and work style to make sure they'll be a good fit on my team.
posted by juniperesque at 9:25 PM on November 25, 2014 [3 favorites]

To the extent possible, avoid saying negative things about your current position or company, not even the "not a good fit" angle if you can help it. Instead focus on whatever job you're interviewing for, the opportunities there that you're excited about. Make it sound like you're not looking for a new job, per se, but this specific job that you're interviewing for was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.
posted by storminator7 at 10:21 PM on November 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

CLAMP.. Challenge; Location; Advancement; Money; Pride... I was once told that these are the only 5 acceptable answers about why you are seeking employment.

I am looking for a bigger/better/different challenge; I am looking for something closer to home; I am looking for a position/company with growth/room for advancement; [I never use the money line so I don't know what to say on that item]; and/or I want to work HERE because I would be so proud to be a part of____ (insert whatever fabu thing the interviewing company is into these days).
posted by goml at 10:27 PM on November 25, 2014 [20 favorites]

Much of the advice given here has been pretty good, but I'd advise checking out the archives at askamanager.org. This is a question that comes up there again and against.

I don't know what your relationship is with your mgmt. It would be good if you could get them to tell you, off the record, whether or not the PIP you're on is an honest attempt to get you back on track, or just a step down the path to letting you go. If you find out it is the latter, see if you can negotiate the kind of reference that you boss will give you. If they want you gone, it's usually easier for them if you quit to go to a new job. Less paperwork for them, you won't be collecting unemployment. So it may seem strange, but you have a small bit of negotiating power here.
posted by doctor tough love at 4:40 AM on November 26, 2014

Can you say you didn't forsee much opportunity for growth and you are looking for a new challenge?
posted by discopolo at 5:21 AM on November 26, 2014

Heh, this just happened to me. Yay! I'm unemployed again.

I too started in August. I've been telling people that it's a temporary gig. Since my boss was pregnant when I was hired, I might mention something about maternity leave. But it's all part of a narrative and I bring it up before I'm asked.

Interviewer: Tell me about your experience.

Me: I started out in high tech sales with the phone company. I was in the industry for 25 years. After getting laid off with 16,000 other folks, I went into Sales Ops. I loved how I could marry my sales experience with my love of data analysis. I was recruited to my penultimate job by an old manager, and then there was a restructure. I was going to find a permanent gig, but this opportunity fell into my lap. It sounded interesting and I decided to expand my skill set. But it's ending, so now I really want to find a position where I can grow and learn and bloom where I'm planted.

Now it's addressed and they can move onto what they REALLY want to know.

There was a whole nightmare behind my leaving, including the fact that there have been 4 people in that position in the past 12 months, and all of my co-workers have been in THEIR positions for less than 12 months. I keep beating myself up about things I may have done wrong, but you know what? I interviewed with 6 people, I never misrepresented my skills or experience and frankly, if someone as awesome at what I do wasn't right for the job....good luck finding someone who is.

I have to work pretty hard at this level of confidence, but ultimately it's the only thing I have that's going to get me my next gig.

I interviewed with the Death Star last week, so everyone say a prayer for me!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:40 AM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]

Never say or imply that you were a bad fit. Never say or imply that there is something wrong with the work you are currently doing or the company you currently work for. Always direct your answer in a positive way that makes you look like you belong with the new company. An answer that makes the interviewer visualize you in the position. It is an old car salesman's trick to never ask a question if the answer could be a negative, and never answer a question with a negative.
posted by Gungho at 6:11 AM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Tell them you moved. Be careful what you say about the company you plan to leave... you never know who might be friends with whom.
posted by hippychick at 3:39 PM on November 26, 2014

Say you're bored of a certain thing, ready for a new challenge, really prefer the new company for various reasons, yada yada yada. Never say anything actually bad about a previous work situation.

It's great that you are looking for a new job. I've known people weather the storm and beat a bad patch, got back to great performance, but still get treated like shit because of an imperfect record, and then they had to change jobs anyway. This is always the time to go job hunting.
posted by w0mbat at 5:50 PM on November 26, 2014

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