Job interview question: Why are you leaving your current position?
May 30, 2017 4:42 AM   Subscribe

I have a job interview coming up this afternoon. I know they'll ask me why I want to leave my current job. I have a possible answer prepared, but I'm having second thoughts about the appropriateness of it.

I'm the sole IT guy for a company of about 100 employees. I'm interviewing for a company that's only a quarter that size. They're sure to ask me why I want to leave my current job, which I've held for almost ten years. I plan to say something like this: "It's been a difficult decision to start looking for other opportunities. I get along well with my boss, and I like my co-workers. And for the most part, I feel like I've been treated well. But I also feel like I don't get enough resources to do my job properly. A hundred people is too many for one IT guy to support. I constantly get interrupted by people who need a new mouse battery, or need their printer un-jammed, or some such thing. Because of these frequent distractions, I find it a struggle to get uninterrupted time to focus on 'big picture' items, like optimizing our backup system, doing test restores, updating documentation, reviewing rules on the firewall, planning upgrades for the networking hardware, etc. Also, we're a seven-day-a-week operation, and I'm always on call during my days off, which makes it difficult to go away for a weekend. I feel like there ought to be at least two people doing my job."

Does this sound like a reasonable answer? I've read that you're not supposed to say anything negative about your current employer, but I don't see any way around it. I've thought of other possible answers, but they're even worse than this one, in terms of criticizing my current company.
posted by JD Sockinger to Work & Money (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm wondering if you could say the exact same thing, but without the explicit criticism of the company. It's not that you don't get enough resources to do your job properly. It's that as the sole IT guy for a company of 100 employees, a big part of the job is un-jamming people's printers and changing their mouse batteries, and you are looking for a job that more plays to your skills, which have to do with the big-picture stuff. You know (and we know, and they may figure out) that the problem with your current job is that they need to hire another person, but you don't have to say it. It's just not the best job for someone with your skills and training.

I don't know the industry, but I probably wouldn't say that you resent not being able to take a weekend off, although I would ask a ton of probing questions about whether you would be on call 24/7 at the new job.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:57 AM on May 30, 2017 [33 favorites]

It sounds like a reasonable answer but a job interview isn't a reasonable situation, it's a sales pitch (on both sides of the table).

Personally I'd just say I'd hit a ceiling due to the size of the company and I was looking for new challenges. Changes in personal circumstances are also good - my boss just got a new job on the basis of "new child, and want a shorter commute". It's a polite fiction. If you must be truthful, cut it down to "I've been on-call every weekend for the past ten years". They can fill in the horror show there.
posted by Leon at 4:58 AM on May 30, 2017 [17 favorites]

Nope. "...and I like my coworkers. I've been there for ten years as the sole IT person and I'm ready to stretch myself and tackle new challenges...I'm specially interested in doing X thing with you. Can you tell me more about that?"

When they ask you if you have any questions, I would ask about resources, daily work life, etc so you don't sign up for more of the same.

Nth interviews aren't reasonable. It's a sales pitch.
posted by jrobin276 at 5:00 AM on May 30, 2017 [43 favorites]

Your "why are you leaving" question should, IMO, almost always be answered with some variant on "I am attracted to [thing] about new job, something I have been looking for but could not find in old job".

They do not, fundamentally, care about your feelings about your old job. You're leaving - that's enough. They want to know if you're going to say character-flaw things, like complain a lot or badmouth your current job or colleagues, and they want to know if you will say any not-culture-fit things. They also want to know what you're hoping for in the new job and how enthused you are, or how well you can convey enthusiasm, anyway.

If I were you, I would talk about the opportunities presented by the new job and how they are things you have been wanting to do. Not "not be on call" (because that says you're not a hard worker, amirite?) and not "not do petty shit that people really should know how to do themselves (because "not a team player").

What will you get to do at this job that you didn't before? You could spin the small-company thing positively, like "deep dive on security issues" or "provide complete support to everyone instead of putting out fires", or you could talk about the genuinely new things at the new place.
posted by Frowner at 5:04 AM on May 30, 2017 [30 favorites]

I think it is always better to be enthusiastic about what you are moving towards rather than try to be polite about what you are leaving!
posted by kadia_a at 5:05 AM on May 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Here is some more info: The job description for the new job sounds almost identical to what I do at my old job. It's actually uncanny how similar they are. So it's hard for me to point to some specific new opportunity I'm seeking.
posted by JD Sockinger at 5:08 AM on May 30, 2017

But the job you're doing is not what it says on paper. "There aren't as many opportunities for big picture stuff where I am, and while I like my coworkers I am really looking to get more involved in updating documentation, reviewing rules on the firewall, planning upgrades for the networking hardware, etc. I believe there is more opportunity for those activities with your firm."
posted by sockermom at 5:16 AM on May 30, 2017 [10 favorites]

Best answer: "Ready for a change" is a bland reason that I respect as a hiring manager, especially if your track record doesn't say flaky job hopper. Even if it's basically the same job, it's a different company so there will be a learning curve and new challenges as you adapt to organizational culture and new colleagues. I get that people get an itch to do something new and it doesn't speak badly of them at all.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 5:16 AM on May 30, 2017 [13 favorites]

Instead of starting with the "difficult decision" part, I would just say it up front: "I don't want to say anything negative about my current company. I get along well with my boss... I've been treated well." Then go on with "The company is fine, but my situation there is not optimal." (Or some better word to that effect.) Then list the reasons, which are all very good reasons. They are such good reasons, in fact, that it doesn't really sound like a difficult decision at all, but more like one that makes sense.
posted by LeLiLo at 5:18 AM on May 30, 2017

'There are a lot of things I really like about my current job, namely colleagues and the chance to [something big picture]. The appeal of this job is [something specific to the role/company, such as that they make a product that you find important] and that, since it's a smaller company and there will be fewer batteries to replace in mice (smile or grimace as appropriate), I'll have more time to devote to big picture issues, such as optimizing the back up system and making sure security is up to date. '

The goal is to be positive and enthusiastic about the new job, with a hint of why you want to leave the old one.
posted by brambory at 5:20 AM on May 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

"...and I like my co-workers, but I'm looking for an opportunity to work in a smaller organization, where I will have more time to focus on 'big picture' items, like optimizing backup systems, doing test restores, updating documentation, reviewing rules on the firewall, planning upgrades for the networking hardware, etc."

It is never a good idea to say "I didn't have enough resources" in a job interview, as resources are stretched everywhere, and you don't want them to think you are going to be overly demanding.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:23 AM on May 30, 2017 [12 favorites]

If the job is exactly the same, and you are telling then that the paper jams, mouses, etc bug you, then you are telling them that their job isn't for you. You may have a good reason for being bugged, but all they will here is "I don't want to deal with paper jams"

The on call for 10 years is a better response...
posted by Ftsqg at 5:26 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Remember that a job interview is also an elimination don't want to give them a reason to take you out of the pool. So a more bland response "I'm looking for a change" + a reason you are applying there "and I am interested by (something you have learned in your research)" may not be exciting, but this particular question isn't about standing out in a good way. It's about not standing out to be taken out of consideration. It's ok to not overthink this one.
posted by warriorqueen at 5:34 AM on May 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

Your answer makes me wonder if you've ever spoken up about this situation or tried to find a remedy. For example, has anybody tried delegating simple help/mouse battery replacement duties to contact people in various departments as a first line of defense? Did you explain this clearly to management so they could try to find a solution, or are you just leaving instead of giving them a chance to fix the situation? Do you believe you have given them a chance to fix it, but they failed to appreciate that the gravity of it is such that you're prepared to quit?

Do you think that ultimatums are always bad, such that you'd rather avoid any whisper of conflict than communicate what you're really thinking and feeling? I'm not saying you would, just that as a potential employer I'd want to know if that was your personality.

So, maybe the company is doomed because management can't see that this is important, or maybe they want someone who is willing to work 100 hours per week, but that information would need to be presented also.

The more positively focused approaches given in other answers are appropriate, but if I were interviewing you, I'd want the whole story, so you might want to think about how to present that if it comes up.
posted by amtho at 5:35 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

This question isn't asked to actually know why a person is leaving their present position; it's to find out how you perceive challenges within the job and to get a sense of your personality. Everybody knows that there are parts of most jobs that suck, what they want to know is if you can roll with that and not speak negatively of your current job.

In a million years, you don't say there weren't enough resources. That's too vague and only clues them in that you may possibly need more than they can comfortably give you. Also, it comes off as a bit whiny.

You definitely never mention that helping people was too time consuming because they want to know if you're easygoing and can work on a team. Knowing in the interview that you find interruptions annoying won't do you any favors.

In an interview, we're all looking for new challenges. You've been there 10 years? You're looking for new opportunities. That's all. Remember, the questions are more to determine if you're a team player and easygoing -- not so much really your thoughts about your current position.
posted by yes I said yes I will Yes at 5:38 AM on May 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

If it's a nearly-identical job, speaking poorly of any of your responsibilities will reflect poorly on your chances of success in this one. You're saying you don't like what, to many non-technical people, is the whole role of an IT person. On top of that, you're saying that you can't multitask and that work isn't your whole life, which some places look askance at (even though that's short-sighted on their part).

I'd frame it as you looking forward to working a smaller company to enable you to have more time for one-on-one assistance and also having longer blocks of time to devote to [more involved thing in the job description].
posted by tchemgrrl at 5:47 AM on May 30, 2017 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Based on the information you've provided about both jobs:

"I'm looking to make a change, and I'm excited by the opportunity to work with a smaller company, where my work has a real impact".

Basically, the formula for this is "I'm looking to make a change, in the direction of [insert any positive quality about company you're applying to, that isn't shared by company you're leaving]."

Your answer shouldn't need to be any longer than one sentence. The interview is really, at the end of the day, an effort to find out if you're an asshole or not. They can see your qualifications and skills on your resume; they pretty much just want to know if you're likable (and know the vocabulary of the job).
posted by vitabellosi at 6:58 AM on May 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think that if you want to focus on bigger picture issues then you should be looking for a job that is a step up from the one you've been doing. If it's an identical job you'll have identical demands and identical responsibilities.

If I were hiring for an IT manager then I'd be happy to hear that the candidate had done some bigger picture work, had demonstrated success at it, and was looking for a role to focus on it.

So if this is an identical job then... why would you want it? If you want it by hook or by crook, then say whatever it takes to get it. But if you only want it if it represents a step up, then focus on the satisfaction you've gotten in doing bigger picture work, and your eagerness to do more of it.

On reread I see that you're interviewing for a very small company. If it's an early stage startup, and they're looking for someone to grow it, then maybe this will turn into a managerial job at some point: you could see if they have plans to add someone more junior. But if this is another "be the sole IT guy" indefinitely for a startup, then you're not getting your weekends back, or any staff under you, anytime soon.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:59 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here is some more info: The job description for the new job sounds almost identical to what I do at my old job. It's actually uncanny how similar they are. So it's hard for me to point to some specific new opportunity I'm seeking.

"I'm looking to find an organisation that has a commitment to employees and what they need for support. I love my job, my boss, and my coworkers, but as my current organisation has grown, my department size has not. A company the size of YourCorp seems like someplace I can provide every employee with what they need."

posted by DarlingBri at 7:18 AM on May 30, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm currently working on leaving an organization that, among other issues, does not have adequate IT staff to meet the demands of the organization. So I feel your pain there. When asked why I'm leaving, I use a variation of "been there a while, gotten everything I can out of it professionally, looking for new challenges." Which is all completely true, even when applying to jobs that are very similar. There's always some new technology to develop mastery in or interesting new business problem to solve. I have yet to meet an HR rep or hiring manager that isn't satisfied with that explanation.
posted by jazzbaby at 7:29 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Half of it is a good answer. "I need more resources to do the job properly." You don't want to go into detail about what specific resources (i.e., another person) you're not getting, because that can make you sound lazy. Leave that part out, and just go with "I enjoy the work, but I don't feel like they're letting me do it at the level of quality it deserves". That formulation, in particular, makes it sound like you're a craftsman who wants to do things the right way.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:12 AM on May 30, 2017

Stay focused on the new job, not the old. So when they ask you about you are leaving, flip the answers around to what the new job will give you -

"I am really looking forward to the creative opportunity this position at XYZ organization provides, all the access to new technologies / platforms so I can keep honing my craft, the new challenges that come along with being a new contributor with new eyes and experiences to an organization I have so much respect for."

I think the only "safe" thing to mention about the old job is that you've been there, you've learned everything you can... time for something new.
posted by RajahKing at 8:42 AM on May 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

As others do, I think it's too negative about your current employer, and I think it suggests you don't want to / will only begrudgingly do the routine support tasks. I especially wouldn't complain about never getting weekends off, even though that is a totally valid complaint. But it'll leave them wondering -- if they need you on a weekend, will you not want that?

"I really like the company I work for now, and my coworkers, so making the decision to move on was a tough one. But I'm really attracted to the opportunity to work with a smaller team, like the one here at XYZ Inc. It's important to balance time spent doing the day-to-day IT support -- all the frequent but important things like unjamming printers -- with time spent dealing with the larger issues -- proper systems management and technology upgrades, policies and user education, and your organization is a good size for one person to be able to manage both pieces of the puzzle."

Have something in mind to say if they ask about what happens if they expand their team, if that's something that's likely to be in their plans.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:08 AM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am an on-call IT type who also interviews candidates from time to time and if I was interviewing you and you told me you'd been solidly on call for 10 years I would exclaim good lord, no wonder you're looking for another job, commiserate with you and mention some of my own shitty on-call experiences, reassure you we have a reasonably sized on-call rota, and think no more of it. YMMV if you're talking to a manager type but no one who actually does on-call IT would bat an eyelid at wanting to move on for that fundamental reason.

If you wouldn't be the only on-call person at the new job, make sure talk about how you want to work in a larger team so you've got more scope to do project work such as improving X thing you'd like to do at current job but have no time to, so you have more people to bounce ideas off, that kind of thing. Something we always look for when interviewing people who've been the only IT person previously is whether they're keen to collaborate or whether they're too used to getting their own way and will struggle to work with the rest of the team.
posted by corvine at 1:11 PM on May 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the tips. They did ask me the question about why I was leaving, and I kept my answer short and vague. They didn't ask any follow-up questions. Overall, I think the interview went OK, but not great. I'm just terrible at interviews. I'm not quick on my feet, I'm not charismatic, and my instincts often seem to be wrong (i.e., I give the types of answers that I think would sound good to me, not the types of answers that sound good to most other people). Anyway, thanks again.
posted by JD Sockinger at 4:20 AM on May 31, 2017

For future reference, it's helpful to write your answers to common questions out beforehand, have others check them, and then practice them. That way you're not caught flat-footed in the actual interview, and you can give an answer that will sound to good to the interviewer.
posted by kevinbelt at 7:21 AM on May 31, 2017

I'm sure you did great, JD! All the best!
posted by life moves pretty fast at 11:39 AM on June 1, 2017

Response by poster: Just an update: I heard back from my contact at the company. He said that there were two other candidates besides myself, and one of the other people got the job. Bummer. Anyway, I appreciate everyone's help. Maybe my next interview will go better.
posted by JD Sockinger at 7:36 AM on June 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

> I'm just terrible at interviews.

With ten years in one job under your belt, how many have you actually done? It's just practice... get out there and try again!
posted by Leon at 1:30 AM on June 9, 2017

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