Job interview spin filter
July 11, 2017 6:53 AM   Subscribe

How should I answer the "Why are you leaving your current position" question, without making it seem like I'm running away from my current job (which I actually am)?

I've been working at Current Company for 2 1/2 years. Pay is low, turnover is high, and pressure is intense - there's simply not enough staff to do the work that needs doing, we're always putting out fires with no chance to look at the big picture.

We're not forced to work long hours, but the stress of each day is too much for me and is impacting my health. I've gotten burnt out and I need a change of pace.

I'm a bad liar and I think if I give a generic "looking for a new challenge" type answer, they will see right through me. What sort of answer can I give instead, that will leave a positive impression?
posted by Gordafarin to Work & Money (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I think you say what you just said, but in the most positive way possible. "Current Company has a lot of good qualities and I've learned a lot working there, but I'm interested in moving someplace where I can spend more time on big-picture stuff instead of spending 95% of my time putting out fires."
posted by mskyle at 6:56 AM on July 11, 2017 [9 favorites]

"Pay is low" seems like a legit reason to be looking for a better job.
posted by puddledork at 7:02 AM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

Focus on why you want the NEW JOB, not why you are leaving in your answer. This position offers opportunities to do X (big picture strategic planning stuff). Or this job will help me balance my life and at the same time continue growing my career in X direction (if it's not giving new opportunities but a better balance.)

Pay, hours, benefits, commute are also very neutral answers. In your answer, don't insult your current workplace, at most let them fill in the blanks.

Also, ask good questions -- being genuinely curious and cautious about the job you are trying to get is the best way in my experience to make it not look like you are running (and is smart so you don't jump from one fire to another).
posted by typecloud at 7:10 AM on July 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

"Don't get me wrong, I love my job. I just think I've hit the limits on the growth I can achieve in my current role/company. I'm ready to take on more responsibilities/make a real difference/have opportunities to put my skills to good use and I think this role sounds perfect for what I'm looking for, because [reasons]."
posted by triggerfinger at 7:22 AM on July 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Focus on why you want the NEW JOB, not why you are leaving in your answer.

Yes yes yes yes yes. You need to answer the question but the best possible answer that focuses on your current job is not as good as a mediocre answer that addresses your current job and the one for which you are interviewing. "I've learned a lot from my current position and my colleagues are terrific but there isn't any room for advancement and I'm interested in trying something new" vs. that and "... and when I saw that you were hiring, I knew I couldn't pass up the opportunity to apply because I think the work your company does is really interesting and I think I have a lot to offer your team."

I'm also a crappy liar so I get that but if you want to leave a positive impression, that's a way to do it. I'd encourage you to stick with one reason why you're looking to move on and be sure to actually answer the question but after that, you can pivot to why you're interested in the new opportunity.
posted by kat518 at 7:47 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

"Turnover is high" also lends itself to spinning it as "the job changed."

"I recently wrapped some big projects, we've had a number of staff changes, so it's not really the same job I signed up for, so it's a good time to take stock and see what else is out there - and you folks are doing awesome stuff with X and Y that interests me."
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:55 AM on July 11, 2017 [6 favorites]

Job interviews are a form of kabuki theatre where I believe the HR people are aware they're asking dumb questions. They've either been obliged to ask the questions by highers-up or they are following some template. If they're not aware on some level that the questions are stupid I don't believe you want to work there.

Don't let them down - spin the question, hard. Stay on the positive and redirect to the message you want to convey, even at the expense of completely answering the question.

Q: Why are you leaving your present position?
A: I've learned a lot about time management at Penetrode due to the varied type of tasks I was given every day, but I'm looking for a way to focus better on my true passion, which is _____.

and the ever-popular:

Q: What do you think is your biggest weakness?
A: Promptness. I just can't stand to be late anywhere.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:11 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Actually, I'd say all of this except the pay. "I've been working for the past 2.5 years in a high-pressure, high-turnover environment and I'm looking for a change of pace. Right now, I feel like I'm always putting out fires with no chance to look at the big picture." This is a perfectly good, honest response that will tell your interviewers what you are looking for. It's even better if you can add "...and I want to work for Company X because looking up information online and talking to current staff has demonstrated that this is a place where people want to stay for the long term, and get to work in-depth on meaningful projects."
posted by capricorn at 8:43 AM on July 11, 2017 [4 favorites]

Since there are some comments about the dreaded "biggest weakness" question here, though this may be straying off-topic I'd also add that while it's not a great question, it's also not a trick question. It's an honest question and they are looking for an honest answer. (I mean, I guess it does rule out anyone who would answer "disrespect of authority" or "I went to prison for arson" or "I am lazy and want to work as little as possible for as much money as possible", but that's just a side benefit for most employers.)

My advice is to interpret it as "what type of environment would be a complete nightmare job for you?" and answer it as such. Your answer could be "I don't do well in a fast-paced, high-stress environment. I'm not someone who is motivated by pressure; I just get burnt out. The environment where I'd thrive is one where staff are expected to manage their own time while working on long-term projects."
posted by capricorn at 8:52 AM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

I recently hired a position and did quite a few interviews and this question came up organically in the interviews.

Basically, when I looked over resumes and I chose to bring these folks in to interview, I knew pretty well that several of them were coming from companies that were known for that same issue of high turnover and poor management at the lower levels.

It was a "trick" question in the sense that I wanted to know how honest they were going to be about their frustrations, and perhaps what they did about them. Did they suggest new ways of doing things because things were inefficient? Did they help their team become more proactive? If you stayed that long (when I might know that the average length of employment is half that), what were their strategies? In some instances the applicant could give some keen insight into how to fix some of those problems. But this was a good time for me as the interviewer to show that's what I was looking for but there are always company limitations and could they accept those.

You can stress that the company you're apply to is more of your career destination than the path that the previous company was.

As a manager, I want someone who has the skills we need, wants the work to get done correctly and will work with the rest of the team. Just keep reinforcing those elements.
posted by typetive at 12:18 PM on July 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Answer the question in terms of specific reasons why you're interested in the new job, rather than reasons why you want to leave the old one. I had this question in an interview recently (which ended up with me taking my new, current job) and I was able to say something like "Well, I'm looking for something that will put me outside more, and where I feel like I'm contributing to something environmentally positive. Also, I'm looking to move into a higher-paying position."

That was all truthful and made it seem like the job I was interviewing for would probably be a good fit, and it was positive. I could just as truthfully have said "Working in an office all day is destroying my mind and soul, the company doesn't seem to care about the environmental aspect of construction whatsoever, and the pay is too low with little prospect for meaningful improvement." It amounts to the same thing, but it's much more negative and doesn't put any emphasis on why I'd be a good match for the job I was trying to get.

So, yeah. Answer the question by talking about the good things you hope to get from your new job.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:43 PM on July 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

I fat-fingered my phone and posted before I was quite done. In your case I think you could fairly say something like "Well, right now I'm really looking for a position that I can make a long-term career out of. I'm looking to move to a company with lower turnover than my current one, and one that's more proactive and where I know my team will have the resources to do our best work. Based on your reputation I think your company will tick those boxes for me and give me an opportunity to really succeed and grow over the longer term."

Maybe you have other specific reasons why you want to join the new company, but try to phrase it in terms of why you want to specifically join New Company, rather than why you want to leave Old Company.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:50 PM on July 11, 2017

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