Mastering the Interview Question: Why Are You Looking for a New Job?

Mastering the Interview Question: Why Are You Looking for a New Job?
Kevin Downey on January 26th, 2024

This article delves into the fundamental question every job seeker encounters during interviews: 'Why are you looking for a new job?' Explore the reasons behind why interviewers pose this question.

Pro Tip: When To Go Into Detail & When To Keep It Brief

When discussing your most recent position, go into greater detail. When talking about positions held earlier in your career, and your reasons for leaving, keep it brief.

Here are examples of how to summerize why you left positions earlier in your career:

  • “I was looking for a new challenge with more opportunity for growth.”
  • “I wanted to work for a company more aligned with my values.”
  • “I was offered a better position with more responsibility.”
  • “I had to relocate for family reasons.”
  • “I decided to take my career in a different direction.”
  • “I was laid off due to a merger followed by a restructure.”
Why Your Interviewer Asks These Questions

When a recruiter interviews a candidate, they are trying to find the best fit for the role. This is someone who they’ll consider a valuable asset, who will preserve the company’s reputation which they’ve worked hard to build, and who will effectively represent the interests of their company. So, every hiring manager has to approach every recruit as an investment. They’ll try to calculate a candidate’s professional worth by determining their experience and skill level, contrasted with how much they’ll have to invest in training and development, and how soon they’ll begin to contribute. They’ll also try to predict how long the professional relationship will last.

Hiring a bad candidate can have a negative domino effect. Someone who damages the company’s reputation, who does not have the skills or experience to do the job well, or is not motivated or excited about the opportunity, is likely to contribute to attrition. Long-term vacancies cause fatigue, burn-out syndrome, and turn-over among the rest of the team. Decreased morale undermines performance, company culture, and reputation.

Be Respectful Of What Went Into Making Your Interview Happen

At some point in the interview, they may ask how you heard about their job or their company. Or, they may ask what attracted you to what they have to offer. This is a great opportunity to subtly acknowledge all that went into their recruiting efforts, and to compliment their effective campaign. But before you can do that, you need to know all that went into making your interview happen.

  • Designing recruitment marketing campaigns, from career webpage to job posting.
  • Human Resource and administration costs.
    • Resume screening software.
    • Job board and recruitment websites.
    • Assessment vendors.
    • Applicant tracking software.
  • Payroll hours.
    • Application screening.
    • Scheduling.
    • Interviewing.
What Does Their Model Candidate Look Like?
  1. Do your homework and put your attention to detail to work!
  2. Study their career’s website for how they define their work culture, environment, and brand representation.
  3. Study how they describe their ideal candidate on their customer website as well as on their careers site.
  4. Comb through their job postings.
  5. Determine the hard skills, interpersonal skills, and professional qualities they are looking for.
Go In With A Clear Understanding Of The Recruiter’s Job

It’s their job to find qualified candidates who will fit in with their company’s culture and who will get along with their teams. And, the sooner they find their model candidate, the less money they’ll have to spend. If an ideal candidate slips under their radar, they’ve failed at their job. If they hire the wrong person, they’ve failed at their job.

  • Empathize with the interviewer. Recruiting is a lot of work and can be expensive. The interviewer wants to make sure they are hiring the right person for the job.
  • Be respectful of the time they are taking out of their busy day by coming prepared and arriving early, with an understanding of their position and why they are asking each question.
  • Highlight how your skills and professional experience align with their needs.
  • Being honest and positive will make it a better interviewing experience for them. Be honest about why you left your last job, but focus on the positive aspects of your experience. Explain what you learned and how it has made you a better candidate for the job you are interviewing for.

So now you know a little more about the interviewer’s motives, their pain points and gain points. They simply want to know whether they should hire you. But the truth is often nuanced, and explaining your reasons for leaving your job can seem tricky. It is rarely a black and white situation. How you answer may provide your interviewer with enough information as to influence their decision. Therefore, it is up to you, as a candidate, to determine how you want to present your story, and yourself as a professional.

How To Prepare For Your Interview
Do Your Research On The Company. Do Your Homework On Yourself.
  • Do your research. Go beyond their website. Look up their code of conduct and ethics and ask yourself how aligned you are. Read up on any news or media coverage on the company, on their executives, and avoid stumbling into any controversial topics.
  • Study their core values, principles, mission statements, and how they define their culture.
  • Identify all the advancement opportunities from within that align with your career goals.
  • Try to answer every question yourself before asking your interviewer.
  • Study yourself.
    • Review every detail of your professional and educational career.
    • Identify and catalog every responsibility you’ve ever been entrusted with.
    • List every accomplishment along with every peer review and performance review. Leave no stone unturned.
    • Compile the facts of your career and determine the arc of your development.
  • Look for similarities and align your truthful narrative with theirs.
Put Your Best Foot Forward To Get It In The Door.
  • Speak their language. Write down all of their keywords and key phrases. Familiarize yourself with the language of their culture. Incorporate it into your dialogue whenever you are naturally able to do so.
  • Be positive. Don't badmouth your former employer or coworkers. Even if you're talking about a negative experience, focus on the positive takeaways.
    • What did you learn from the experience?
    • How did it make you a better person or professional?
    • How have you grown?
  • Be confident. Believe in yourself and your ability to navigate the question with integrity.
  • Be specific and concise. Don't ramble on. Don't dwell on the negative. Say only what you need to say, such as anything that advertises you’re a good fit, and then move on.
  • Be prepared to answer follow-up questions.
  • Be prepared to provide more information if needed.
  • Align your reasons for leaving with why you are a good fit for the role.
  • Be honest and direct.
It’s Not A Trick Question If You Know The Answer

Some assume interview questions are trick questions designed to fool a candidate into self-sabotage. But just because a question is sometimes tricky to answer, does not mean it is a trick question. In fact, very few interview questions are trick questions. Otherwise, they would call them job interrogations instead of job interviews, and they’d put every candidate on the defensive, undermining the interviewer’s goal. The interviewer needs to get to know each candidate, for who they truly are, both personally and professionally. So, they need to get you to relax, to be 100% yourself, and to be honest.

Take Your Time. Be Thoughtful. Stay Calm.
  • Don't try to outsmart the interviewer, or give them a clever answer, or tell them what you think they want to hear.
  • Take your time. Don't feel pressured to answer the question right away. Take a few seconds to think before you respond.
  • If a question catches you off guard, stay calm, take your time, and answer it honestly.
  • If any question hits a nerve, don’t take it personally. Keep it professional and be positive.
  • Try to see the question from the interviewer's perspective, and to understand their reasons for asking it. Empathize with their pain points and gain points.
Communicate Like An Experienced & Confident Professional.
  • Showcase your communication skills by choosing your words carefully.
  • Listen to the question. Make sure you understand what the interviewer is asking before you answer.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for clarification. If you're not sure how to answer a question, ask the interviewer to clarify it for you.
  • Answer the question as best you can, according to your nature as a person, and as a professional.
  • Prepare for your interview by practicing answers to common questions and scenarios.
Answers That Work For & Against You

How well you perform in your interview not only informs them of how well you would perform at your job, but also how well you would get along with their teams. Therefore, so much of your interview is reliant on your confidence and your attitude.

  • If you don’t believe you’re the best candidate, why should they?
  • Do you have a strong work ethic, a good attitude, see the glass as half-full, and have no trouble presenting yourself with confidence?
  • Did you leave your last job on good terms?
  • Are you vigilant and hyper aware of how you are presenting yourself?
Answers That Work Against You.
  • You come across as uncomfortable, or confused by a question.
  • You answer a question with a question.
  • You make jokes, over share, or lack discretion.
  • You blame others, or external factors, for your situation.
  • You assume your interviewer’s opinions and perceptions are aligned with your own.
Answers That Work For You.
  • You answer every question comfortably, with confidence.
  • You take ownership of your commitments, and take responsibility for your failures, setbacks, and mistakes.
  • You exhibit professional grace, gratitude, and positivity.
  • You are honest and filtered in your delivery.
Pro Tip: Show, Don’t Tell

The last thing a hiring authority wants, is for a candidate to tell them what they think they want to hear, or to hear what they’ve posted on their careers site repeated back to them. Your interviewer wants you to tell them the truth of who you are, as a person, and as a professional. All you have to do is answer each question in a way that shows them who you are. This makes your goal quite simple.

Prepare for your interview as if you are preparing for the job. Get a head start on your orientation and onboarding now, learning everything you can, so that you can truly hit the ground running when you are hired. It will be self evident that you spent time preparing, while showcasing an above and beyond work ethic, and that you take this opportunity seriously. Identify with their ideal candidate and let the truth of how you’re aligned guide your answers. Doing this shows them that you are who you say you are. It’s your attitude and mindset that defines you.

What Your Answers Tell Your Interviewer.
  • Are you a strong communicator?
    • Are you able to adapt your communication style to your interviewer’s?
    • Are your answers structured and concise or do you ramble on in a round-about manner?
    • Are you able to communicate complicated subjects in simpler terms?
  • How strong is your attention to detail?
    • Do your answers align with what you’ve detailed on your resume and cover letter?
    • Do your answers complement or contradict how you’ve answered other questions in the interview?
  • Are you satisfied with your choice of career?
    • Do you seem motivated or do you seem burned out?
    • Are you only in it for the money?
    • Does this opportunity feels like a step in the right direction of your career?
  • Are you emotionally intelligent?
    • How aware you are of how you’re presenting yourself, and of how the interviewer perceives you?
    • Asking questions you could have answered yourself tells them you haven’t prepared.
    • Being under-prepared for their questions tells them the opportunity is just a place-holder until something better comes along, and that you’ll likely underperform.
What Your Answers Show Your Interviewer.
  • Your work ethic.
    • How well you answer each question shows how thoroughly you’ve prepared.
    • Your preparation shows you are invested in this opportunity, and are a potential long-term fit.
    • Taking ownership of your situation and mistakes shows that you learn from them.
  • Your ability to build professional relationships.
    • Actively listening, mirroring, asking questions, and empathizing with your interviewer shows them you have strong communication skills.
    • Being transparent and building a rapport with your interviewer shows you build relationships and earn trust.
How To Answer: Your Truth Is What You Make It

It's important to be honest in a job interview, and remember that your interviewer is after the truth. Your truth is what you make of it. Your interviewer is not looking for the absolute truth, but for your perception of the truth. So, the way you frame your answer can make all the difference.

One’s truth, or reality, most often translates to their perception of their experience. Perception is reality. Your reality is your truth. Your attitude shapes your reality and offers them the facts they need to make a hiring decision. They are going to assess what your truth says about you as a professional. They’ll do this by attempting to extract the facts from what your truth tells them, and shows them.

It matters less whether you left the sector to raise a family or to start your own business, or whether you were laid off or let go. It is your attitude that will determine your success. Demonstrating emotional intelligence, accountability, and responsibility will showcase your professional experience. Aligning what you have to offer as a professional with what they are looking for in a candidate puts actions behind your words. These combined will assure your interviewer that you are sincerely telling them what they want to hear, that you are who you say you are… which is the truth.

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