“So, tell me — why are you looking for a new job?”

If there’s an MVP title for interview questions, this one just might take the prize.

(“Can you share three of your greatest weaknesses?” comes in a close second.)

It’s a fair question, though. Your potential new employer wants to know why you’re leaving a (seemingly) perfectly good job. And, even more importantly, they want to know that — should they hire you — you won’t be leaving them in the lurch shortly thereafter.

They also want to see how you’ll respond to the question. If you speak poorly of your current employer, it will be a sign of your character and your attitude (both bad, FYI) as an employee. But if you’re able to speak positively about your current situation, highlighting the opportunities you’ve had and the skills you’ve acquired, you will stand out as an optimistic team player who’s able to see the value in every experience.

So, how do you actually answer this question? How do you make sure you convey the latter (optimism and opportunity) and not the former (poor attitude and character)? Like this:

Consider The Question
Why are you looking for a new job? Is it because you’re looking to take on more responsibility? Or because you want to explore a new job title or industry? Maybe you’re just looking for a new location or work structure (such as working part-time instead of full-time). These are all acceptable reasons to be looking for a new gig, especially if you can be specific about the responsibilities you’d like to take on or the facets of an industry you’d like to explore.

Consider the positives of your current job. What have you learned? What has it allowed you to accomplish?

And if you do have anything negative to say about your current employer, check your attitude for a bit. Consider the positives of your current job. What have you learned? What has it allowed you to accomplish? Which clients, vendors, or companies have you been lucky enough to work with through your work there? List every positive of your current experience.

Then, get realistic about what you should — and, almost more importantly, should not — share with your would-be employer. You might answer your interviewer by saying: “Though I’ve been fortunate to learn an incredible amount at ABC Public Relations — I wrote my first press release there, after all! — I’m looking forward to taking on new responsibilities. Specifically, I’d love to manage accounts, interfacing directly with the clients and leading a small team to help grow the business.”

Focus On The Future
Stay focused on the positive opportunities that this new position provides you, as opposed to any negative reasons you might have for leaving your current employer. Instead of saying that you’re looking to be managed by someone who is less of a Type A, micro-managing control freak, you might say that you’re excited to work under management who value leadership, autonomy, and proactivity.

After considering why you actually are looking for a new job, ask yourself what appeals to you about the job you’re interviewing for: Is it their company culture? Or perhaps it’s the challenging work? Maybe the opportunities for growth? Whatever your answers may be, these are also good responses to the question, “Why are you looking for a new job?”— especially as they highlight the things you love about the job you’re interviewing for.

… you might say that you’re excited to work under management who value leadership, autonomy, and proactivity.

Consider the opportunities this company will provide (ignoring things like salary, which will only benefit you), and highlight those as the reasons you’re ready to move on.

Keep It Short & Simple
There’s no need to weave an epic yarn when answering this question. In fact, you’re more likely to get yourself into trouble by stammering on and on about your reasons for job hunting. Follow the “less is more” approach and come up with a simple two-three sentence answer that highlights your ambition, the research you’ve done on the company you’re applying to, and your commitment to a very clear, ambitious career path.

No company wants to feel that you’ll bad-mouth them when you leave. They’ll also want to ensure that you’ve made the most of your opportunity where you are. Use the tips above to plan for your answer to this inevitable interview question, and show them that you’re perfect for the job. Good luck!

What interview question do you stress out about the most?

Image via Chelsie Autumn Photography

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