Hey Everyone! I wrote this medium article and wanted to share it here because I think it has some helpful tips on interviewing.

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How to answer the interview question: “Why are you looking for a new job?”

Your answers to interview questions help draft your professional narrative, so it is important to be thoughtful about what you are sharing with recruiters, interviewers, and hiring managers.

The more insight and substance you are able to weave into your responses to standard interview questions, the more likely the best version of yourself will shine through.

The dreaded question “Why are you looking?” often arises early on in an interview process and resurfaces in different ways throughout. This is the question I want to help my readers answer.

In my experience, the typical interaction usually plays out like below:

Interviewer: Thank you so much for speaking with me today. Before we get into your background, I’d love to understand what brings you to the job market. I see you have been in your current company for [x] years. Why are you looking for new opportunities now?

Candidate: Well, I am always open to new opportunities and always open to speaking to new recruiters. It never hurts to have a conversation.

There is a better way to answer this question and I will give it to you in this article. First let’s break down the interaction and talk through what a new response could be, and why that original response shouldn’t be used.

Why do interviewers ask this question?

We do this to understand one main thing: Does what you want to do align with what this company and role can offer you?

When I interview candidates, I truly care about them getting the best outcome and I want them to find the job that is best suited for them. When I ask this question, I am trying to better understand if they are the right fit for this role, and I can sometimes deduce that based on their answer.

I am also asking because if my job isn’t a match for what they want, I can save them a lot of time. If a candidate wants to work with Machine Learning, and this job doesn’t have that, it is maybe a waste of the candidate’s time for us to keep speaking.

This means that I want to hear the good, bad, and ugly about your last job. What was frustrating to you? What was fun? What specific things are going on at work right now that have encouraged you to talk to me?

With that information, I am able to directly tell you if I think my job is right for you. I can also tailor the conversation to better suit your needs, depending on the information I hear in that first answer.

Basically, if a candidate gives an interviewer a more substantive answer, we are able to come to a more substantive conclusion, which helps everyone in the long run.

What does the phrase “I am always open” tell an interviewer?

It tells us that you might not have loyalty to the companies in which you work and that you will entertain a new company or role no matter if you are happy or not with your current one.

It is understandable if you are no longer aligned with your company’s direction because of a change in values, mission, or professional track. That said, letting a future company know you are “always looking for a new role” can show a lack of commitment.

What should I answer instead?

“Why are you talking to me about this role today?” implies an answer with two components:

  1. Past Reasons: What didn’t you like about your current/past company and position?
  2. Future Drivers: What are you looking for in a future company or position?

Past Reasons: What didn’t you like about your current/past company and position?

You should take time to think through why you are not fully satisfied with your role. The reasons you list don’t have to be the precise reasons why you are leaving. People are complicated and we often have many motivators that lead us to a decision. The important thing is that you are sharing helpful and insightful reasons why you do or don’t like the role you are leaving.

Once you have reflected on the real reasons why you are looking for a new role, it’s time to draft a professional-sounding answer that you can share in interviews.

So let’s draft a quick answer to address the first part of this question.

Why don’t you like your current company or role?

I have been in my current role for [number] years. I have enjoyed my time here and have made a strong impact on [department/project] but the work that I am doing is no longer fulfilling. Since a [change in the company, project assignment, team], I am no longer [doing/focusing on the thing you really like to do].

This is just one example of how to do this. You should take some time to reflect on and jot down other reasons why you want to leave your current role and then structure it in a similar way.

Future Drivers: What are you looking for in a future company or position?

Now that you have given your answer for what is lacking in your current role, you can talk about what you want in a future role. This is an important point to make because if you are going to invest the time in interviewing for a company, you want to know if these things will align.

Think about what you are looking for. As before, take some time to self-reflect and jot a few reasons down. I’ve drafted a quick example below that could be helpful:

I am looking for a new role where I can flex into my ability to [skillset you want to focus on] and where I have an impact on [the structure of the organization, the projects that you are assigned, the way that the team is trained]. I am also looking for a company with a strong mission and I am focusing my search on [mission you are interested in] companies because [reason why you are passionate about that mission].

As we can see, this gives us a lot more information than the typical “I am always looking for new opportunities.”

It lets the interviewer know that you want to focus on a certain type of work and that you are focusing on a specific industry.

Let’s put that whole example together now with some hypothetical reasons why someone might leave their role:

I have been in my current role for [three] years. I have enjoyed my time here and have made a strong impact on the [engineering department] but the work that I am doing is no longer fulfilling.

Since a change in the direction of the company, I am no longer [focusing on new product builds. Instead, I am doing primarily maintenance of existing products].

I am looking for a new role where I can continue to focus on my [zero-to-one product build experience], and where I have an impact on [how my team is assigned projects that we are working on].

I am also looking for a company with a strong mission and I am focusing my search on [healthtech and edtech] because [my parents are both educators and I have a passion for wellness].

Interviewing can be hard, emotionally draining, and stressful. It can feel like Groundhog Day when you are on back-to-back screens with recruiters, and it is normal to want to power through some of these seemingly mundane questions.

That said, these questions are really important to answer thoughtfully.

I hope that this article helps you feel more prepared to answer this question with better ease and more insight. I’d love to hear your reasons for why you left your previous job. Share them with me in the comments.

Aneelak's profile thumbnail
love this article! Very helpful points that we can expand upon. I would like add that typically at the start of their career, candidates may not know what are they looking from the next role, they may worry that the employer wouldn't find that their wants match the opportunities that the role can provide and hence reject them from the job. Junior candidates may find themselves thinking more on the lines of 'please hire me at all costs. Who cares about alignment. I just need a job'.However, introspecting and understanding what your strengths are, how you would like to navigate your career is important for even for early career candidates. If they don't know what they want, then I would urge them to talk to people who have been in their position, people in senior roles in their and other industries. Having more exploratory conversations will help understand what you want from your career, thus helping you answer this question authentically.
This is good advice. If I don't hear the 'bad' reasons the current role isn't working for someone I will point blank ask. You don't need to bad mouth your company, I'm just going to feel I've not got an honest answer if there are no negatives. People are scared it will sound bad, but there is nothing wrong with saying your current role is wrong for you now because xyz.