How To Answer “Why Are You Looking For A New Job?”

By Ryan Morris - Jan. 24, 2021
Articles In Guide

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Being on the job hunt while you still have a job is, in general, a pretty great position to be in. It’s certainly better than the alternative, as it gives your prospective new boss no reason at all to doubt your ability to work well with others and hold down a job.

But the situation comes with its own downsides. While an unemployed person might have to convince a hiring manager to take a chance on them, depending on their level of expertise and the length of time in which they’ve remained unemployed, at least once they get over that they can go on to their new job with no real problems.

However, anyone who’s on the job hunt who still has a job has to contend with a much-dreaded interview question: “Why are you looking for a new job?”

To the layperson, the most common interview questions might look like traps. In life, it’s important to remember that looks can be deceiving. But that’s not important here, because these looks are actually spot on.

The question looks like a trap because it is totally a trap. A big one. It’s a big boulder rolling through a cave, and you’re Indiana Jones, only significantly less coordinated. So how do you jump out of the way?

We’re here to help you figure out why interviewers ask this question, how to answer it, and look at some example answers to “Why are you looking for a new job?”

Why Interviewers Ask “Why Are You Looking For a New Job?”

It should go without saying that there’s no reason to give the hiring manager any kind of line. They know that, for one reason or another, you need a new job, and that odds are it’s not because you absolutely loved your last place.

So it’s important to be as honest as possible with whoever’s interviewing you since they’ll know right away if you’re lying. From just a basic state, you want to tell the truth, because if all you have to tell your new employer is that your last job was totally satisfying to you in every way, they’ll probably think you’re a liar.

Even worse, they might think you’re telling the truth, in which case you’d be an idiot to them — after all, who in their right mind leaves a job that they love and where all their needs are being met?

Hiring managers and recruiters don’t need to know too many of the sordid details of your last disastrous job. Instead, they want to hear how the job you’re applying for is perfect for you; as with all questions and answers during the interview process.

So let’s say that you’re looking for a new job because you weren’t getting paid enough and your previous co-workers were morons. Here’s our basic, totally honest answer:

“I’m leaving because I’m not getting paid enough and my co-workers are morons.”

Huh. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue yet, but we’ll shape it up.

How to Prepare an Answer to “Why Are You Looking for a New Job?”

As you can see above, while basic honesty is still necessary, being too honest is also bad. For one thing, you don’t want to say anything too bad about your last boss or your last company.

It could get back to them somehow, which would be catastrophic — not only would they probably not be a great reference, but in the event that you don’t find a new job, they also won’t be too keen on working with you much longer.

But more than that, it’s just a bad look. Talking poorly about your last work experience reflects worse on you than on them, at least at first. You can tell all the horror stories you like once you get your new job — in the meantime, you still have to look to a new employer like you can be a team player.

So how do you remain honest without being too honest? Easy. You talk in code.

Implications make up the true language of an interview — you have to learn how to tell someone a lot about yourself without laying too much on the table too quickly. There are a lot of ways to tell someone that your last co-workers weren’t great, or that you weren’t getting paid enough, without coming out and saying so directly.

For example, making more money is typically associated with having more responsibility — one possible way to say that you want more money could be to say that you’re looking to take on additional challenges or to learn new industry skills.

Likewise, telling an interviewer that you’re looking for a certain kind of team or office atmosphere can go a long way toward implying some of your frustrations with your last company.

Let’s take a look at our new, still honest, but slightly more diplomatic answer:

“I’m looking for a new job because I’d like to take on some new responsibilities, and I’d like to feel more like part of a team when I’m around the office.”

There’s a much better chance of this interviewee getting a job offer.

Tips for Answering “Why Are You Looking for a New Job?

  1. Focus on yourself first. It’s important to note that your discussion of what you’d like to do in the company is one that should arise from your own wants and needs. A hiring manager isn’t just looking for someone who can fill a role — they’re looking for someone who has their own wants and ambitions, who’s enthusiastic about the work that they do and willing to put a little extra thought into how and why they do it.

    So make sure that when you’re discussing your reasons for working with a new company that you’re doing a good job getting across your long-term goals. Why are you looking for new responsibilities? How does that fit into your current career arc? On a related note (and something else that an interviewer might be fishing for), how long do you plan on sticking around?

  2. Talk about the company. Your employer knows now why you want to leave your old job and get a new one — but why, of all places, do you want to work for their company in particular?

    This part can be tough if, say, you forgot to actually do any research on the company before you walked into the interview (we’ve all been there). But it’s particularly important if you want to wow a hiring manager. You have to show more than just that you want a new job like this one — you have to prove that you want this particular job, of all the jobs that are out there for you.

    So don’t just say you want more responsibilities — talk about what a few of those responsibilities might be, tailored specifically to what you know about this company. And rather than just saying you want a more team-based atmosphere, talk about why you think you’ll find that atmosphere at your new company specifically.

  3. Avoid negative talk. For all the most common interview questions and answers, follow this golden rule. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t want to hear about your horrible ex-boss or toxic workplace policies.

    For starters, it’s not a good look. They’ll be wondering how long until you start bad-mouthing this workplace if they extend you a job offer.

    Additionally, it’s a small world. Your recruiter or hiring manager might know the person you’re talking smack about, so it’s safer to keep things positive and diplomatic.

  4. Prepare and practice. Being honest is important, but so is getting your delivery right. Do some mock interview questions and answers with a friend to ensure your tone is on point and you don’t sound bitter about getting fired or laid off (if that’s your reason).

    Always bring the conversation back to how excited you are for a new opportunity to add value to the employer. It may take a couple of attempts at answering, but practice can help your answer sound natural, honest, and positive.

Example Answers to “Why Are You Looking for a New Job?”

  1. “I’m looking for new responsibilities and opportunities to learn about the industry because eventually, I’d like to find my way into a management position. In the meantime, I’d also like to work in an environment that’s a little more team-based, where I can really feel like I have a defined role in the office.

    Because of that, I’m particularly excited at the idea of working with your company given how focused the CEO is on team-building and on building communication between the various levels of the organization. Additionally, I’m interested in your ongoing project to develop a more thoughtful job-search platform, and I’d love to bring my own perspective to the project.”

    Why it’s a good answer: This interviewee mentions her career goals and her ideal environment without badmouthing her former role or work environment. She could have easily talked about how her last job stifled collaboration, but instead, she focuses on the positive aspects of the employer.

  2. “I was laid off because our department was eliminated in a downsizing effort.”

    Why it’s a good answer: When your answer involves something unpleasant, it’s best to give a quick, concise answer. The hiring manager or recruiter might ask some follow-up questions, so have a bit more context ready just in case. Just don’t go overboard right away; if your interviewer wants details, she’ll ask about them.

  3. “I’ve been developing my programming skills in the past few years, and my last position didn’t challenge me enough in this regard. This position would allow me to incorporate and test new techniques I’ve learned recently and deliver exciting new projects to clients.

    Developing my professional skills is important to me, so knowing that your company values growth enough to offer comprehensive training once a quarter is a big draw for me. Additionally, I feel that your current project to educate clients while building them a winning product speaks to a corporate ethos that I could take pride in being a part of.”

    Why it’s a good answer: This interviewee has hit on her skills, motivations, long-term goals, and includes specific information about the company she’s applying to. Qualifications and accomplishments are a part of it, but it’s mostly a narrative about how and why this person succeeds and what they want out of a job based on these self-assessments.

  4. “I’ve spent the last couple of years traveling and teaching English, and now that I’m back in the US, I’m excited to put my passion for teaching to work in a more traditional school setting. Learning classroom management and developing fun and unique projects are areas I excel in, and I love how your school embraces a diversity of thought and methodology.

    Why it’s a good answer: This answer is honest about why the interviewee is out of work at the moment, but it describes an important set of characteristics; a love of new experiences and a passion for teaching. He also mentions his skills and how those skills fit into the school’s goals.

Final Thoughts

The most common interview questions can be trickier than they appear at first, but with a little prep work, you’ll be answering “why are you looking for a new job” without breaking a sweat.

Remember those four big ingredients you need for a good answer — honesty, diplomacy, your own long-term goals, and why you’re interested in this particular company or position. If you can manage to incorporate all four, you’ll do a pretty good job impressing the hiring manager and showing them that you know what it takes to move on from an old position without stepping on too many toes.

But it’s important to remember one last thing: namely, that you most likely won’t be giving your prepared answer all in one go, exactly like you planned it. An interview isn’t an audition, after all — you can prepare some of what you’ll say, but you can’t predict all of what a hiring manager might ask. Ultimately, an interview is a conversation, and much of your success depends on your ability to convey all of the above information in a way that seems easy and natural.

So work on your small talk and come prepared. If you’re lucky, that boulder might just end up missing you after all.

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Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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