When you’re prepping for a job interview, you are trying to play defense before the other team is even on the field. Before you shake hands, sit down, and make small talk with an interviewer, you need to anticipate (at least a little) of what’s coming up in the heart of the interview. Many of those questions will be about your specific qualifications and skills. But you also need to be ready for the more personal, reflective questions, like, “Why are you looking for a new job?” Let’s look at some tips for making sure you have your answer ready to go.
If you’re looking for a job because you lost your previous one, it’s okay to say so. It’s true that the stats are with people who already have a job when they start looking for another, but if you’re cagey about whether you’re still employed and it comes out in a background check that you’re not, well, that makes you look dishonest (even if you’re only trying to avoid looking desperate).
If you lost your job due to a layoff, you can tell the interviewer that your previous company was downsizing or reorganizing—most people have been through that at one time or another and they get it. If you left your previous job for personal reasons, it’s okay to say that too—although you don’t want to go into too many details, given that the interviewer is technically not allowed to use your family status or other protected personal details against you. In a case like that, it’s fine to say that you’ve taken some time off to deal with personal/family issues, and that you’re ready to take your skills and experience and get back in the game.
…but not too honest.
If you were fired, it’s a little trickier—but you can still finesse it a bit. You can spin it as a “lessons learned” situation where you emerged stronger and smarter, with renewed career goals. The words “it just wasn’t a good fit for me” is a solid baseline, and then you can use that to pivot into a list of the positive reasons why a company or job like this one would be a better match for the assets you bring. But again, remember that if things ended badly at your last job it may come up during the vetting process. It’s better to keep things a little vague rather than offer details that could be seen later as dishonest.
Don’t talk smack about your previous job/employer.
When an interviewer asks you why you’re on the hunt for a new job, they know the answer isn’t going to be “because I love my current job and boss so very much.” However, resist the urge to use this as an opportunity to vent your frustrations. If you hate your job, think about the core reasons why. Is it because you weren’t given enough challenging projects? Were there not enough opportunities for growth and development? Was the company’s culture not a good fit? See this as an opportunity to underline why this job would be a better application for your skills and how you see yourself growing into the role.
When you prepare to talk about why you’re looking for another job, the most important part is finding the right tone somewhere in the middle of “I want more money” and “if I don’t get out of my current job, I’m going to lose my mind.” The interviewer is looking for red flags, true, but they’re also looking to see if you’re able to end one phase of your career and start a new one gracefully and professionally.