“Why are you looking for a job change?” is a reasonable question for a person making a job change to hear during a job interview. But how honest should you be? Saying that you are escaping a bad boss, or want more money, or simply want a new job is not going to sell your career story to a hiring manager.
“Sometimes people can be a little too honest. Then you get down into the weeds about how you didn’t like your boss,” said Ashley Watkins, a job search coach with corporate recruiting experience. “[Hiring managers] are looking for red flags, but they are also looking to see whether or not your intention or your goals align with what they see for the department.“
Answering this question takes tact and the ability to make your previous job skills applicable to the role you are applying for. HuffPost talked with human resources experts and career coaches on how candidates should prepare for this question.
If you are job hunting because you hate your current job...
You can be tempted to point fingers at your toxic work culture or unreasonable bosses as your reason for seeking a new job. But that makes the job interview about them, not about you.
If you are asked why you are leaving a job and it’s because of your bad boss, you can “make a general comment about differing points of view, different managerial styles or different visions related to how certain work should be accomplished,” said Lori Rassas, a career coach and the author of “Employment Law: A Guide to Hiring, Managing, and Firing for Employers and Employees.”
Watkins said the language for someone in this position can sound like “you took the job and it ended up being a mismatch between your core values and that of the company, or the direction that the company was shifting into. Now you’re focusing on finding roles that will more closely match your core values and align with your skills and your strengths, because you bring X Y Z value,” she said. “Tell what it is, but quickly shift away from it. You don’t want to get in the blame game.“
If you need help watching what you say, Rassas said job seekers should answer this question “as if every single person you are referencing in your answer is sitting in the chair next to you in the interview room,” because you should not be saying comments you would not say directly to them.
If you want more career development...
“Looking for new growth opportunities” is not enough of an answer for why you want a job change. You need to elaborate on why this potential employer is the best place for you to grow.
Point to specific skills you have developed and want to learn, and explain why this new employer is the best opportunity to use those skills. Do your homework and see if this new company can give you projects that your current job cannot, and you can make that part of your answer.
“If the prospective employer has a practice group, or a client, or works on projects that are different than your employer, you could refer to the fact that you want to broaden your expertise by applying your skills to new areas that are not available with your current company,” Rassas said.
Be warned that wanting more career growth can turn off some hiring managers, because it could be a sign that you see this job as a stepping stone. Rassas said it could signal that you are not committed to the company and “are planning to move from role to role every few years as soon as their immediate needs are not met.” Some hiring managers are seeking stability, and want to know their employee will be able to build relationships with clients in the long term, Watkins said.
“For career changers, the goal is to “draw the parallels between the value of what you were doing and how it will positively impact the target company.””
If you are radically switching industries...
Don’t lead with what you do not have when answering why you are making a big career switch. Watkins said a big mistake candidates make is leading with: “‘Well, I know I don’t have the background for this position,’” because then “all I’m focusing on now is you fall short of what I’m looking for.”
Your skills in a previous industry can actually be more applicable than you think. Watkins cited a client that she helped make the switch from classroom teacher to nurse. “We positioned her as someone who had gotten the core of what she wanted to do as a teacher,” They did that by highlighting how her conflict-resolution and people skills, as well as her patience, could be applied to the health care industry.
For career changers, the goal is to “draw the parallels between the value of what you were doing and how it will positively impact the target company,” Watkins said.
Even if you are not in the career you want right now, hiring managers want to hear how you have been preparing yourself for the switch, said Karen Gureghian, a human resources consultant for HR Business Partners.
In the interview, you could say that you knew you wanted to get into the new field, and explain how you tried to prepare yourself for the switch by gaining skills in your current job.
That kind of thoughtful answer “shows that you’re being proactive and you’re trying to advance yourself without being told,” Gureghian said.