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Handling tricky interview questions – why do you want to leave?

The job interview is going well and you and your interviewer are getting on famously. Until she casually chucks in the killer question about why you want to leave your current job.

It’s a perfectly reasonable question but often makes for a tricky moment, and one that can stop you in your well-rehearsed tracks. You need to strike the right balance between being truthful while avoiding being negative about your previous job, boss or colleagues.

It’s a tough one. Here are some of our tips for success:

Prepare, prepare, prepare  Give plenty of advance thought to how best to answer the question. Looking for more responsibility, new opportunities or even to be based nearer to home are all valid reasons for a job move. Wanting to smack your current boss round the ear for his stupidity or make a shedload more money without working so hard are not.

Keep it simple  Don’t go overboard. Give just enough detail for the interviewer to understand why you’re looking for a new job without going into a long and drawn out explanation. They already know you want to leave and that’s fine, they are just looking for the why.

Be factual  Whatever the temptation to digress, stick to the facts and don’t embellish them with gossip, politics or descriptions of day to day dramas.

Be positive  Even if your control-freak of a manager would be a shoo-in for the Britain’s Worst Boss award, do your best to maintain a positive stance. Focus on what originally attracted you to the business and how you contributed to its success, before moving on to explain why you feel it’s time for a new challenge.

Look forward, not back  You want to get across that you are looking to the future, rather than champing at the bit to bail out on a nightmare job. For instance you might say that you feel the business or your role is moving in a direction you don’t want to go, or that you’ve learned a lot but feel you’ve exhausted the possibilities and it’s time to move on.

Be tactful  Frame your answers gracefully. Ranting about poor management, idiot colleagues or unreasonable clients will not win you any marks. Instead of saying you couldn’t work with the draconian management culture turn it into a comment about looking for a more collaborative, sharing work environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute ideas. See what we did there? If you badmouth your previous employer you’ll give the impression you are unprofessional and might well do the same to your new employer at some point in the future. The creative community is a small and tightly knit sector, and for all you know you might be talking to one of your current boss’s dearest friends or deadliest enemies.

Remember that by asking this question your interviewer simply wants to get a feel for any obvious red flags in your career history, not hear your life story. Keep your answer short, clear and factual, and then move on to why you’re fired up by the great opportunities that their job offers.


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