Maybe you're stuck in a toxic workplace. Maybe you love your manager, but the role isn’t the right fit for you. Maybe you're long overdue for a raise and promotion and think a competing offer is the only way to get one. Maybe you're pretty happy, but you want to test the waters, especially if there's a chance you can make more money. If any of these things are true, is it okay to say so when your interviewer asks, "So, why are you looking for a new job?"
"Some interviewers will try to probe you — 'You've only been at your current role for 15 months; why are you headed for the door?' " A-J Aronstein, associate dean at Barnard College's Beyond Barnard office, tells Refinery29. "The last place you want to go is the negative place, even if a person is really pushing you."
Openly expressing your unhappiness about your current job can be a turn off for some hiring managers — they might worry you’ll one day say the same bad things about them. But there are some easy responses you can prepare so you can tackle this potentially loaded question. And as you ramp up your job search, we recommend you practice your response just as part of your pre-interview prep.
It's not them, it's me
To be clear, no expert says you should lie during your interviews. Instead, you can use this question as a chance to talk about your growth and what you want from your next step.
"You must understand what you are looking for in a new job and why you’re looking for it, in order to answer this question honestly and professionally," says Cindy Ballard, chief human resources officer at talent and literary agency ICM Partners. "For example, if you are looking because your boss doesn’t support your growth and development, you might say, 'My current HR experience includes benefits and compensation; however, to be a successful HR executive I need employee relations skills to round out my experience. My current company is challenged to provide that opportunity to me and based on my research of your company and the role I am interviewing for, I believe I can grow here.' "
Porter Braswell, CEO of the career platform Jopwell and author of the book Let Them See You: The Guide for Leveraging Your Diversity at Work, suggests a similar brand of honesty. It's all about turning your attention to your future prospects without dwelling on the past.
"[Your answer] needs to be about what it is you're trying to achieve as a professional, what you're looking for in terms of learning new skill sets and the things that you can bring to an organization that for whatever reason you weren't able to bring into your current organization," he says.
Accentuate the positive
If your interviewer really wants to know about your current work situation, you need to find a way to discuss what you have gained from your job, even if that's not what keeps coming to mind as you try to claw your way out.
"You want to say what positive thing you got out of it — what experience, what kernel of knowledge, what new skill, what colleague relationships have you really valued?" Aronstein says.
Aronstein suggests something along the lines of: "I spent 15 months in this role, and it's been a great opportunity to reflect on my long-term development, the arc of my career so far, and I think that this is the next step because of X, Y and Z."
That "X, Y, and Z" has to be something you come up with on your own. If those reasons don't come to you easily, you might not be interviewing for the right job after all.
"You can't fool an interviewer into thinking that you're actually passionate about something, but even worse, you're never even be able to fool yourself in the long term," Aronstein says. "Every new job is shiny and new for the first couple of months, but you have to be reflective about what that job is going to look like a year from now."