How to answer ‘Why are you leaving your company?’ — according to recruiters

People leave jobs for lots of different reasons. When you’re on the hunt for a new one, it’s likely that your interviewer will want to know what that reason is.

Answering the questions, “Why are you leaving your company?” can feel like walking into a trap. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.

According to executive coach and career expert Natalia Autenrieth, there are three main reasons why hiring managers ask this question:

  • To evaluate your reason for leaving.
  • To establish whether you made the decision to leave — or were let go.
  • To find out if you left on good terms

That being said, the last thing you want to do is put your foot in your mouth and start trash talking your former employers. But fear not, no matter what your reason for leaving is, there are ways to answer this question that exhibit both class and professionalism.

We gathered the best advice we could find from recruiters to help you answer this question the right way in your next interview.

You wanted to find new opportunities for growth

It’s completely normal to transition to a new company when looking to further your career.

Executive recruiter and founder of Career Sidekick Biron Clark suggests this response when looking to advance in a new position: “I had been with the organization for a number of years and wanted to experience a new environment to continue growing.”

“No hiring manager will fault you for wanting to have well-rounded experience and gain a new perspective in your career,” Clark said.

However, if you find yourself in a situation where there are no more opportunities for growth in your current company, you can be a little more direct. Try this, instead: “I didn’t feel there was an opportunity to grow or advance further in that role so I decided a change would best for my career.”

“If your company was holding you back, or if you were stuck under a ‘glass ceiling’, this is a nice way to say it in the interview without sounding too negative,” Clark said.

Changes in management

Just like any other working professional, the day may inevitably come when your favorite manager moves on to a new opportunity. And their replacement may bring about changes to your office that just aren’t working for you anymore.

The last thing you want to do in this situation is badmouth your new manager, though. It’s ok that they weren’t the right fit for you.

“Just say that things changed and you didn’t feel as excited about the job under new management, so you decided to look elsewhere for the next step in your career,” Clark said.

Mike Simpson, career expert and CEO of The Interview Guys, suggests saying something like this: “When my boss left, it made me realize that it was time for a change and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to move on as well.”

Just remember to keep any conversation after the fact positive and focus on what you want to bring to the table in a new position.

It wasn’t a good fit

Sometimes, you start working in a position, just to realize it’s not what you expected. Or maybe the role changed over time and it’s no longer a good fit for you.

It’s okay to be honest about this, however, according to corporate recruiter Deborah Osbourn, you should be ready to offer some concrete reasons for why it wasn’t a good fit. She recommends spinning it in a positive way and focusing on why you’re interested in the job you are interviewing for.

“The person interviewing you wants to know that you want that job and will be interested in it for a while,” Osbourn said. “You would be surprised how many people are unable to clearly express their interest in the job.”

Clark agrees that bringing it back to the company you’re interviewing with is key in this situation.

“If you stayed a few years but left because you didn’t find the work meaningful or enjoyable, that’s fine,” he said. “Just make sure to show this new company that they’re different, or that they offer something you do enjoy. If they think you’ll find their work boring too, they’re not going to hire you.”

You want to make more money

Wanting to increase your paycheck is, understandably, a very common reason to go looking for a new job. However, it can be difficult to express this in a job interview without coming across as bitter or entitled.

“Instead, explain that you’d reached the growth ceiling in your position and you are ready for your next challenge,” Michael Sunderland, managing director of Full Stack Talent, said. “This puts a positive spin on your departure and the ‘challenge’ portion implies that you will be a hard worker.”

Career coach Kyle Elliot said it’s best to be honest, but remember that less is more.

“Provide just enough information to explain your reason for leaving without going into too much detail,” he said.

Autenrieth, however, thinks you can be a little more direct. She suggests saying something like this: “I am motivated by many factors. Client satisfaction and approval from my boss are two of them. Compensation is also important because it’s a reflection of the value I deliver to the company and its clients. I appreciate the opportunity to do my best work and to celebrate the moments when I’ve surpassed my goals.”

You were laid off

Layoffs happen for lots of different reasons. While this may seem like an uncomfortable conversation to have, it’s ok to be honest and talk about your experience here. Sharing the details will probably help you in the long run.

“As long as you weren’t laid off due to reasons related to performance or integrity, a potential employer isn’t going to hold it against you…especially if you weren’t the only one laid off from the company at the same time,” Simpson said. “Just be honest and let your potential employer know.”

Autenreith agreed.

“Your strategy should be to make the reason for your layoff clear. Emphasize your accomplishments and contributions to the company,” she said. “Be truthful but skip anything that makes you look vengeful, unprofessional, dishonest, or unmotivated.”