Why do you want to leave your present job?

This question is far from simple. It's only asked where the interviewers have decided to do some digging, and either the applicant's work history leaves something to be desired or the interviewers are curious about something to do with the application.

If the applicant happens to be downscaling, or appears to be in a better career position in the current job, it's a perfectly logical question.

If the applicant is applying for a job with better pay, it's a slightly odd question, but not abnormal. The interviewers may want to know something about the applicant's motivation for applying, or the question may relate to the fact that the applicant hasn't been in the other job for very long, and seems to be jumping ship.

The question can be seen as another way of asking why you want the job, but it isn't, really.

That question can be asked directly, and if you're talking only about your current employer, this one doesn't answer it directly.

You will probably guess why the interviewers are asking that question. It will be about something to do with your work record. You may also get other questions on the subject of your work history, so now is the time to start plastering over the cracks.

A typical scenario:

  • The applicant has applied for a new job only eight months after getting the current job.
  • The interviewers notice that there are no references from the current employer on the application.
  • The jobs are virtually identical.
  • The jobs are in the same general area, so it's not a commuting issue.
  • The applicant's job history is spotty, not overly so, but there are gaps.

Possible reasons for leaving, according to the interviewers, and these are things they need to know because a repeat at their workplace is just expensive for them, as well as a nuisance.

So they're pretty much stuck with this logic:

  • Is there a problem at the current workplace?
  • If so, what, and is it serious?
  • Is it a problem they need to know about, which affects the job application to the point the applicant is out?
  • There's only one way to find out.

    Because everything else about the applicant is good enough to get a job interview, this may well be the only real concern about this particular applicant. The interviewers don't get much appreciation if the question isn't asked, because the employer will want to know why it wasn't.

    Not all applicants will be asked this question. Some may be unemployed, and in some cases it may be unnecessary, because the applicants are unemployed.

    This is a legitimate concern of the employer. If there are any real problems, the employer does need to know.

    A reason like personality clashes can cast doubt on the applicant's suitability. An answer which complains about a supervisor may convince the interviewers that the applicant is more trouble than they're worth.

    (If these answers apply to you, you should call them disputes, and see the Terminations questions as a guide to answering.)

    Which leaves us with the problem of explaining your situation to the interviewers.

    There are a few reasons which are acceptable to employers:

    • Workplace conditions
    • Duties assignments
    • Workload rosters and other job related problems
    • Fairness and equity issues
    • Discrimination problems
    • Promotional opportunities

    These are quite legitimate reasons for wanting to leave any job.

    Workplace conditions

    Bizarre as it is, some workplaces are truly terrible, as places to work. Some employers have very substandard premises, conditions, and even sanitation. Anyone who's ever worked in a Sick Building Syndrome environment will know the problems.

    Sometimes workers find themselves working in absolutely primitive conditions, well below the standards of anybody born in the last 200 years. Old, obsolete, dangerous equipment, or old, obsolete, dangerous approaches to Occupational Health and Safety would get anyone looking for a new job, and soon.

    In many cases the mentality of the employer is also old, obsolete and dangerous, and any possible reason for staying is soon gone. These workplaces are billboards for job dissatisfaction, and the sooner people leave, the happier they invariably are.

    Duties assignments

    Equally strange, and just as offensive to employees, are the odd duties assignments where one person seems to be doing all the work. It's not uncommon, and it means that the employer has no concept of even basic Equal Opportunity Employment. This isn't the sort of employer anyone wants or needs, and turnover in these organizations is phenomenal.

    Workload rosters and other job related problems

    Sometimes there are more complex reasons, which aren't obvious on applications or CVs. There may or may not be an element of unfairness involved, but the applicant has obviously had enough of the problem. Employees may find themselves working quite impossible hours, which clash with every possible other commitment.

    Fairness and equity issues

    At all levels of employment, fairness and equity issues can occur. An employee may be ignored for years, despite excellent performance. A manager may start imposing more work, and more problems, on an employee. Other staff may be getting preferential treatment, while the applicant has been told to simply continue working with no opportunities for promotion.

    Even holiday leave can be the final straw, another example, to the applicant of being the low man on the totem pole, getting less consideration than others. This, sorry to say, is all too common, and it infuriates staff like few other things.

    Discrimination problems

    Nauseating as it is, racial discrimination is still alive and making itself utterly obnoxious in the modern workplace. It may be illegal, it may be subtle, but anyone who's ever suffered from discrimination will agree, it's intolerable.

    Grotesquely enough, women still suffer discrimination, decades after the world decided women are supposed to be on an equal footing with men. Exactly how and why this attitude persists is unknown, but any female employee with this problem isn't kidding. For her, it is a problem, and can be a true career-killer, if it's tolerated. Getting another job is the only realistic option.

    The other forms of discrimination are equally repulsive, but not as common.

    In all cases, job applicants should explain their feelings, and point out that they feel another job is the best, and quickest, way out of the situation.

    Promotional opportunities

    This is the simplest and most easily understood and explained reason for leaving a job, but you need to add some information, when explaining it to the interviewers.

    If you've been in a job for a while, and you say there are no promotional opportunities, the interviewers will believe you've tried.

    If you've only been in a job for a few months, and have decided to leave because of lack of promotional opportunities, you'll have to explain why.

    The normal reason for lack of opportunities is usually based on one of the other reasons.

    The bad work environment, the offensive workplace culture, the fact of being ignored, unfair treatment, and the other situations are a great encouragement to anyone to leave a job, because they've been convinced they'll get nowhere.

    As a matter of fact, they probably won't, either.

    Here are a few sample answers:

    I really am not getting any sort of acknowledgement of the work I'm doing. I feel like a piece of furniture. I don't understand it, I don't know the reason for this treatment, but I really don't believe I can achieve anything, working there.

    Frankly, I find the workplace offensive, and just plain backward. The building is rundown. The equipment is old, and I think it's unsafe. I seem to be getting given more work than other people, but I don't get any thanks, or any higher duties when I volunteer to fill in for someone in a higher pay scale. I just don't want to stay there any more.

    I honestly don't think I'll ever be given any promotion there, for years. There are a lot of people who are senior to me, and I'm still doing the work I was doing when I started months ago, which is really just data entry. I'm not doing any actual sales work.

    I'm not at all happy there. I seem to get left out of everything that happens in the place. I don't get invited to parties, they hardly speak to me, and I'm feeling frozen out. I don't know what the problem is, maybe it's me, but I don't like it. I heard from a friend who rang me at work that I'm called the black person, when anyone's looking for me. She heard the receptionist talking to someone. I'm the only one, too. It's not much fun.

    I don't want to sound like I'm making this up. I'm the only female in the executive staff. Everyone's very polite, but I'm starting to notice I have no actual input. My suggestions, which I was hired to provide, are ignored. I want a to do job, not a museum caretaker position.

    Think about this question, and think about why you really want to leave. You may be surprised at your answer.