Sometimes you’re just ready to move on from your current role or company into something new! Whether it’s the company culture, team dynamics, compensation, supervisor, nature of work, or a combination of these; you are just feeling like you need to switch things up a bit and get into something fresh.
Any or all of these rationales are fine, but most future employers will want to know “why” when you are shifting from one employer to the next. They are curious to learn the answer, as it gives them insight into who you are, how you think, and what you’re pursuing in your career progression.
So, even with the Great Resignation still in play and data showing more jobs open than the workforce available to fill those jobs, this question is one you should be prepared to answer in a straightforward and wise way. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 2:6-7, “For the Lord gives wisdom; from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He hold success in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless.” Verse 11 expands with, “Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you.”
Answer the Question Wisely
Here are a few principles to keep in mind as you decide how you’ll wisely answer the question all employers have for you.
Honesty is indeed, the best policy. Overtly lying, or even tucking in a “white lie” (is there really such a thing?) is never a good idea. Yet, there are tactful ways to address the reality of you strongly disliking your supervisor other than just blurting out how much you dislike them or their management style. For example, you might say, “My supervisor was a micromanager, and I’m desiring an empowering, accountable environment.” Or to confess you’re looking to quit being a school teacher because you realize that you really just don’t like kids, you might say something like, “While I benefited a great deal from my school experiences, I came to realize my career aspirations and goals didn’t align with remaining a school teacher.”
I’ve experienced some candidates literally ducking the question, like I’m going to lose sight of something in their misdirected answer. Usually, a short and direct answer, followed by a little longer explanation will do the trick. “I left XYZ due to personal reasons. You see, my mother became terminally ill, and I wanted to spend time caring for her.” Or, “I left public accounting due to the nature of the work. I realized through auditing other companies that I wanted to create the business outcomes rather than observe them after the fact.”
Avoid criticizing, complaining, or disparaging remarks in your answer. Take the high road and frame your response in a positive light. For example, if your compensation or benefits weren’t satisfactory or market-based, rather than negatively charging your former employer with that attribute, perhaps simply state, “I discovered over time that I wasn’t being valued satisfactorily for my contributions.” If pressed for further detail, you could respond, “Despite very positive performance reviews, my compensation didn’t reflect what I was being told my performance reflected. Despite multiple conversations I initiated to rectify the situation, I came to the conclusion that the only way to change this situation was to seek employment elsewhere.”
If you give a boiler-plate answer, the recruiter / hiring manager will see through you in a split second. For example, if you were to say, “My previous employer didn’t continue remote work,” that may be a correct answer, but it’s an answer that contains nothing to allow an employer to understand you better. So perhaps, “My previous employer ended remote work opportunities without much logic as to why. I’m excited about working here at ABC Company as I’ve heard you have continued remote work for different departments and roles based on client contact.”
The bottom line in all of these principles is that you want the future employer to gain an understanding of how you think and how you approach work in a way that’s advantageous to them hiring you!
Practice, Practice, Practice
Lastly, and perhaps most important, practice your answer out loud! You know the question is coming, so don’t assume you won’t get tongue-tied or emotional. Literally have a friend ask you the question and then listen to your answer. Incorporate their feedback and try it again. You’ll be way ahead of your competition if you do. Go get ’em!
Dave Sparkman currently serves as the volunteer Crossroads Career board chair and local ministry leader. He is also the founder and managing director of Spark Your Culture, a corporate culture consulting firm. Prior to that he worked at UnitedHealth Group, a Fortune #5 public company, serving in the role of Chief Culture Officer. His unemployment experience came from the implosion of Arthur Andersen, where he served as the West Region Managing Partner, People.