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During job interviews it seems common for the interviewer to ask something along the lines of "Why are you looking for a new job"? The last time I was asked this was during an interview where the company had approached me after finding me online. Not being prepared for this under the circumstances, I stumbled through an answer about not fitting in well with the group I work with (which, unfortunately is true). What would have been a better way to handle this question?

Edit: In the occasion mentioned above, I had not been actively seeking a new job, and since they had contacted me, I was going to the interview to see what might come of it. That said, this is a tricky question to handle, as answering with something like "My boss is a jerk" or "I want to make more money" (or "I don't fit in well with my group") can create questions in the interviewer's mind about your fitness for the job. Thus, I'm seeking some positive answers that can used.

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22  
Well...uh...why are you looking for a new job? –  Rarity Nov 26 '12 at 2:44
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This is going to be very dependent on why you are looking for a new job. But you can always go for a canned answer about looking for better opportunities than exist in my current position. But those can fall apart if you are not prepared for follow up. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Nov 26 '12 at 2:49

6 Answers 6

up vote 34 down vote accepted

Whenever asked a question like this, you almost always want to make it about personal growth and opportunity. Unless you are relocating to a new area or you are beginning an educational program, the reason you are looking for a new job is pretty obvious: "The old job just isn't cutting it any longer." The reasons may vary...my supervisor sucks, I'm underpaid, I haven't had a raise in three years, I'm underappreciated, blah, blah, blah, ad infinitum.

Regardless of the reason, your new employer really doesn't care why you're leaving. They are only asking you to see how negatively you respond. If you criticize your former employer, that's a red flag. If you complain about the salary you are recieving, that's a red flag. If you cite coworker issues, problems with their internal processes, philosophical differences...all red flags.

The new employer is trying to get to know who you are, not about how bad your last company was, in your opinion. If you want a shorter commute to work, that translates into a worker who wants to be at the office and not wasting valuable time on the road. If you want to expand your experience in a particular skill, the interviewer will see an industrious spirit who is seeking to learn and craves new challenges. If you have an interest in whatever they make or sell over and above what the job description covers, they will see a person who is already sold on their product or service and is committed to their continued success.

Your job is make your answer sincere. The best way to accomplish that is to really do your homework and find a company you are really interested in joining. Whether you see good growth potential or they are in your field of specialty or you just like what they do, all of that will come through in the interview and in your response. If you're just looking for a job to have a job, you won't be happy because you won't be invested.

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Exactly. There should be no discussion about your soon-to-be former employer unless they bring it up. Even if they do, you are always able to spin the story to your advantage. It's the key to selling yourself. –  The Nerge Nov 26 '12 at 20:57

Other answers are absolutely correct, but I would like to draw your attention on another aspect.

Answering "standard" questions is maybe the greatest opportunity to make the best impression on an interviewer.

You have to be prepared for several common questions as they will be raised in 100% interviews:

  • Why are you looking for a new job?
  • Why have you left?
  • Why do you want to work with our company?

First, why do the interviewers ask these questions? Aren't the answers obvious?
No. These questions let reveal a lot about you:

  • How do you speak about your ex-colleagues? Especially in a situation when you are about to leave or just left. Maybe, something went wrong, and the way how you perceive your past problems may be a good indicator of your personality;
  • What are your concerns? What would happen if you start working with them, and the next day receive another offer on a better salary?
  • What would you do in a stress?
  • What are your expectations regarding the working conditions?

Think on it: you are being asked an "obvious" question, but the real concern is to understand your personality. Hence, your answers should not be directed specifically on answering the question. Instead, it should help an HR to see your character, and the way you answer will either show your best sides or not.

Sorry for a weak analogy, but imagine you are offered to play cards, and some of the cards are known for you. Would you expend some time in advance to remember them (at home, no stress!) and be prepared what to do, or just ignore it?

An important consequence: answering a "standard" question with a "standard" answer is a waste of an excellent opportunity to reveal the best sides of your personality. Be always prepared for these questions and possible follow-ups.

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+1 you are being asked an "obvious" question, but the real concern is to understand your personality. this one is really a good point –  diEcho Jul 23 '13 at 19:08
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@djechlin I don't understand your point. You can't avoid being asked these questions. You can refuse answering at all, but I doubt it can help you. If you choose to answer, you may do it in a plain manner or help the interviewer. Could you explain your point? –  bytebuster Jul 23 at 7:27
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@djechlin there are lots of programmers out there. If they are interviewing two that are otherwise broadly equal except one sounds really enthusiastic about working for that particular employer and the other one "just wants a job, whatever, meh" then they're probably going to hire the enthusiast. –  RobM Jul 31 at 7:40

As said in this comment, your response to “Why are you looking for a new job?” really does depend on.. why you are looking for a new job!!

It's good to think about this prior to an interview, as you are likely to be asked this question, or some variation such as "Why do you want to work here at Foozlecorp?"

In general, it's best to always focus on positive reasons to pursue a new job here, e.g. new challenges, opportunities for professional development, chance to work for a respected industry-leading company like Foozlecorp, etc. etc. And it's best not to focus on negative reasons to get away from your current job, e.g., as you said, "My boss is a jerk", "I want to make more money", "I don't fit in well with my group".

In the situation you described, it's a bit of an odd one, because you weren't actively looking for a new job. In such a situation, I'd say something like "I am not actively looking for a new job at the moment. However I am certainly interested in opportunities that would enable me to.." and then insert the new challenges, professional development, respected company bits.

You want it to be clear to them that you're not some flighty type who goes looking for a new job at the drop of a hat; rather, you are a seasoned, talented professional who is only interested in significant roles at top companies. They contacted you - they need to understand that they are the ones competing for your services. You're not chasing them for a job.

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We should bear in mind that the interviewing company approached the OP, not the other way around. And this is probably why the OP found it strange to be asked this question.

Think about the scenario below:

I'm driving my BMW (I don't have one. sigh...) on the road. A random guy stops me and asks: "I really like your car, can I buy it from you?"

I'd say: "maybe, how much do you offer?"

And then he asks: "Why do you want to sell such a nice car?"

Now does this sound a bit odd? I bet this is how the OP felt.

I would answer like this:

"I'm not selling it but I'm not against the idea. Since you asked, I'd like to hear how much you offer."

Or in the case of the job:

"I'm not actively looking for a new job, but I'm not against the idea. Since you asked me to come in, I'd like to hear how much you offer."

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Hi Allen, maybe you could enhance this by relating it to a personal experience, adding some clarity, and being a bit more direct. Being clever is okay, but it is also important to make your point clear. Hope this helps. –  jmort253 Jul 31 at 4:13
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Hey, thanks for editing, Allen, and great points. I added just a little bit more just to help emphasize your point. My suggestion for future answers is to definitely focus on a good explanation up front, just to help your posts stand on their own. Aside from that, making things interesting to read is a very good approach! Hope this helps. –  jmort253 Jul 31 at 5:01

I think the safe bet is the truth. They might not even know/remember that you were contacted by them. Just let them know. "I originally wasn't looking for a new job, but was contacted by your company online. After I looked into a it, I thought this might be an interesting fit for me and opportunity to grow."

If you're bold (which you could afford to be if you already had another job), you could turn it around and put the pressure back on them. "Actually, your company contacted me. It sounded like you thought it would be a compelling offer so I'm listening!"

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1  
The central reason I provided ("They might not even know/remember that you were contacted by them.") is reasoning that I did not see in other answers and specifically addresses the question. A lot of the focus in the other answers was less about the specific question and more about generally related topics. My answer was provided because I believe it did a better job of addressing the specific case mentioned. –  Nia Jul 31 at 14:21

Questions like

  • why are you looking for a new job?
  • what's your greatest weakness?
  • why did you lose your last job?

Are asked for such reasons as:

  • the interviewer thought it was standard
  • the interviewer really likes the question for some reason
  • the interviewer wants to see if you slip up and answer really badly

And guess what, the first two reasons funnel into the third. For instance if I ask your greatest weakness and you say "women in short skirts", I will be really glad I took the time to ask you that.

For questions like these you should follow the formula: get in, out and close the door. Every answer you give should be closed. Answer any follow-ups, but do not give obvious room to ask questions. No negative information they can use against you.

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