I have two primary reasons to leaving my current company but I don't know how to clearly express them in an interview or cover letter.

Most projects I work on are very 'by the seat of your pants' with very poor organization and planning. Projects are always teetering on the verge of failure and it's a pretty stressful place to work- the problem is I don't know for a fact that places I'm applying are. I can do lots of research until I feel confident that the place I'm applying isn't going to have these problems but in the end I'm not sure it sounds appropriate- if someone asks, "why are you applying here" to say "from what I've read it sounds like projects are really organized at your company and that's something I'm looking for", since it is merely speculation.

Similarly but more subjectively, I enjoy working with people who care about the quality of their code, people who like to use SOLID when writing their code, people who unit test- in general, people who think about how they can improve their skills, what techniques or methodologies would be appropriate, improving re-usability, maintainability, and readability, and stuff like that. At my current company most people just write code "line-by-line" and don't think about things on this level- repeating the same mistakes over and over and in general being frustrating to work with (or for, in the case of the leads who are the same way). The problem I've found with this is that it is extremely hard to express in an interview especially with but not limited to non-technical people in a way that is clear and not really presumptuous sounding. And again, it is merely speculation that people at that company are any different.


3 Answers 3


Couldn't you specify that you want a company with a more mature development methodology and that you're curious to see how mature is the development process at this company? That does answer the question in the sense of stating what technical components you want to know and if the person is technical they may answer that they use "Agile" and have done so for X years that you could follow-up afterward if you want something more specific.

The key is to acknowledge that your current employer isn't a great fit because you'd prefer a more mature process with better structure and want to find that in another place. The key is to ask the company, "What do you use for unit tests?" or "How do you apply the SOLID principles here?" for the technical staff if that is a litmus test for you. The key is to be able to state what the bar is for where you want to be and note that your current employer doesn't meet this requirement despite various efforts that haven't worked and thus you want to work in a different environment that you believe better suits your talents and preferences.


Unless there's a very good reason to mention it in your cover letter, I wouldn't bring up your reasons for leaving your current employer. A very good reason would be that you've been there for less than a year. Your cover letter should focus solely on how you are a great fit for the role for which you're applying.

During an interview, as a software engineer, "I'm interested in a new challenge" is usually a perfectly-acceptable answer to the question of why you're looking for a new role. If you're asked to expand on it, focus your answer on your skills and what you want to learn. For example, if your current company doesn't follow an agile methodology, you could say that you've been reading about agile methodologies and are interested in gaining expertise in such a thing. (And if your current company does follow an agile methodology, you could say that you've experienced that and now want to see how it compares to other methods.)

When asked "why are you applying to this role", then you focus on what you think that particular role will do for your career. You can discuss career growth, or you can discuss wanting to learn more about a technology or language or domain, or you can discuss your interest in growing your technical leadership skills. Tell them what it is about their role that made you interested in it, not how you think that their role differs from what you're currently experiencing.

You do want to learn about a potential new employer in your interview, though. The interview is a two-way street: not only does the hiring team want to see if you're a good fit for their needs, you are there to evaluate whether this might be a position that you want. Now that you've experienced some things that you find undesireable, you can formulate questions to ask your interviewers about their position. For example, you can ask how they manage their codebase and ensure that it's scalable, reliable, etc. You can also ask them what their development lifecycle looks like. You can ask about the mechanisms that they make available to their employees to grow their skills, such as mentorship, training, attendance of conferences, and so on.

In general, your demeanor should be unfailingly positive. You should be positive about your current role, as well as how you would be a great fit for the role that you're interviewing for. Your questions about the role you're interviewing for should also be phrased such that you're not saying anything negative about your current employer. Complaining about your current employer rarely reflects positively on you. Practice your answers (yes: say them out loud) so that your answers flow easily and sound natural.

  • 1
    If I'm asked directly why I'm not happy with my current employer or how project organization works at my own company the essential reason is that there is no project organization- how could I rephrase that in a way that is positive or at the least, does not carry a negative connotation?
    – fordeka
    Commented Jun 8, 2013 at 20:06
  • 2
    In my experience, it's rare for a question to be phrased as "why aren't you happy with your current employer". If someone were to ask me that question, I would say something along the lines of, "while I've learned a lot at my current employer, I'm interested in seeing if there are other opportunities that might help me better meet my career goals" and then pivot to one of the positive things about the position that you're interviewing for.
    – nadyne
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 6:15
  • While 'why you left' can be excused, IMO 'why you apply' is a very interview poor question. For me it would raise a major red flag.
    – Balog Pal
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 16:29
  • @Ford: depends on the other party. I would expect the raw truth. Those who ask question and expect deformed answer... well, in my book worth skipping. If yo think similar consider dropping all play-ups, and you win if being dropped due to that
    – Balog Pal
    Commented Jun 9, 2013 at 16:33

Let’s say for purposes of discussion that I try to fill out a candidate profile and then search for matching jobs on the careers section of the company's website. Let's say that, in the process of doing so that the profile process is butchered by a haphazard site design and/or backend processes. How much more do you need to know?

One person may see a really nice landing page, and then go into a 'parametric search' for embedded controller chips and discover the data is accurate but the presentation isn't working on your browser. Is this major or minor?

In short you can often judge by what the employer is presently deploying. If you wouldn't want to be responsible for that kind of code then you don't want to work for them.

  • Hi Meredith, I think you misunderstand the question. The asker isn't asking how to tell if a company writes good code, he's asking how he can express that as a motivation to the interviewer so they'll understand why he wants to work at that company. Please consider an edit to address the question. Good luck! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Jun 16, 2013 at 18:12
  • If the original poster is looking for a company with high quality coding practices, and reasonably critical public facing infrastructure doesn't reflect such coding, then there isn't much point in approaching that company for work. It would appear to be one particularly good filtering mechanism. Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 6:59

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