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I've had a few job interviews recently and I seriously wonder what exactly should I say when they ask me about my motivation for looking for a new job.

I completely avoided talking about money except when they ask for my desired salary, even though I'm currently underpaid because of company-wide pay freeze. Is it ok to talk about money being one of my motivators in this case or should I continue to avoid this topic completely?

I talked freely about how I don't like my work environment - small, isolated team. I would really like to work in a different environment. Is that a red flag for interviewers?

I also talked quite openly about wanting to work with more up-to-date technologies. During interviews it became obvious that most companies use at least some technologies that can be considered either slightly out of date or even legacy tech. I would like my work to be focused on something that's not maintaining (slightly) obsolete, complex systems alive. How open should I be about that?

In the end, one has to say something relevant to not appear like they're running from trouble etc.

So what topics should I focus on and what should I avoid talking about? Or is it all about how exactly I present it and what attitude I show?

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    I talked freely about how I don't like my work environment - I hope you don;t make it sound like a complain. – Sourav Ghosh Jan 14 at 12:54
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    @Simon as Sourav is saying, the hiring manager has no context for your complaints. A good employee with a legitimate grievance and a terrible employee who blames others for their own mistakes will both look the same when they complain to a hiring manager that they don't know. – NegativeFriction Jan 14 at 13:13
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    I find this question much too broad as it stands. "What not to talk about" could take a book to answer - really more useful would be, given your situation, what is the right thing to say (and give more details on situation); or, "Is it okay to talk about XYZ". – Joe Jan 14 at 22:01
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    Does this answer your question? How to respond to "Why are you looking for a new job?" – Bernhard Barker Jan 15 at 19:56
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I talked freely about how I don't like my work environment - small, isolated team. I also talked quite openly about wanting to work with more up-to-date technologies. But in retrospect even these reasons can discourage people from hiring me if they think they can't provide exactly what I'm asking for.

Short answer: NEVER DO THAT!!

Longer answer:

  • in an interview, you should never say anything bad about any of the previous employers, former colleagues... That will raise a red flag with your new potential employer, and your chances of getting the job AND getting a good package are smaller.

  • even more: NEVER say anything "bad" about yourself. If you need to "cover" your back, put it in a positive light:

Example:

Most of my experience is with COBOL and Fortran.

and

While I had the opportunity to learn programming using older programming languages, I want to expand my skills in the direction of server-side programming, ideally using (list of preferences)

All the information is there, there is no lying, but you move the focus from what can hurt you to the more positive details.

Instead, be politically correct and concentrate on the positive things. You may answer like this:

At my previous job I had the opportunity to (whatever). However, I feel that I now I reached a point where I cannot grow too much at my current work place, and your company seems to fit my needs for professional growth.

They will try to make you say something bad about them, and you may actually have good reasons to tell bad things about your former experiences. However, it is in your best interest to keep that information to yourself, and graciously avoid the trap and say something good about anything bad that happened.

Another example:

The project had terribly tight deadlines and it was understaffed. However, due to strong teamwork and professional project management, we succeeded to deliver at an acceptable level of quality at the agreed deadline.

instead of:

The idiot bosses agreed to deliver three moths earlier than specified in the contract, and we had to work 14 hours a day, including weekends, to meet the deadline. Even so, we had to cut a lot from the design phase, and testing was mostly a joke.


So topics should I focus on and what should I avoid talking about?

It is perfectly fine to talk about anything, as long as you do not share confidential information.

The big thing is HOW you talk about it (see above). Always present the non-stinking part of the sh*t.


NOTE: There is feedback in the comments that providing real information is better and more honest than being politically correct.

  • When the discussion is between regular people, then honesty takes precedence usually, because they do not have great expectations from the discussion; their future does not depend much on that discussion;
  • When the discussion is actually a job interview, things are totally different.

Let's not forget that it was the HR people, recruiters and recruiting companies which started the trend of providing politically-correct useless information, and quite often downright lying. Does "we have a great corporate culture" sound familiar? How many times is the corporate culture actually great? How many times do recruiters and companies provide the REAL reason for rejecting a candidate?

Vast experience all over the world helped building up some "best-practices" for candidates, to help them increase their chances of employment. One of them is: "Do not say anything wrong about previous employers".

Why? Because recruiters are people, and they are afraid that if you speak bad your previous employers, you will speak bad about them too in the future, if something bad will happen. And they do not want to take the chances - so much for the great culture, right?

Bottom line: OP already has the experience of being rejected for telling the truth. He already found out the best practice, by getting hurt himself. Asking him to keep getting hurt in the name of some misplaced honesty, in an environment which has a big potential to hurt him, is just evil. IMO

An interview is not a game of who is the most honest. It is a game of who is able to sell oneself better.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Neo Jan 15 at 13:43
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    Is your suggested response in any way specific to the candidate or company (except for the first part, but the answer only really starts after "However")? Would they even ask the question if they'd be happy with a completely generic answer that doesn't tell them anything? – Bernhard Barker Jan 15 at 20:06
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    Can you elaborate a bit on why you consider what OP wrote to be saying something bad? Are small, isolated teams and older technologies objectively bad (as opposed to subjective and personal preference)? Or was there something else in the phrasing that paints the company in a negative light? [I'd agree that "I don't like" is generally bad, but because it's negative, not because it's saying something bad about the company] – Bernhard Barker Jan 15 at 20:22
  • @Dukeling: Why is it bad? Because he keeps being rejected for saying those things. Because even though a small isolated team might not be a bad thing, OP makes it look like a bad thing, complaining about it. – virolino Jan 16 at 5:40
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    @virolino "he keeps being rejected for saying those things" - Where do you get that from? Where did OP mention getting rejected? Was this explicitly given as the reason for rejection by the company? – Bernhard Barker Jan 16 at 17:13
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A job interview is a two way street. The employer gets to evaluate your skills and determine if you are fit for the position, and you get to evaluate the employer and decide if they would provide a satisfying job for you.

On the surface, this is easy to understand - employers will ask questions about skills, and employees typically focus on easy to understand things like what salary and benefits they will get.

Typically, most people perceive that the employer has the upper hand, and the candidate needs to always give the right answer to every question, in order to increase their odds of being hired. On the one hand, this can be a good technique for obvious reasons - it's a good thing to increase your odds of getting hired. But there's a subtle problem with focusing only on increasing your chances of getting hired - if it causes you to gloss over important considerations, or flat out lie, it's not such a good thing any more.

Simply put, you need to focus on getting the right job for you, not just on increasing your chances of getting hired by whomever you're interviewing with. You want a job that's a good fit - one where you'll be happy. Not just any job you can get an offer for.

While other answers do a good job of focusing on giving safe answers, you must always balance the value of a safe answer against being sure that your answers are accurate and meaningful for you.

I'm making this point because you said the following:

I talked freely about how I don't like my work environment - small, isolated team. I also talked quite openly about wanting to work with more up-to-date technologies. But in retrospect even these reasons can discourage people from hiring me if they think they can't provide exactly what I'm asking for.

You are correct - saying those things might mean you don't get hired by an employer who can't provide the environment you're looking for. But here's the important truth: if those things are important to you, not getting hired by that employer might be the best possible outcome.

I can't emphasize this enough: Don't be afraid of being rejected over things that are important to you. Before you proceed with your job search, do the following:

  • Take a big step back. Consider the things that are actually important to you. Some people will be happy to work anywhere, as long as they're making a certain amount of money. Other people (like you, maybe) will want to work on a certain size of team, or will want to always work on the newest tech.
  • Once you have your list of important factors, divide them into show stoppers and nice-to-haves.
  • From that list, reverse-engineer a "company description." Pretend you're trying to advertise for companies to hire you, instead of the other way around - write our what your ideal employer looks like.
  • As you apply to jobs, do research to understand if the companies you're applying to meet your requirements. Often, for softer things like culture or team size, this might be hard to determine ahead of time. But, usually, you can at least rule out some employers.
  • As you are preparing for interviews, remind yourself of your must-haves and your nice to haves. When you consider how to answer questions like the one you've posed here, don't be afraid to be honest about both types of requirements.
  • Take that even one step further - prepare a list of questions for the company, and make sure you at least cover your must have requirements. All too often, candidates have no serious questions ready to ask the employer. Don't be that candidate! Show that you are prepared to ask about things that are important to you.

Consider ways to phrase your answers (and your questions) that focus on the positive, show that you've done research, and show that you're a good fit. For instance, regarding your specific scenario, if you've found that a company has the characteristics you're looking for, you could say,

I left my last job because they worked in small teams and focused on tech that I didn't feel was a good fit for my skills or interests. I know from looking at your website that you've got a large dev team and you use technologies X and Y, which is what I'm really interested in.

You don't want to only speak negatively about your past employer, but it's okay (in fact, it's a good thing) to show that you decided your past employer wasn't a good fit, and it's a great thing to show that you understand specific reasons why they weren't a good fit, and you now know what will make you happy. And - it's totally excellent to show that you know that this current opportunity will offer you those things! Talk about a slam dunk!

Of course, if you don't know if this employer offers the exact things you're looking for, you can hedge your bet and give a softer answer, but make sure you're not talking yourself into a job you won't be happy with. If something is important to you, make sure it gets brought up! Yes, that may mean you don't get an offer, but unless you're desperate, that might be the best possible outcome between you and a specific employer.

Hiring managers will appreciate your honesty, and they will appreciate that you are prepared. As a hiring manager, just about the worst thing that can happen is hiring someone who is quickly unhappy - then you need to figure out what to do with an unhappy employee, which usually means you're just repeating the entire process all too soon and effectively wasting time and resources.

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    I think this is an important answer. Some people just 'need any job, fast' to get started in their career progression or raise some much-needed cash. Others are past that point and would be better off with a job that is truly a good fit for their preferences. This answer is highly relevant to that group. – Alex Walker Jan 15 at 12:25
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    @AlexWalker - Speaking as a hiring manager, it's really shocking how often candidates try their hardest to say what they think I want to hear, instead of just giving an accurate answer. Sometimes it's obvious and you can take that into account. But sometimes candidates have managed to "fool" me, I've hired them, they've ended up unhappy, and then they've left within months. That's really frustrating. If they'd been honest in the interview, I could have been spared the loss of recruiting effort, and they could have been spared the "job hopper" black mark on their resume. – dwizum Jan 15 at 13:44
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    +1. It took me forever to realize that "An answer that makes a potential employer say no" isn't the same as "A bad answer." Sometimes the best answer is the one that makes an unsuitable employer think, "Nah, not going to hire them." – Kevin Jan 15 at 21:18
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    +1 This is the better answer, OP needs to focus on finding the right job, not just any job. Some employers might also be put off by excessive indirectness and vagueness, that's important too. – Nobilis Jan 16 at 14:50
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    Completely agree with this, and feel that it's a much more appropriate answer than @virolino. Having just been through a cycle of interviews myself, there's no reason to be dishonest about previous experience (absolutely you can be creative with use of language to properly convey this), it just demonstrates your capacity for self-awareness, and as indicated here, the outcome one should be looking for is the best fit. – Matthew Trout Jan 16 at 17:19
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The rule of thumb is: Do not say the negative words, rather express your willingness to work for an organization which has the positive sides you're looking for.

Example:

  • Don't say I was not promoted in existing company, say "I am looking for an opportunity where I am assigned with more challenging work and scope to utilize my skill set to exhibit the individual contribution as well as teamwork in a leadership capacity."

  • Do not say my manager lack management skills, rather say "I am looking for an opportunity where the work assignment and delivery is bound by a process and there are proper management tools / platforms to track the progress and asses the quality".

  • Don't say I'm underpaid, rather say "I'm looking for an opportunity where I am evaluated and compensated based on my contributions and value additions to the organization".

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When seeking a job, focus on the positive aspects of both your current and future roles. Avoid discussing criticism of your current employer or your role. Use statements like:

  • "I'm seeking opportunities to learn about and contribute to new technologies like ____ and ____."
  • "I enjoy working in cross-functional and integrated teams, and am seeking roles that let me do as much of that as possible."

Potential employers will work to find a role that matches your aspirations, but likely won't withhold an offer if they can't match all of your desires. Just be careful to avoid positioning your desires for future roles as mandates ("I need to work on new technologies.").

Potential employers will be turned off by someone that focuses on the negative aspects of their current and future roles. Keep the description of what you're looking for positive. If asked why you want to depart your current employer, simply say that they don't offer any or enough of what you want from a role right now.


Quick aside: When discussing compensation, share your desired compensation in future roles, not your current compensation. Don't let being underpaid in your current role impact your future compensation.

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    share your desired compensation in future roles, not your current compensation - that's exactly what I've been doing. – Simon Jan 14 at 13:49
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I think it's always best to talk about what excites you in the potential new role over what you disliked about your own role. Try to tailor your responses to the interview (it's okay to stretch the truth a bit for it-- they're absolutely stretching the truth when they tell you certain elements as well).

Rather than saying "I hate working with freakin' java 6" you could say, "I'm excited to work with some of the newer Java 11 frameworks and to work in a team that has more resources than I'm used to. I feel like I've mastered what I was working on previously, and I'm ready to expand and grow in a new role."

This gets them thinking about what you can and will do for them as opposed to what makes you unhappy (and why you might not be the right fit for them). It gives positive energy, which is always good, as well as a can-do attitude to convince the hiring manager that you're the right candidate.

Generally speaking, complaints aren't the way to go. I'd be lying if I said I've never caught myself complaining because, well, I'm human-- I didn't like elements of previous jobs, and I didn't have healthy ways to express myself to others to talk about how unhappy I was yet. But a hiring manager is decidedly not the correct person to complain to about a past or current job.

Picture this scenario. Candidate A is Practically Perfect in Every Way. She does everything by the book and very well-- but unfortunately, she's stuck in a terrible team that won't listen to her input, with a boss who actively tries to belittle her and make her feel worthless. She's in a truly terrible job!

Candidate B is not so great. She's had plenty of opportunities, but she always has an excuse for why the work isn't getting done-- it was too warm in the office, I can't work in these conditions! Now it's the arctic-- how can I be expected to code when I'm shivering like this? Oh, you're using Java 10? I only know Java 11, I'm afraid I'm not that old!

Both candidates eventually come before a hiring manager. When asked about why they wish to leave their former employers, both say, "My current job is terrible! They treat me poorly, ask me to work in impossible conditions, and generally just bully me and are awful!" One candidate is telling the truth; one candidate is refusing to own up to their own failures. The hiring manager, having only their respective words to go on, can't know who's who. If they make the wrong choice, will this person be leaving nasty reviews on Glassdoor or similar for their company?

The hiring manager will most likely pursue a candidate who doesn't send up any red flags and who is a perceived lower risk.

So far as money goes-- I think you're making the right call to try to let them discuss it first. Whoever names a number first typically loses. There are some excellent guides out there for negotiating your salary (and how to get non-monetary compensation as well, if it simply isn't in the budget to pay you enough). Especially in early interviews, salary discussions aren't worth bringing up.

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Mention only those issues which, if found, will surely make you leave this new job too.

I'm doing some technical interviews for my employer. I don't really believe that the goal of asking a question about the motivation behind leaving a job is merely to see if the candidate is prone to badmouthing their employer. Whenever I ask a candidate: "What was it you didn't like about your previous job?", I'm actually interested in learning what issues he considers serious enough to quit over them.

The thing is, every company has some issues, and serious ones'd better be discussed up front. But the interviewer may be oblivious to some of them, what with him being a happy employee thus far, and the interviewer can't read candidate's mind either. So it's better to let the candidate start with telling what issues would concern them, and then the interviewer can comment on whether those concerns are valid with regards to this company. The goal here is to estimate whether the candidate will stay for long, if hired.

For example, an answer like "I haven't done any new development in 6 months" is perfectly ok (with me, at least) as I can address this issue: "Sometimes the team here has to spend a month fixing the bugs before they can proceed with new development. Is that ok?"
On the other hand, answers like "my boss wasn't fair" are absolutely useless for this goal, as there's no telling what the back story was.

Focusing on the positive reasons isn't a silver bullet. Though usually welcomed, positive reasons are still evaluated against the same goal. So, "I think your company offers great opportunity for professional growth" can meet a cold comment: "you know, we're committed to C++03 only development for the next 5 years".

That said, if you're desperate for the job, it could be wise to avoid mentioning issues which potentially may apply to the company you're interviewing with.

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My first thought is, How badly do you need the job? If you are unemployed and the bill collectors are closing in, then presumably you don't want to say anything that will lead a potential employer to think you are not suited to this job. But if that's not the case, if you are have a job that is at least tolerable and you are looking for a job that you will really like, then telling a new company what you did and didn't like about your previous job could save you from jumping into something worse than where you were.

Like if you really hated working with, whatever, Fwacbar software, and you tell them that, and the potential employer also uses Fwacbar software, then they're likely to tell you that up front, and you can politely say "thank you for your time" and leave.

I'd be careful about sounding too negative. If you angrily say what a jerk your current boss is, how the company treats the employees like slaves, etc etc, a potential employer might conclude you're a complainer and a whiner and not what you. There's a difference between, "The company is run by a moron who doesn't know anything about this business" and "I have some concerns that the company is not well managed." I recall once telling a potential employer that I was concerned that my present company was going bankrupt, and the interviewer said, "That's a good reason".

Not exactly what you're saying, but I recall thinking once that maybe I should be careful what I post on the Internet, because what if a potential employer didn't agree with my politics or religious beliefs or whatever? But then I thought, If someone is going to refuse to hire me because he doesn't like my religion, would I want to work there anyway? Once I figured out that he hates everyone of, say, my religion, I'd spend the rest of my time there having to be careful what I said in casual conversations. Would I be afraid to say something as simple as, "Okay, I'll work on this after church Sunday"? Etc.

If you don't absolutely need the job, an interview should be a two-way process: The company wants to find out if you are qualified and would fit into their team and company environment, but you also are trying to find out if this is a place where you would like to work. If you hide your preferences or lie about them to get the job, what good does that do? Then you just end up quitting a job that you hate in order to take another job that you will hate.

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A lot of great answers already, but let me add a couple things with a different spin.

  1. In an interview, when you share information, have a clear purpose behind sharing that information. Maybe you really want to only work at companies that have feature X - mentioning it likely will reduce the rate of moving on to the next stage, but it will do that precisely for the types of companies you wouldn't want to work at anyway.

  2. When you are trying to figure out whether the company fits well with what you're looking for, you shouldn't just be sharing things about yourself, you should also ask questions. Come with a list of questions prepared, but make sure they're not leading questions. For example: "Do you like to have fun at work?" or "Do you have a strong company culture?" are not useful to ask, everyone will say "yes" to both. Instead ask "tell me about how you celebrate successes" or "what is a trade-off your company makes in terms of culture." There is no right answer for these, and you force the interviewer to get off the fence. They'll spin whatever it is in a positive light, but that information can help tell you whether it really is a good fit as far as you're concerned.

  3. When asked about motivation, never say something untrue. There are many platitudes that are probably always true: "I've grown a lot over the past couple years, and I'm looking for more responsibility," "I feel like I've explored industry X, and I've always been interested in industry Y," "my current company is great, but I'm looking for something more like Z." When applicable, you can also deflect with something like "When I found out about how your company was like this, I found that really interesting and I wanted to find more" - plenty of people passively search, and it can help with negotiations if you make it clear that you would leave for the right situation, but you're also not in a rush.

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