It's not the only reason I left, but it was one of them. Basically almost all my colleagues weren't very motivated. They will follow instructions, but never come up with ideas of their own. There could for example be a [big event] in the industry, but I'd have nobody to discuss it with.

I am wondering if this is a good reason to cite in an interview or if it will be viewed as disparaging a former employer, with all its associated problems.

  • 8
    Easy to outperform them and advance
    – Kilisi
    Mar 10, 2021 at 6:23
  • 3
    @BigMadAndy it's not my company but I still want it to succeed - I want it to grow, expand, become world-leading, and I want to be able to say I was part of it. I do not understand why you think that is immature.
    – Allure
    Mar 10, 2021 at 8:45
  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere> that is, assuming the company was big enough that promotions were a thing.
    – spectras
    Mar 11, 2021 at 1:05
  • 2
    I don't see the relation between this question and the linked one - I clearly have to say something, question is whether I can say this.
    – Allure
    Mar 11, 2021 at 11:31
  • 1
    @Allure What's wrong with saying, "I left due to cultural differences?" This is literally true, in this case.
    – employee-X
    Mar 11, 2021 at 19:27

5 Answers 5


my colleagues weren't very motivated. They will follow instructions, but never come up with ideas of their own

Sounds pretty disparaging to me.

Instead of focusing on what you didn't like about your former co-workers, try flipping it around and discuss what you want from future co-workers - something like "I'm looking for opportunities to work with highly motivated industry leaders" perhaps.

That changes the likely impression you'll leave from being someone who doesn't think much of your colleagues, to someone who wants to respect them a lot, while still meaning essentially the same thing.

  • 24
    @rubenvb as I understand, the point is to express this positively, like "I prefer X", instead of blaming previous workplace for "not X".
    – Ruslan
    Mar 10, 2021 at 16:08
  • 13
    One is blaming (they didnt meet my standard and wont go up to me), the other one is improving youself (I didnt like the standard they have, so I'm looking for a better match)
    – Martijn
    Mar 10, 2021 at 16:09
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    @rubenvb I don't believe this question is about the exit interview. Mar 10, 2021 at 16:33
  • 3
    Ah indeed, it seems I misread the question.
    – rubenvb
    Mar 10, 2021 at 16:44
  • 18
    I like the spirit of the answer, but the phrasing (“looking for opportunities to work with highly motivated industry leaders”) sounds like from a tacky job ad copy — soulless, faux hip marketing language. Mar 10, 2021 at 21:27

I am wondering if this is a good reason to cite in an interview or if it will be viewed as disparaging a former employer, with all its associated problems.

I wouldn't mention it. It makes it sound as if you have a minimum threshold for how motivated employees need to be for you to stay on board. Do their employees meet that minimum threshold? Who knows but even if they did you still come across as being a bit judgmental.

Really, all I'd say if I were asked why I'm considering leaving a current employer is: I've learned as much as I can at my current job and am eager for new challenges and new opportunities to learn.

That said, it's fine to mention that as the reason in an exit interview but not in a job interview you're serious about.

  • Why would it not be good to talk about this early? If this is a reason to leave the previous job, I don't see why OP would want to keep it undiscussed just to get the new job and realize that it's not better there
    – lucidbrot
    Mar 11, 2021 at 15:16
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    @lucidbrot You should ensure that all of your concerns are addressed in an interview. However, you also must demonstrate that you're capable of working with other personality types, who have different concerns. You have to find a way to phrase it which isn't off-putting. When you meet the team, ask them what their favorite things about the culture are, perhaps? If they answer seriously, it will give you a clue as to what motivates them. There are probably even more insightful questions you could ask.
    – employee-X
    Mar 11, 2021 at 19:32

I'm somewhat against the conventional wisdom. Everyone knows you have issues with your previous employer, or you wouldn't have left. I don't think there's much point in trying to pretend you didn't. The reason people ask in an interview is because you don't want to land back in the same situation that caused you to leave. It's okay to lose an opportunity if it's not the right opportunity.

That being said, you should do it with tact, and make sure you are not so vague that people could interpret your comments to match companies it shouldn't match. I would word it something like, "My colleagues didn't share my interest in professional development and innovation. What kind of opportunities do you have to encourage that at your company?"

  • 3
    You might well have left just because the grass wasn't green enough on your side. Mar 10, 2021 at 18:38
  • @MikeRobinson Which is just a metaphor you had issues.
    – usr1234567
    Mar 11, 2021 at 9:38

You never give detailed reasons as to why exactly you left.

If you have been with the company not too long, say up to two years, something general followed by "was not what I expected" is usually fine. If you were with it longer, something along the lines of looking for new opportunities is the way to hint at not having a career path forward in your old company. Or mentioning that something "was changing" tells that you used to be happy in that job, but now aren't anymore. Stick with the general, and weave something positive in there. In your case you could say that you started working in a fantastic team, but then people left and the team spirit changed and does not fit your expectations anymore. Be ready for a follow-up question about what you expect from the team you work with - but if it comes, you already turned the conversation to what you want from your new job, away from the old one.

Never forget that any halfway smart employer understands that one day, he will be your previous workplace, and the way you speak about your last job is the way you will be speaking about him in the future.

  • Exactly. More likely to cause harm than good. It is unlikely that your reason will ever be passed to the right people. You may find that your new company is worse and you want to come back. You may be flagged as a person with a bad attitude rather than someone with a legitimate reason.
    – Mattman944
    Mar 11, 2021 at 16:55

Of course it's a valid reason. In fact, it's an excellent reason. I know exactly how this feels: you are interested, enthusiastic, willing to learn, full of life energy. You care for things, and you want to solve problems even though they might not be in your job description. On the other hand, your environment is full of people who don't care. They are not there to solve problems, but to sell their time, to keep the chairs warm, to participate in meetings that will justify their salaries. They need to be told what to do, and they will only do what they are told. Their motto is "the more complicated, the better".

Any future employer who understands this will wellcome you with open hands. He will know that people like you are rare and valuable like a treasure. They will know that people like you are an asset to a company, the future Elon Musks and Jeff Bezos, whereas the other people are a liability, like furniture and machines. Almost every job advertisement out there says that they are looking for "highly motivated people". That's you.

And this is what is so wrong with our society. Everybody lies, everybody pretends. People work in jobs they hate and we have learned and accepted that this is somehow how it is supposed to be. It is not. I'm surprised and disappointed at how many people are advising you to shut up, to be like others, fit in the box. I'm willing to bet that many of them hate their jobs.

One thing is true though - citing others as the reason for you leaving slightly misses the point. So instead of "I left because my colleagues were unmotivated" it could be better to say "I left because I couldn't realize my full potential".

  • 1
    You make a good and honest point here - I would just add that it's about how you say things, not what you say that matters here. "I want to bring ideas and innovation, and be challenged by those around me so we arrive at the best possible outcome" is going to be way better than "I'm the only one who comes up with ideas, everyone else is just a dullard who does what they're told". The key here is to turn every negative thing into a positive - but I agree that there's no need to "keep quiet" on any topic. There's also no need to raise things that aren't helpful though ;-) Mar 12, 2021 at 12:49

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