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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 with which I work. 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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    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. Nov 26 '12 at 2:49
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    "I would hate to have the opportunity of a lifetime pass me by because I wasn't paying attention"
    – DLS3141
    Feb 22 '16 at 15:30
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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
  • the other aspect to this is that while your old supervisor sucks, you haven't met the new one yet.... hence its never a good idea to focus on those negative aspects of the old job.
    – gbjbaanb
    Sep 10 '15 at 9:38
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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
  • -1, it's actually the greatest opportunity to lose your offer.
    – user1084
    Jul 22 '14 at 16:03
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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 '14 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.
    – Rob Moir
    Jul 31 '14 at 7:40
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    As I tend to be on the interview panel for my employer's IT jobs, I know how hard we find it to hire all levels of IT person. We have plenty of applicants so I'm forced to conclude that, where I'm based at least, it's not as difficult as all that.
    – Rob Moir
    Jul 31 '14 at 10:47
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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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  • "I want to make more money" why it is negative? Jul 31 '16 at 10:39
  • @Will_create_nick_later saying you want to change jobs for more money is generally considered unwise because it plants the idea that if they hire you, you'll move on again looking for even more money. Obviously we all expect to be paid for our work and want to be paid well, but it's not the best idea to sound like that's all you care about. Aug 1 '16 at 6:45
  • Carson63000 - ok, but if your previous job is perfect lets say and all is missing - the money. Then if we do not tell that money is important, we are kind of not honest. And still we will change job when we see good money. Does not matter that we did not say it in the interview. So is it not better for emploeyer to know instantly that money is super important to you? Of course it might reduce chances of being hired, but if you do not care about the job which is not giving the best money possible, then is it not better to be honest? Aug 1 '16 at 12:04
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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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  • I am having hard time figuring how selling a BMW answers the question asked
    – gnat
    Jul 31 '14 at 3:26
  • @gnat, substitute 'BMW' with 'job' and 'sell' with 'looking for' and try again. Maybe it's not as obvious as I thought. Jul 31 '14 at 3:31
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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 '14 at 4:13
  • @jmort253, good advise. Trying to make it interesting is one thing, but it's more important to communicate the idea to the audience. I'll edit it now. Jul 31 '14 at 4:21
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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 '14 at 5:01
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Firstly, don't badmouth your current or previous employer or coworkers, because doing so could suggest a number of possible negative traits about you, e.g. that you're more inclined to blame others than to reflect on your own shortcomings, you have difficulty working through problems, you talk behind others' backs and/or you're generally a negative person. It doesn't matter whether any of that (or what you said about your employer) is actually true, because the interviewer doesn't have too much to go on and the risk of the above is usually not worth it. That's more than enough of a reason to reject a candidate.

Secondly, don't mention wanting more money, or at least only mention that after you've given other good reasons (and again, don't badmouth your current employer in the process by suggesting that they're stingy or that they're failing as a company). I say you shouldn't mention money because there isn't really anyone would object to more money and employers want employees who care about their job beyond just their paycheck.

Good answers to "why are you looking for a new job" can roughly be broken down into the below categories. As a rule of thumb, I would say anything other than the below would also be a bad answer.

How do you want to grow your career?

This is the go-to aspect you should focus on when answering this question.

Without saying bad things about your current employer, you should explain what your current job is lacking that motivated you to start looking for a job. This is about what you actually do in your job, rather than anything related to the company culture or coworkers. Some questions you could address:

  • Which technologies or tools do you want to work with?
  • Do you want to transition to a different field or job?
  • What skills do you want to learn?
  • As a minor point only (again, without badmouthing): Why are you unable to do the above in your current job?

All of these should really relate to the job you're applying for. If you mention things the company has nothing to do with, that's not a good answer.

You should definitely focus a lot more on the positive: things that interest and excite you. Don't focus on things you're disinterested in, because this makes you come across as a pessimist. You could, for example, say something like "At my current job most of my time is spent on X, which [isn't something I'm fond of/I don't mind so much], but I'd really like to focus more on Y; this is something I find fascinating because...".

After you've answered the question, if you have any concerns about whether they'd be able to help you grow your career in the ways you want, you could then potentially ask about that. This would mostly relate to things that would be deal-breakers for you, because it's not going to look good if you ask whether you'd have any opportunity to learn or work with something and they say no. You can ask about less important things less directly at another point in the interview.

Why do you want to work here?

The question linked above goes into more detail, but the basic idea is that you should know enough about the culture of the company you're applying to, what they do and the job to be able to convince someone that you want to work there. This is an indication that you'd be committed to the job, and that you'd be happy there, which are things almost all employers want.

"Why are you looking for a new job" is more about your general reasons for looking for a new job (e.g. one of the other approaches mentioned here), so I might suggest starting with those reasons and then adding in how this specific employer seems to meet what you're generally looking for.

If you went with this approach, they may still ask both questions regardless, in which case you should probably reference and briefly reiterate your earlier answer ("like I said earlier", but without being too repetitive) and ideally add a few more reasons why you want to work there.

If you're generally happy where you are, but there's something about this particular company that caught your eye, then you could potentially focus a bit more on this aspect.

What are some deal-breakers or points of concern for you?

Some deal-breakers could be very difficult or impossible to mention without badmouthing your current employer - don't mention those. Others should be easy to mention without making anyone look bad.

This is more of a neutral or slightly negative answer (for the employer) than a positive one, although it could be very useful for filtering out jobs that have this deal-breaker (in that they would either tell you about it, or reject you).

There can be a slight positive here (depending on the deal-breaker mentioned) in that it can demonstrate that you reflect a lot on what you want out of a job, and you're looking for one where you can stay for quite a few years.

You might, for example, mention that your current job involves a lot of travel and you're looking for something where'd you'd spend most of your time at the office. If it's possible or likely that the new job would involve a lot of travel, they're more likely to reject you (which you'd presumably want them to do if you actually don't want to travel often).

Personal reasons

If you are, for example, moving to a new country or city, this might apply. Some reasons may be a bit too personal (and sharing those could very well hurt your chances), so try to use your best judgement here, don't share too many personal details, and rather go with one of the other approaches if unsure. As an example, if you are moving, "I'll be moving to this city on such-and-such date" is about as specific as I would suggest getting. Don't get into your reasons for moving, beyond, perhaps, to reassure them that you'd be staying there for the long term (although it might be a good idea to go into the not-too-personal reasons a bit if the move isn't confirmed yet or you want them to sponsor you, which would be a different question entirely).

If you have such a reason for wanting to change jobs, then you can briefly start with that, and then transition to one or more of the other approaches mentioned here.

Such a reason can potentially count in your favour in that it could suggest you're committed enough to your employer that you wouldn't be changing jobs if it weren't for this unrelated reason. Although it can also potentially count against you in that it could suggest you're a bit desperate (because you must find a new job) and you may not care that much about this specific job you're interviewing for.

For this I would most likely lean a bit more heavily into "why do you want to work here" to counteract the potential downside mentioned above.

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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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  • Down voters, please explain. This answer isn't the typical 'save in all cases' answer. But is my favorite because: 1, it's a valid answer under the OP's situation (not a good idea in general); 2, it has some spice in its flavor. IMO, you never stand out if you are just the same as everyone else. Jul 31 '14 at 3:02
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    @AllenZhang to me, the issue with this answer is it that seems to merely reiterate points made (and better presented and explained) in a prior answer posted more than a year ago. Per my reading, this answer fails to meet requirements to Back It Up and Don't Repeat Others
    – gnat
    Jul 31 '14 at 7:32
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    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. Jul 31 '14 at 14:21

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