How to Answer the Most Awkward Question in a Job Interview

Job interview questions starting with ‘why’ are some of the toughest to answer. You’re never quite sure if you should be honest and therefore more relatable, give a little white lie because that’s what they might be expecting, or try to avoid answering the question. These types of questions can truly be a minefield for interviewees, with one wrong move nixing any chance they had at getting the job.

That said, however, there’s one ‘why’ question, in particular, that’s up there among the hardest to answer. And it’s ‘Why do you want to leave your current role?’. Or, if you’re not currently working: ‘Why did you leave your last role?’.

Awkward, right? But before we navigate how best to go about answering it, it’s important to understand why employers ask it of applicants in the first place.

“Employers ask it as it reveals a lot about what motivates and fulfils you,” says Georgie Abay, Head of AllBright Australia, a careers network for women offering online training, events and networking. “The employer will be wanting to uncover if you’re a good fit for their own company culture and this question might cast some light on that too.”

Now that you know the background, here’s how Abay suggests you go about answering this tricky job interview question.

Prepare Your Answer

“It’s always great to be prepared for an interview and any questions that may arise to avoid being caught off guard. Spending time thinking about your motivation for leaving beforehand allows you to articulate them clearly. Remember, you’re interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.”

Keep It Positive

“It’s best to frame your answer in a way that reflects you well, as you don’t want to come across as unprofessional. Everyone’s situation is unique, and you may be leaving your job due to a toxic work environment, however, while honesty can be refreshing, always remain tactful and focus on the positive.

“In this case, focus on the most attractive attributes of the new role you are interviewing for and the value that you can bring to it. Bad mouthing your current employer will not build trust with your prospective one, and you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.”

Avoid Mentioning Money

“Being confident about your qualifications and expertise is great but avoid pointing to money as your main cause of leaving as this may give the wrong impression and suggest that’s your only motivation. Instead, keep your answers centred around your professional skillset and the value you can bring to the company, as this will best showcase your worth.”

Answer Concisely

“Being concise with your answers will show the interviewer you can be efficient, effective, and eloquent. It also shows that you have taken the time to prepare for the interview and have conviction in your answers. It’s understandable to be nervous in an interview and, as a result, you can find yourself easily rambling, but the better prepared you are, the more compelling you will be and the greater chance you will have of keeping the interviewer engaged.”

If you’re keen to see it in action, Abay offers these two suggestions for answers:

‘I have worked at my current company for a number of years and have learnt a considerable amount while being there, however, I am ready to expand on my skills even further and take on new challenges.’ This is also a great chance to summarise the key skills that you could bring to this role.

‘I’ve worked in the corporate world for X number of years and while the experience was incredible, I am very eager to work for a start-up where I can have more of a direct impact and when I saw this role advertised, I was really intrigued by it.’

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