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The 3-Step Formula to Answer: Why Are You Looking for a New Job?

What you should never say, and how to give an honest and positive answer to the question

Brandi Dye
Contributor
Megan Hageman
Contributor

Woman drinking a coffee at work

One of the first questions you’ll be asked in an interview is why are you looking for a new job?

So, should you be totally honest? Can you be honest?

You know why you’re seeking a new position, whether it’s the need for better pay, to leave behind a toxic work environment, to escape a difficult boss, or to move up in your career. Maybe you were laid off or fired. Whatever the reason, it is important to use careful wording and craft your answer using a positive spin on the situation.

Being too honest can hurt your chances at landing the job, and being too vague can be just as unhelpful.

But don’t panic just yet. We’ve created the go-to guide on what phrases and answers to avoid at all costs, along with the perfect formula to help you answer like an interview pro.

Read More: 5 Tough Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

The 3-step formula to answer: Why are you looking for a new job?

1. Start with a positive word about your current workplace or job

Name a couple of helpful skills you have learned or a part of your job that you enjoy and how the work has helped you grow.

If there isn’t a job-related portion of your employment you enjoy, mention something like the sense of community, great coworkers, a flexible schedule, or a great manager.

2. Weave in your skills

As you discuss your duties from your current position or what you would like to accomplish with a new employer, slip in a plug for yourself.

Mention the volunteer work you’ve been doing and how you want to incorporate those experiences into your new job. Or talk about how you loved planning the corporate softball tournament and would like to build on your event planning expertise.

3. Highlight the company’s mission—and how you’re a perfect fit

Knowing nothing or very little about the company is the most common mistake made during an interview. Do your research on the company, their mission, values, culture, and anything new or exciting the company is working on.

Rattle off a few of these points and explain how they align perfectly with your previous experience and what you are looking for going forward.

Examples

Let’s look at a few examples that use this formula to answer the question:

I have been working at my current company for three years now and have gained a great amount of experience in project management. However, in my most recent assignments, I have been able to work directly with the marketing team and gain skills in both copywriting and SEO. I would love to incorporate these skills into a new position here at ACME, and becoming a part of the new team you are creating to redesign the company’s digital marketing strategy.

Here’s another:

My current company is fast-moving and high-achieving, and I’ve learned how to compete and succeed in such a high-pressure environment. But at such a large and established company, there’s not a whole lot of room to grow beyond your own job description. For my next job, I’d like the opportunity to wear more than one hat at a time and keep up that momentum. That’s why the startup world is so appealing to me.And one more:While I’m grateful I have been able to lead and grow a team—I do love people management, I’m afraid the culture at this company doesn’t suit me. I’d like to work in an environment that encourages teamwork and collaboration.

The 4 things you should never say when they ask, why are you looking for a new job?

1. Trash talk your current company

Do you remember your mom telling you, If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all? This still applies.

Despite issues at your current job, there are many reasons it’s a bad idea to badmouth other companies in an interview. It’s unprofessional and immature, and an interviewer may assume you contributed to the problem, that you might create a toxic culture, that you might do the same to them one day.

Instead, find something positive to say about your position. Show them that you have made a bad situation into an opportunity.

I’ve been able to learn many new skills at my current job, but I’d like the chance to apply those in a different industry. Yours, I believe, offers me better opportunity for growth.

2. Lie

While it’s not acceptable to talk badly about your current employer, you should still be honest about what is pushing you to leave your position.

Even if you are looking for a new job because of less than ideal circumstances—you were laid off, fired, or let go—it’s best to be honest. If you need help with framing a bad situation positively, check out: Reasons for Leaving Your Job: The Good, Bad & Messy.

Additionally, the interviewer may be able to smell a lie, and no one wants an dishonest employee.

3. Bring up money

There are only a few windows of time when it’s acceptable to talk to an interviewer about salary. In response to why you are looking for a new job? is not one of them.

Future employers want to know you are truly interested in the work you’ll be doing and not just the paycheck you’ll receive every other week. Don’t tell your interviewer I would like a pay raise, or I don’t think I am being compensated fairly at my current company. They may consider you a flight risk—the moment someone offers you more money, off you go.

4. Say, it’s just time for a change

While this may be perfectly true, it doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. The interviewer may also take you to be a person who retreats at the first sign of boredom.

More helpful ideas for answering the question

You know the reason why you're looking for a new job, but maybe you need help articulating it. Here are some more ideas for answering the question. 

Reason: I need a more emotionally fulfilling career path

What not to say: My current job is soul crushing so I have to get out of there as soon as possible.

What to say: Your company has such a positive impact on people’s lives and that’s something I want to be a part of. I want to make a difference.

Reason: I want to to advance in my career

What not to sayI've been doing this a long time and I want a promotion and title change.

What to say: At this point in my career, I have the skills, knowledge, and experience to go beyond the duties of my current role. I’m ready to learn new things and take on more responsibility.

Reason: I want to make more money

What not to say: I should be getting paid more.

What to say: Leave money conversations to  salary negotiation. If you are concerned that the company may not be able to meet your salary requirements, you can bring it up earlier in the interview process. Here's a guide on how and when to talk about salary requirements.

Reason: Looking for a better office environment

What not to say: I don’t like the people I work with.

What to say: I want to find a job with a healthy workplace culture. I want to be sure the next job I take is one where I will feel supported and can support my coworkers. 

Reason: You had to relocate to a new city or want to relocate to a new city

What not to say: I had to move and I need a job, or, I want to live in New York City, so I need a job here. 

What to say: Life recently brought me to this city and in doing some research, I found that this company is the very best in the industry. I’m excited for the opportunity to bring my skills to such a respected organization. 

Or

I'm looking to move to New York and I want a job that lets me grow my career. I really value your company's mission and so I think this job is the opportunity I've been looking for. 

Read more: 4 Common Situational Interview Questions

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