“Why did you leave?”

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Great meme, right? But wait, you’re a recruiting firm, why have an article that starts off talking about my Ex?  Well, here’s a secret- when you start getting trained as a recruiter, there are a ton of comparison likening the interview process to the dating game. Believe it or not, they are RIGHT!

Picture it, you’re on your first date with this person, bringing your “A-game”, and you get asked the dreaded question- the same question everyone gets asked in a job interview…

“If you’re such a catch, why aren’t you in a relationship with someone else?”

OR

“If you’re already in a relationship, why are you talking to me?”

Ok, that last question likely doesn’t come up unless you’re on Tinder, but at the end of the day this is the question that the hiring manager wants to know.

“Why did you leave your previous position?

OR

“Why are you looking to leave your current position?”

Ironic isn’t it?  Most managers want to find someone, typically from a competitor, who has the skills they need, so they can minimize the ramp-up time that this person will require. In addition, they want to find someone who is going to be loyal, stick with the company long enough to recoup their investment, and ideally find someone who stays with the company long-term, growing and moving up in the organization. At the same time, this person interviewing will need to leave their company and manager who had hoped to achieve the same long-term loyalty.

Now let’s be honest, there are many organizations that see employees as investments, but unfortunately there are others that see employees as commodities and choose to “invest” in other areas.  Regardless of which company you come from, hopefully this article will help you in answering why you are leaving a job and looking for another.

Keep in mind, hiring managers don’t want to hire people that aren’t going to make the effort to come in and learn the culture, understand the nuances of the job, and take care of the customers. Plus, if you play too hard to get, they might just assume you’re trying to position yourself for a counteroffer from your current employer, in which case they’ll disqualify you as a waste of their time. Companies are looking to hire employees who are truly interested and dedicated to their mission and purpose. They work under what I like to call the “Cheap Trick Effect”.  “I want you to want…ME!”

It’s ok to be in a good place employment-wise, but if you’re serious about being considered, be prepared to give a couple of specific examples of why you’re interested in this new job. It doesn’t mean your actively looking, just that X, Y, and Z stood out to you about this opportunity, and you want to learn more about it. However, if you’re unemployed and actively looking, this is DOUBLY important! The manager is trying to figure out if you’re interested in “A JOB” or “THEIR JOB”. Trust me, there is a big difference between the two in the hiring manager’s mind. The more research you do on the company website, finding out about the hiring authorities on LinkedIn, and writing down relevant questions about the day-to-day responsibilities of the role, you’ll take yourself from someone looking for another interview notch on the belt to someone who is serious about being a successful member of the company.

By the way, the same need for detail applies if you’re discussing old job moves. “I left company ABC for a better opportunity,” and “A recruiter called me,” could be euphemisms for “My manager and I hated each other, and I resigned the day before we challenged each other to ritual combat in front of HR.” Here’s the bad news, when it comes to vague answers, hiring managers assume the worst. If you aren’t clear about why you left your prior job, the hiring manager is going to create their own scenarios. Therefore, give two or three examples of what makes this new opportunity better and why you’re wanting to leave your current company. These examples will assure the manager that you’re not just trying to cover up a bad situation or chasing a higher paycheck.

What do you do if the worst DID happen?  Maybe you took a risk and went to that startup, only to have them run out of funding a year later. Maybe your company was doing well but not well enough, and the HR team had to pull a “Reduction in Force” (RIF), making you the first one to go. Or maybe, you had intentions of resigning, but your ex-boss terminated you before your meeting with HR. Whatever it is, you are now looking for a job.

If you are in the situation where something bad did happen, here are a couple things to keep in mind.

  • Primarily, remember that you are not the only person this has happened to. Layoffs happen, people get let go, mistakes occur, and people get fired. Those individuals are still able to go on to get other jobs and continue their careers. Hiccups are common, not the exception. I was fired from my first sales job at the mall because I didn’t sell enough puppies. Afterward, I experienced some more bumps in the road, until I found my place at QuestPro. Since then I’ve spent the last 17 years with my company helping some terrific individuals find their next long-term opportunity. A few rough patches are not indictments of you as a person.

 

  • Secondly, be specific (remember, generalizations are bad). If you got laid off, tell the manager how many people were affected by the RIF. If a new manager came on board and started making changes, talk about how long you were there before that manager came and how quickly things changed after they got there. If your company was bought out and absorbed by another company, talk about that. You might think that everyone remembers St. Paul & Travelers buying out/ merging with each other, but I promise there are recent graduates who have no idea St. Paul ever existed. If the company went under, talk about what you saw at the outset and how things changed. Acknowledge what you missed in your assessment and make a point to not make the same mistake again. At the end of the day, most of hiring managers are wanting someone with the ability to self-evaluate and improve. Talking about your prior moves (both good and bad) is a great way to show what you’ve learned.

 

  • Finally, don’t lie. Just don’t. I’ve had people tell me there was a big company cut back and later admit that they were the only one out of 50 people in their office who was let go. If you tell a manager that story, they will start wondering what really happened. Employees that gives excuses and lies sound like a crazy Ex, insisting nothing was or ever is their fault. As uncomfortable as it might be, if you made mistakes, own up to it and take responsibility. I would encourage you to discuss the situation with a recruiter as we are used to the good, the bad, and the ugly. We can give you advice on how to handle it! On the bright side, you still have a chance. Sometimes we can allow a person to start a contract-permanent position, so they have an opportunity to prove themselves. Many companies are open to this vs. bringing someone in direct right off the bat.

 

Like it or not, interviewing and dating are extremely similar. You’re putting yourself out there, taking a risk, meeting new people about opportunities that aren’t entirely fleshed out, and trying to find out if this is a person (or group of people) that you want to spend 40 hours a week with for the next few years of your life. Ultimately, both sides want this to be a fit, and preparing your answers will help both you and the managers to make sure it’s a great fit. If you have any further comments or questions about your job needs, don’t be afraid to call the recruiters here at QuestPro!

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