It’s okay to leave a job you hate.
In fact, if your job makes you miserable, I urge you to get the heck out of there because life’s way too short to be stuck in a job that sucks the life out of you.
And believe it or not, most hiring managers would agree. So, if you’re in the middle of interviewing for new job opportunities—or just getting started in the process—you don’t have to worry about someone asking your reason for leaving your current job.
Yes, it’s a common question in a job interview, but it doesn’t have to cause anxiety if you take the time to prepare. It’s like I always say: Preparation breeds confidence.
Preparing for this question is as simple as taking these three simple steps:
1. Decide what reason you’ll give.
There are endless—and perfectly acceptable—reasons for leaving a job. But you don’t want to get caught off guard in an interview when they ask you why you’re job hunting. That’s why you need to know your exact reason ahead of time.
Here are some good reasons for leaving a job that might apply to you:
You don’t feel any connection to your work.
A recent Gallup poll says it all: Right now, about 70% of Americans aren’t engaged in their current work situation.1 Monday mornings are a nightmare for them, and they’re just living for the weekend. But that’s not really living at all.
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Human beings need to feel a connection to their work in order to thrive. They need to be passionate about the contributions they’re making with their lives. Otherwise, they become hopeless and believe the lie that their life doesn’t matter.
Not feeling passionate or connected to the work you do is a great reason for leaving a job. It’s not something to be ashamed of. In fact, the person interviewing you will be impressed by your desire to do work that matters. Because that same passion you hunger for is what will drive you to bring your A-game to work every day.
You don’t have the opportunity to grow.
If you’re not being challenged to reach your full potential at work, and if you never get the chance to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone, you get stuck. You hit a lid. And you die a little on the inside.
Now, part of that’s on you. It’s your responsibility to take the initiative and keep developing your skills both inside and outside of work. But on the other hand, your job might be holding you back because you’re not being challenged. Or there just aren’t many opportunities for you to branch out even though you’re dedicated and motivated.
Most hiring managers are on the hunt for team members who are hungry for growth. There are enough employees out there just mailing it in every day—but a team member who wants to develop their skills, grow in leadership, and drive projects to the finish line is rare. Letting them know you’re looking for opportunities to grow is a solid reason for leaving your job—and one a hiring manager will love to hear.
You’re in a toxic culture.
The majority of us have experienced a toxic work culture. Unfortunately, gossip in the break room, negative attitudes, poor leadership, micromanagers, and the step-on-anyone-to-get-to-the-top mentality in corporate America is commonplace.
But just because something is commonplace doesn’t mean you should put up with it.
Sharing with an interviewer that you want to leave a job because of the toxic work culture won’t come off as negative if you do it the right way (more on this later). If anything, it will communicate that you’re likely to be a positive addition to their culture because you can’t stand to work with people who sit around and complain about their jobs all day.
You’re transitioning careers or industry completely.
Stepping into a new position or industry is a great explanation to give to a prospective new employer. It makes perfect sense why you’re leaving the job—you want to do something completely different!
Simply explain to the interviewer why your current job or industry isn’t the right fit for you and why the position you’re applying for aligns more with your sweet spot.
You’re underappreciated and/or underpaid.
About 79% of people who leave their jobs give “lack of appreciation” as their reason.2 This isn’t because humans have big egos. It’s because, as people who deeply desire for their work to matter, we need to be reassured that our work isn’t going unnoticed and that our work is making a difference. You shouldn’t need constant recognition, but a peer or leader calling out your positive contributions every so often keeps the morale up.
Being underpaid can also leave you feeling like your company doesn’t appreciate the skills, experience, and value you bring to your work. If you can earn more in a different company—one that recognizes your value and has a mission you believe in—why wouldn’t you? Anyone would agree that’s a positive reason to find a new job!
2. Practice explaining your reason for leaving.
Can you relate with any of those common reasons for leaving a job? Maybe none of those reasons hit the nail on the head for you—or maybe it’s a combination of reasons. Whatever explanation you land on, just remember that answering this question isn’t the time to air your grievances about your current or former employer.
You don’t have to give the interviewer every reason for leaving your current job. Be honest, but just pick one reason and practice how you’ll phrase it. I recommended practicing the response with a friend who can give you feedback and even ask potential follow-up questions.
Here’s an example of how you might explain your reason for leaving a job:
I’ve learned a lot working at [company]. I’m grateful for the opportunity they gave me to learn [a new skill]. But I’m on the hunt for a company that will provide new and exciting opportunities for growth. I’m interested in leadership and career development, and that’s not something that’s available to me at my current job.
Can you see how that “negative” part of your current job can sound like a positive reason for applying to this new job? This would be a winning answer for any hiring manager!
3. Give your response.
All right folks, you can only practice so much. You don’t have to perfect every single word you want to say. Eventually, it’s time to get out there and get some reps in in real life.
Here are a few more tips that will help you answer this question with integrity and class no matter who’s interviewing you:
Trash-talking a current or former employer is never a good idea. In fact, it’s a huge red flag for most hiring managers. If you’re trash-talking someone you currently work for, there’s enough reason to believe one day you’ll turn around and trash-talk the company you’re interviewing with.
So, no matter the reason for leaving a job—no matter how negative it might be—spin the reason to be more positive. You can do this while still honestly answering the question.
Let me show you how:
Instead of saying: My [company] has a toxic work culture. They make coming into the office every day just plain miserable.
You could say: It’s really important for me to be around people who love their job and believe in the mission of the company. Unfortunately, that’s not the type of culture that is cultivated at my current company. But I’ve heard such great things about the way your company doesn’t tolerate gossip, which excites me!
Instead of saying: My manager is always standing over my shoulder micromanaging every little assignment. It’s really annoying.
You could say: I’m looking for an opportunity that will allow me to take ownership of projects and drive them to the finish line. That type of culture isn’t available to me at my current company. But I know one of your company values is fierce ownership, and that’s exactly what I’m looking for.
See folks, you can be honest about why you’re leaving a job without being negative.
When you’re explaining why you’re leaving a job, you’ve got to get to the point and keep it short. You should clearly state the honest reason, but that doesn’t mean you have to get on a soapbox and ramble on and on.
When you give more details than are needed, you create new questions you may not want to answer. Like if you ramble on about your inconsiderate coworkers, they might have some follow-up questions about how well you work with a team.
So, keep it short and get to the point (this is one of those things you should practice!).
Finally, always—and I mean always—be honest. Nothing turns off a hiring manager more than catching a candidate in a lie. It’s not worth missing out on this opportunity!
Even if you’ve messed up in the past, owning up to it and being honest about what happened and what you learned from it will communicate that you can be trusted and that you value transparency—and those are qualities every hiring manager is looking for.
Don’t think they’ll never find out. In this age, where technology has made our small world even smaller, they will find out, and you’ll be sorry for it.
Folks, I know interviewing is hard. And I know there’s a lot at stake here. But if you take the time to prepare for questions like these—and commit to always being honest—there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll be next in line to accept your dream job.
Trust the process.
And if you need more help with the interviewing, hiring or leadership growth process, tune in to The Ken Coleman Show every weekday. You can even call in and ask me your questions yourself at 844.747.2577 or email them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Press on. You’ve got this!
About Ken Coleman
Pulling from his own personal struggles, missed opportunities and career successes, Coleman helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality.
Listen to The Ken Coleman Show on SiriusXM, your local radio station, or wherever you listen to podcasts—and connect with Ken at kencoleman.com.