How to answer: ‘Why are you leaving your current job?’

'Why are you leaving your current job?' Don't be caught out by one of the most common interview questions. (Source: Getty)
'Why are you leaving your current job?' Don't be caught out by one of the most common interview questions. (Source: Getty)

You’ve turned up at the job interview five minutes early, coffee in hand, notes and talking points memorised, ready for any curveball the interviewer might throw at you.

But then they kick off with a question that is so basic that it seems like a no-brainer: “Why are you leaving your current job?”

Believe it or not, there are right and wrong answers.

According to a post by recruitment firm Robert Half, the question isn’t designed to trick you.

Rather, it’s to help the recruiter understand your motivations for leaving your current job, whether you left on good terms, and if you’re a good fit for the company.

But even if the real reason is that you weren’t paid enough, your boss was a jerk, or you hated your job, there are better ways to frame these reasons.

Instead, you should view the question as an opportunity to demonstrate your work ethic and desire to grow, according to Robert Half.

Frame your answer in a positive light and focus on what’s ahead, not what you’re leaving behind, Lily Zhang, a manager of graduate student professional development at MIT Media Lab, told The Muse.

Three best answers

Good answer: “Because I want to grow my career”

This is a great way to show a potential new employer that you’re looking to move forward, and up, in your career.

Here’s what Zhang suggests:

“I’m ready for the next challenge in my career. I loved the people I worked with and the projects I worked on, but at some point I realized I wasn’t being challenged the way I used to be. Rather than let myself get too comfortable, I decided to pursue a position where I can continue to grow.”

Good answer: “Because the company has restructured, my boss or team has changed”

If the company restructured, give examples for why the structure didn’t work for you and how you tried to improve things while you were there, Robert Half advised.

Or if you want to communicate that your boss was a bully without coming across as though you were the problem, make sure to keep it as neutral as possible and don’t forget to say at least one positive thing about your experience, Zhang said.

Here’s what she suggests:

“I realized the leadership of my team was going in a different direction, and I’m interested in working in a more collaborative environment. It was a hard decision to make because I love the mission of the company, but I ultimately think this is the right choice.”

Good answer: “Because I’m looking for a pay rise”

Pay is a common reason that people leave their jobs, and hiring managers are aware of this – but Zhang recommends not being too upfront about money until the potential employer seems more invested in you.

Here’s what she suggests:

“During my three years at [the company], I had the opportunity to really develop a strong skill set in [list your skills here]. And, while it was a great learning experience and I enjoyed contributing to the team, I’m ready to join a company that values my skills and allows me to use them more fully.”

Three worst answers

Don’t accidentally stray into a minefield with this question: there are certain ways of answering that will spark red flags.

According to Robert Half, these are the key things you want to avoid:

Bad answer: “I don’t like my job”

Don’t go on and on about what went wrong in your old job; the negativity is unproductive, and will send your potential boss all the wrong signs.

Be sure to emphasise what you learnt and gained from your experience.

Bad answer: “I don’t like my boss”

Even if you’re seeking to leave your current job because of clashes with your current boss, you don’t want to come across as unprofessional, and bad-mouthing a former boss will reflect badly on your character.

Bad answer: “I couldn’t handle the work”

If you want to give yourself your best shot at a new job, you won’t be helping yourself by speaking about performance-related issues or about how you couldn’t handle the workload.

How did you answer the question? If you’re wondering how you went in your job interview, there are a few dead give-aways that you nailed it.

Make your money work with Yahoo Finance’s daily newsletter. Sign up here and stay on top of the latest money, news and tech news.