This is a question that will come up if you are currently employed and interviewing for a position at a new company.
If you are currently unemployed or between jobs, the question may be changed to "Why did you leave your last company?" Either way, the purpose behind the question remains the same.
What the Interviewer Wants to Know
When you are asked this question, they are looking for two things:
- They want to see how you talk about your previous boss/company. If the reason you're leaving your old company for this new one is due to poor working conditions, you're going to be tempted to bad-mouth or bash your old boss. DON'T!
- They want to hear the real reason for your leaving. Are there no chances for advancement, or is the office just too far from home? Are you looking for a job that will allow you to spend more time with your kids? Do you want to work in a different environment? They're fishing for the real reason you're changing jobs.
The good news: answering this question is actually quite easy!
How to Answer the Question
- Be positive. If you bash your previous company, it makes you look bad, not the company. If you had a problem with your boss or the way things were done, say something like "I learned what I needed to learn, and it's time for me to put it into practice in a place that offers opportunities for advancement."
- Don't be 100% truthful, but spin your answer. If your goal is to have fewer work hours so you can be at home more, no employer is going to want to hear that. Instead, say it like "I want to work at a job that offers me a feeling of satisfaction that I can take home and share with my family."
- Explain. If you were fired or laid off at your last job, explain it to the interviewer as briefly and truthfully as possible, but without making yourself look bad. Say, "I was fired for X reason, but I've taken the lesson to heart and have made improvements that will ensure it will never happen again."
- Focus on the future. You'll need to provide background on why you're leaving the company, but make sure your answer focuses on your future. "I'm glad to be able to face new challenges outside of that company, and I now have the freedom to explore new aspects of my industry."
- Talk about philosophical differences. If you quit your job angry at your boss or your old company, talk about how the company's philosophy didn't match up with your own high standards. This isn't bashing the company, but it's highlighting your own high standards of morals and ethics.
The most important thing to remember is that this question isn't a trap, but it's a test to see how you handle the truth. Be honest, but not too honest.