Why are you leaving?

Why do you want to change jobs? Is it important to give the “true” answer or a politically correct one?

Politically correct answers are the ones around challenges and new opportunity. Sometimes they are legitimately the reasons for a move. Plenty of people realize that they can move no further in their current role and their boss is going to be there for a while. So it makes sense in order to advance your career that you move on.

But what if that isn’t the reason. What if you don’t get along with your boss? Or the owner of the company? Should you tell the recruiter? Should you tell your future employer?

The answer is yes however watch how you phrase things.

Some people stick by the axiom that you should never speak ill of the company you work for in an interview. To a degree that is true. However you certainly can speak in diplomatic terms about the situation without sounding like you have a personal vendetta or are unable to deal with difficult situations.

The challenge here is the latter part of that statement. Most companies look for managers that can work in situations where they may have to work with people who don’t agree with a particular direction that the company is going. In short your ability to “influence” others to your point of view is particularly valued these days.

However if you are going leaving an environment that really didn’t fit your personality you want to make sure that you don’t go into the exact same environment.

For example a lot of people don’t like working for family run companies. I think it is fair to let the recruiter know that you would prefer not to work in a family run company. At the same time some people like to work in a smaller more intimate organization as opposed to the bigger bureaucratic environs of a large publicly traded company. There is nothing wrong with either.

You don’t have to give away a lot of information about your situation to learn if the environment of your target company is better or worse than your current one.

Think of the situations that you don’t like at your current organization and develop questions to ask the interviewer that will highlight those situations.

Don’t like bureaucracy?
How are decisions made in the company? Who would I have to get sign-off from?

Worried about personality clashes?
Ask who will be the key stakeholders you will have to deal with in your new job. Then ask to have a brief informal meeting with them. You can make this part of your conditions of acceptance if they have made you an offer. Of course it wont be brief and informal from your perspective. You are going to try to find out if you can work with this person.

A good barometer of company culture is how they feel about the previous person who held the job you are applying for. Was the departure amicable? If so they shouldn’t feel badly about letting you speak to this person to get his/her impression of the job and the company. If they don’t feel comfortable about it you can relay your discomfort back to them either directly or through the recruiter.

In many cases you will have to listen carefully to people’s responses to your questions to get a true feeling of whether the company you are interviewing is better or worse than your current situation. This may take some practice but the key is to craft good questions.

Asking good questions will yield good answers – sounds obvious right? What I mean is that no matter what the answer is it is a good answer. The information you here may be good or bad depending on your point of view but the answer is invaluable because it tells you whether you should be concerned or not.

Her is a good question:

What did the previous person do well in this job? This one is innocuous but they will give you some of that person’s strengths and you can match them against your own.

Example: Jeannie was really tough dealing with suppliers she had very good negotiation skills and got us the best price we could hope for.

So are you a good negotiator? Are you tough with suppliers – remember you will have to live up to that when you join this company.

The follow up to this question is even more important:

What skills would you have liked to see in the previous person? This is a roundabout way of asking, “what were their weaknesses”

Sample answer: Jeannie wasn’t that strong on administrative skills. Paperwork wasn’t her forte.

Now there are two possible reasons for this – one is that Jeannie was lousy with paperwork. The other is that maybe the job is so hectic that it doesn’t allow for the person to get his/her paperwork done.

Either way you now have a basis to ask more questions to find out which is the case.

Remember while you are being interviewed you should be evaluating the position as well. If you have concerns bring them up immediately with the recruiter. He/she may have some information that is helpful. Also if the recruiter is honest and ethical he/she will let you know if the position is not a fit.

I have recently done a search where one of the candidates described her environment as not supportive to her position. However the position that I was recruiting for demanded someone who could work in that very type of environment. Of course I didn’t move that person to the next step. I want my client to hire someone who will be a fit.

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