Interview Question of the Week: Why are you looking for work?

by Kristi on February 4

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cc Interview Question of the Week: Why are you looking for work? photo credit: C.S. – Now Version [2.0]

Last week, we covered the top start question for any job interview.  Once you’ve established your professionalism and excellent prep on that question, the next one down the pipe can be a minefield — your motivation for job searching.

If you’re interviewing with me, there are two major aspects of your answer that I’m looking for at the start.

  1. DO NOT badmouth your current/previous company or supervisor.
  2. Disclose enough information that I believe the answer is authentic.

Yes, in some situations these goals are in direct conflict, so giving some thought as to how to handle this question in advance is well-advised, especially if you find rule #1 a tough one to follow.

Still, the answer should always be the TRUTH.  So the first step is to examine your motivation.  Then, keep the following in mind.

The gainfully employed

What the employer thinks: If this is your position, you’re in great territory.  An employer’s ideal is someone who is employed and thriving in their role, so make sure that’s what they see.

What you say: Talk about how much you’ve grown and the opportunities you’ve had to contribute, then focus on what you hope to contribute in a new opportunity.  A lack of growth opportunities or interest in learning a new industry or returning to a previous industry are valid.  New insights on your highest and best use or underutilized talents are also fine.

Sample script: “I’ve really enjoyed my five years with Company X, and it has prepared me for the next step in my career.  I believe I’m ready to handle project management responsibilities, and that kind of growth is not currently available within my organization.  Your organization seems like a great opportunity for me to apply the skills I’ve developed while really stepping up and adding more value.”

The unemployed by choice

What the employer thinks: This can raise some red flags.  If the ideal is to transition from one successful role to another, the interviewer wonders why you deviated from the norm.  They may think you were actually terminated but aren’t saying so, or perhaps you made a rash decision to leave in reaction to too much stress or a dispute with your supervisor, neither of which are good things.  Your job is to allay those fears.

What you say: Again, honesty is important, but you can stay at the high level.  If you had a family issue, say so.  If you did make that rash decision or if there were other issues, touch on them on the high level, then emphasize the lessons you’ve learned and how you plan to move forward.  If you’ve been unemployed for some time, be sure to mention how you’ve used the time to better position yourself for growth.

Sample script:  “After five years with Company X, I realized that my career aspirations weren’t in sync with the company’s direction.  At the close of my last major project, I saw an opportunity to transition out with minimum disruption to the organization.  Since then, I’ve been pursuing a certification in project management and exploring career paths that appeal to me.  I now feel confident that I can add value in a role like the one we’re discussing today.”

Laid off/Downsized

What the employer thinks: Take heart.  In today’s economy, no one will doubt the veracity of this claim.  In fact, it’s likely not to affect your image when interviewing.  Still, you have to lay it on the table.

What to say: Be honest, and give just enough detail to prop up your story.  Then focus on your next move.

Sample script: “In October, my company elected to eliminate my division as part of cost cutbacks.  I was one of five people laid off at that time.  Since then, I’ve been actively looking for an opportunity that is a good fit for my background and skills and where I feel that my talents will be well utilized.”

Dismissed for cause

What the employer thinks: Okay, can’t lie.  This one is problematic.  You need to help the employer understand why your previous issue is not a predictor of future results.

What to say: I think the only way to emerge from this successfully is to keep it short and simple, insert a mea culpa of some kind, and talk about either why it will never happen again, or why this position is a completely different situation.

Sample script: “To be perfectly honest, my employment was terminated.  The scope of my position had changed significantly in the last six months of my tenure, and my results were not on target with the new expectations.  I learned that operations is not my forte, and that’s why I’m looking for a sales-focused role like this where I’ve had proven positive results in the past.”

That’s it. But your answer will not stand alone.  Two more things to keep in mind:

  • A company with sound hiring practices will check your references, so anticipate the information that might come out and handle it tactfully and professionally.
  • Anything you say invites follow-up questions.  After you prep your response, brainstorm potential follow-ups and be prepared for those as well.

This can be one of the most uncomfortable questions to handle, the other biggie being salary which we’ll discuss later.  If you can confidently tackle this one, you will definitely set yourself apart from the crowd.

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Related posts:

  1. Interview Question of the Week: Tell me about your work week
  2. Evaluating work/life balance in an interview: Ask the right question
  3. Interview Question of the Week: The Curveball
  4. Interview Question of the Week: Tell me about your last supervisor.
  5. Interview Question of the Week: Are you considering other opportunities?

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