Legit to Quit: When to Accept a Candidate’s Reasons for Quitting

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Reasons for Quitting, InterviewingWhen interviewing employed candidates for a new job, one thing is certain. To take your job, they need to quit their job. In the back of your mind, you always ask, “Why do they want to quit their current job – what’s wrong with it?” You might even ask yourself, “What’s wrong with this candidate?”

Candidates always say that they want a better opportunity at your company: advancement, new functions, better growth, etc… But can you ever fully believe them? You know that it’s usually not only better prospects with your company that motivates the candidate, but rather something negative about their current job as well.

When you ask the question, “Why would you leave your current job?” you will hear a lot of answers as to why they would want to quit, some coached and others practiced to perfection. They can all be “legit,” but you have to listen carefully for the underlying meaning and be sure to probe the question completely.

It’s not like candidates are necessarily being dishonest when answering the question, but you want to make sure that you don’t breeze over the question and accept a stock answer. It’s an important question that deserves attention and thought. The formality of interviews also doesn’t always promote the type of honesty that the question demands.

  1. Your job would give me a better opportunity or more room for advancement: Get specific here – ask why they think it would give them more advancement and then ask about their past career advancements (or lack thereof.) If they are a salesperson saying that they want sales management opportunities, explore if the candidate was ever up for a promotion and what happened. Then talk about the realistic expectations for your job. If you have a sales position, is there really any chance of promotion to management? If not, you also owe it to the candidate to set realistic expectations.
  2. My manager is… (grumpy, unfair, belligerent, intolerable, biased, a taskmaster): This response can certainly be real. A bad manager can essentially ruin lives and turn a company department upside down. With this response, you want to pay attention mostly to how the candidate dealt with the situation. How was the manager unfair? How did they deal with it? Does the candidate’s tone match that of your interview? This can be one of the most honest answers, but you want to ensure that candidate managed the difficult situation in the right manner and was not, in fact, the source of the problem.
  3. I want to work for a better company: This response is for an entire set of niceties about your company that their old company doesn’t have. They might want: a fun work environment, a company with innovative thinking, a meritocracy, a more financially successful company, a more diverse company, a better team environment, better benefits, etc… You really have to be careful with this response. You know from working with the new company that it has its own faults. No company is perfect – this is often the most “stock” answer out of all of them. It’s easy to compliment the new company and not say anything negative about their current employer. With this response, you want to make sure that the person is being very specific. What does having a fun environment mean? What does financial success have to do with the candidate’s daily job? What do they think is particularly innovative about the new company? The candidate is paying your company and job a compliment, so it’s easy to accept it and move on… but what basis do they have for doing so? Are they being honest about a precise assessment, or paying you lip service about a broad principle?
  4. I want a challenge or new skills: It’s noble and smart for a candidate to want to advance their career and skills. They might feel like they are going nowhere in their career, that they have been doing the same function day in, day out for five years, or that they aren’t learning anything new. Like most responses, it can be entirely honest, or it can be an answer of convenience. In this case, you want to explore what the candidate did to try to give themselves a challenge or new skills on their own. For example, if you are interviewing a software developer and they complain about not getting exposure to new technologies, did they take the initiative to take a class or offer to do a side project to learn the new technology? Or were they simply waiting for their manager to bring up the subject and they never did. With the challenge or new skills answer, look for initiative – because if they can’t demonstrate self initiative and that it was ignored by their current company, chances are they are going to have the same problem with your job.

A candidate’s reasons for quitting their current job are often much more practical than is discussed during an interview. More often than not, the real reasons that a candidate would leave has do with the three core components of a job: Location, Salary, or Title. Because no candidate wants to (or should) bring up money as a primary motivation, you have to try to infer this from the conversation and their application.

Once you know the real reason that the candidate would quit their job, you’ll understand if the new job can offer something fundamentally better or different. If not, there is a good chance another recruiter will be interviewing the same candidate in the near future and listening to the same reasons for quitting that you just did.

Read more in Interview Techniques

Marie is a writer for Recruiter.com covering career advice, recruitment topics, and HR issues. She has an educational background in languages and literature as well as corporate experience in Human Resources.