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How to Explain Why You Want to Leave a Job

Two business women sitting in chairs talking to each other.

Best-selling author Martin Yate, a career coach and former HR professional, takes your questions each week about how to further your career in HR. Contact him at the e-mail address at the end of this column.      

How can I explain a troubled resignation? I am currently interviewing at a few places, and I am having trouble as to how to answer questions about why I want to leave my current employer. I will give you a bit of background: I have been working as a principal consultant for 18 months in my current role. I have been the top performer throughout my tenure. I have had two raises during this time. However, my paycheck is delayed each time by two to three months. Not by a week or two, but months. Plus, there are no growth opportunities, as there are only six employees at the company, and the work itself is not challenging. 

Many interviewers ask this question but, because it is a difficult one and hard to answer, few job seekers have a good response for it. The result is that job seekers ramble when they answer, and the more they do so, the more it waves a big red warning flag at the employer that there is more to the story than is being told—and the employer might assume that what's being left unsaid is something unflattering to the job seeker. You need to think through and rehearse exactly what you will say. 

Do not think of your situation as a need "to explain a troubled resignation." Your reasons for leaving that job are perfectly reasonable. There is no room for growth, and you aren't getting paid in a timely manner and that is a good enough reason for anyone to move on. 

When you start looking for a new job while you are still employed, it is a given that you are no longer content in your current position. But you can never speak ill of a current or past employer. The hiring manager will think, "This candidate is on his best behavior and is bad-mouthing his employer. How will he behave when he is not on his best behavior?" As past behavior is seen to be an accurate predictor of future behavior, the answer to this question will not reflect well on you. 

When you think through all your reasons for leaving, you will be able to give a succinct answer. The key is to write out short, bullet-point sentences on the topics you decide to use in your answer, then practice them aloud, making sure you can answer in under 45 seconds. Look the interviewer in the eye as you speak. Here's an example:

"I'm the top performer in a team of six and have had two raises in 18 months, but to learn and grow I need to be with a company that offers more structure and more people to learn from. I want to be a smaller fish in a larger pond." You can finish your answer with a reflexive question—one that encourages agreement, perhaps, such as "Does that seem reasonable?"

Have a question for Martin about advancing or managing your career? From big issues to small, please feel free to e-mail your queries to We'll only publish your first name and city, unless you prefer to remain anonymous—just let us know.  

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