How to Talk About Why You Are Leaving Your Job
What happened? Why are you leaving?

by Pam Lassiter

These questions are perennial favorites when you change jobs. When someone asks you these questions, your objective is to turn the conversation to your advantage and toward your future. For some people who ask you this question, this could be your only shot at discussing this, so it's a good idea to work out the kinks so you can give clear answers from the start.

Photo courtesy of Gideon Tsang
Photo courtesy of Gideon Tsang

  1. Answer the question…

    "Why are you leaving?" in the most positive way possible, without airing dirty laundry. Use just two or three sentences, cover the high points and, ideally, mention the company's point of view as well. "Well it's bad news and it's good news. The company made a decision to consolidate two departments into one for cost savings. That's the bad news, but they did what they needed to do. The good news, however is…"

  2. Describe the opportunity.

    Explain why the parting will actually be an opportunity for you. Maintain a positive attitude, which signals strengths and shows that you're in control.

    "This is a great opportunity for me because it will allow me to concentrate on…"

  3. Envision the future.

    How will a company that you may move to benefit from your transition and from your unique set of skills?

    "As a result I am looking for a company that…"

  4. Ask a business question.

    It gets the other person talking and moves the conversation toward future possibilities. You are not asking them to tell you about job openings, because they probably won't know about any. You are asking a business question that they'll have an opinion about, such as "Which providers should be taking advantage of some of the changes in the healthcare law to streamline their IT?" You can take it from there.

    If you're talking to a company employee, change the question to ask about the organization itself such as "Am I correct in assuming that you're in the process of analyzing user needs so that...?"

    If you're talking to a friend, just use the business question by itself. "Are you aware of any companies that want to… (streamline their IT, grow their international sales, turnaround operations, etc)?"

    This is the cocktail party question because you can use it with anyone, anywhere. Try a couple of different questions to see which get you the best information.

See what you just did? What every good politician does intuitively…changed the topic. You're now talking about the future and business needs rather than your past-a much more useful place to be. People don't want to hear all the details about why you are leaving a company. So don't waste valuable time with good sources by focusing too much on the past. You now have a structure for coming across positively and quickly to someone who is interested. Practice saying your spiel before you hit prime time. This is how you gain control over, "Why are you leaving?" and make it obvious that other companies will benefit.

Download this PDF to help you with this process.