The best way to answer one tough job interview question

There’s one job interview question that often comes up early on in conversations: Why are you looking to leave your current job?

Typically, the interviewer is sniffing around for any potential red flags — especially if you’ve had a short tenure at your current employer. So be ready with a good answer.

“Interviewers are cynical … they want to reassure the reasoning makes sense on why the person is changing jobs now,” said Pamela Skillings, co-founder and chief coach at Skillful Communications.

The key is to give an honest, forward-looking answer while also avoiding giving too many details.

The real reason: You can’t stand your current job

Even if the company you work for has a terrible culture that comes with an overbearing and obnoxious boss, don’t let on.

“Don’t go negative no matter what is causing you to leave,” said Marc Cenedella, CEO and founder of Ladders.

So let’s say you are fed up with your current boss and want a fresh start. You could tell the interviewer that you’re looking for a situation that allows you to better contribute by using all of your skills, recommended Cenedella.

Job candidates can sometimes share too much information about their current employer, and that’s a major turn off to prospective employers who might worry about your ability to control your emotions or remain professional in other situations.

“This is not a therapy session,” said Cenedella. “You have to realize that everything you say can and will be used against you. Nothing negative.”

The real reason: You’ve hit the ceiling

If your career has stalled and there’s no room for growth at your current employer, it’s time to move on.

But make sure to frame the move in a positive light.

Try saying something like: You’ve been with the company for five years with outstanding performance reviews and you’ve made excellent contributions over this time, but don’t see a future path where you can continue to utilize your skills effectively for the benefit of the company, suggested Paula Asinof, principal and founder of Yellow Brick Path, a career management and coaching services firm in Dallas.

If you’re feeling bored or unchallenged with your current position, Cenedella recommended saying how you are looking for new challenges and that this company and new opportunity seems to be a good fit for X, Y, Z reasons.

The real reason: You want more money

While switching jobs tends to be the fastest way to increase your salary, no employer wants to hear that’s the only reason you are looking for a job.

Asinof suggested saying something like: I am looking for a change that is going to accelerate my career, provide the challenges of a new environment and give me new opportunities.

The real reason: You’re worried you are about to be fired

If you’re on the job hunt because you’ve had a few bad performance reviews and feel the writing is on the wall, tread carefully with your response.

“Don’t say anything that can be contradicted with reference checking,” said Skillings.

Try something like: After being in this role for some time, I realized the day-to-day job wasn’t as good a fit as I thought. I am excited about this new opportunity for the following reasons [name your reasons here].

The idea is bringing it back to the skills and value you will bring to the company.

They pursued you

Even if a recruiter initiated contact about applying for a new position, hiring managers are still going to want to know why you are considering leaving your current gig.

You can say that you weren’t actively looking for a new position, but as you learned more about this role you thought it would be a great fit for your skills and talents.

“This helps reinforce in the interviewer’s mind that this is the right role,” said Skillings.