This is a fairly common question to ask an applicant. If the person is still employed, but is out and about looking for a new job, then the question of course changes to “why are you leaving your current job?”
The next time you go to a bookstore—my local one is Barnes and Nobles—take a few minutes and look over the books available in the hiring section.
In my bookstore, there are several SHELVES of books to help job hunters. All told, perhaps a hundred books on the subject. And that’s just the more current ones.
The majority of the books zero in on helping the job hunter write a great résumé and perform well in the hiring interview.
I would imagine the question “Why did you leave (or are leaving) your current job?” is discussed in many of these books.
So, what does that mean to you?
Well, it means there’s a good chance you’re going to get a rehearsed or prepared answer to this question.
To whatever extent possible, we want to cut through the rehearsed answer and get to why the person has left or is planning to leave.
Here’s one idea:
Before you ask the question directly of the applicant, ask a slightly different version of the question:
“Mary, if I were to contact your previous employer, what is he likely to say is the reason you left?”
If the person is currently employed, then of course this question wouldn’t be asked.
Mary has most likely not prepared herself for this version of the question, so you’re likely to get some information that you might not ordinarily get.
Yes, this puts Mary on the spot. But, from my perspective, I believe it’s fair for you to hear how she views both sides of the coin.
Here’s another approach, this time with the person who is still employed but is out interviewing with you.
First, you would simply ask why Mary wants to leave her current job.
When she responds, you could say,
“I understand. Have you discussed with your employer that you are out looking for other employment?”
When that is answered, you could ask,
“With regards to the issue you mentioned that you feel is compelling you to end your employment there, to what extent have you discussed this with your employer?”
Now these types of questions I’m offering here are pretty direct questions. They may cause a bit of irritation on the part of the applicant. The answers you get may also demonstrate your candidate has a good sense of ethics.
Whatever you discover, it is likely to give you considerably more insight than a simple asking of “Why did you leave?”
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