Career Advice Tuesday (Returns) – “Why Are You Leaving?”

September 5, 2012

Dear Infosecleaders:

I’m currently responsible for a security program for a large enterprise. Before taking this role a couple of years ago, security was not a concern for this company, and I believe I’ve made strides in correcting this. However, I feel that I’ve accomplished as much as will be possible given the corporate culture from the top down. The board and company leaders are much more risk tolerant than I am personally comfortable with. This goes beyond a difference of opinions – I have been asked to back down from a number of very basic security policies (i.e. must have a password on a smartphone) because leaders rather deal with a potential security breach than with dissent in the ranks as a result of changing basic behavior. I do not believe that my personal ethics and pride in what I do will allow me to continue to brush security gaps under the rug because they are inconvenient.  As a result, I am slowly beginning to investigate the job market.

My question – when asked the inevitable,  “Why do you want to leave company XYZ”question in an interview, how do I portray my personal integrity and ethics in a way that does not sound like I’m trashing my employer?


 “Looking for the Right Words”


Dear  “Looking”:

First of all, I want to thank you for this question, it is a very good one and it generally requires a delicate response, mainly due to the fact that the interviewer likely has preconceived notions of what an acceptable response would be.

Before I answer, I want to tell you that I think that this is the worst interview question and in all my years as a recruiter, I believe that this question should really be irrelevant to someone’s interest in a particular opportunity and here is why:

 There is really no good answer

“What is a good reason for leaving?” – I mean really, if things were good, would someone really be leaving.   

Here are some common Question/Answer responses:

1)   If you say something like “I got passed over for a promotion” – the interviewer worries that you are not that talented and that if you are not promoted on your timetable you will leave. 

2)    If you respond saying that you are “looking for more compensation” – you are effectively a mercenary.  You are now labeled as greedy and money motivated, looking for a job for all the “wrong reasons”, or willing to move again for the next biggest pay day.

3)    If you say that you “do not like your manager’s style”- then you are all of a sudden difficult to manage and red flags go up

4)   If you say “you do not like the work environment” – you are now a malcontent.  

5)   If you tell them that you want to “work with smarter people” – you are now labeled as cocky and conceited.

6)   If you say that the “commute is too long and the hours are too intensive” – they question your work ethic

7)   If you state that you want “to work for a better company” – you lose a majority of your leverage and negotiation power

8)   If you state that you “have a problem with your company’ s integrity and how they do business” –  You are now either a “whistleblower” or have a “god complex”

Believe me, I can go on and on, but I will leave off at your question and try to help you find a better response.

One of my beliefs about interviewing is that the most successful interviewers are effective storytellers.  The best interviewers are able to share their experiences in a way that points back to an underlying theme that will enable them to reemphasize a key characteristic or skill.  In essence they take something that makes them unique and attractive, and they share experiences that force the interviewer to draw a conclusion aligned with how they want to be portrayed.   This enables the interviewee to get their point across more gently, and allows them to paint a picture of both their skills and their character – focusing on the whole “body of work” and not just one particular experience.

In a situation like this, my advice to you would be to build a theme of “ethics and integrity” and make that your interview story.  You may be able to begin your story with the reason you were attracted to information security as a career.  You then may want to speak about managers that you worked for that reinforced this concept and discuss situations where your ethics and integrity were critical in helping both your employer and team accomplish its goal.   You can even lead up to your current role, and speak about why you accepted it, discussing how when you began the role and established the function, that this was a main driver in making that decision.

Now, if asked why you are looking, you can simply state that the company and the people whom you work for now, are much different than the company that you originally joined.   This will subtly reinforce your “theme/story”.  The interviewer should be astute enough to draw their own conclusion without you having to verbalize this.

You can let the interviewer know that one of the reasons you are interviewing at their company is that from what you have learned and read, it appears that their company’s values align well with your values.   You can then turn the interview around and ask them some questions on how ethics and values effect their decision making process.  Hopefully they will provide you an answer that will make you feel more comfortable about joining their team!

Hope this helps you.


Lee Kushner

If you would like to speak more about this and your pursuit, please either contact my office, or send me a number where I may reach you.

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Career Advice Tuesday, Interviewing, Position Selection, Recruiting 


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