The One Interview Question You Must Ask Every Candidate

There is one interview question I have my clients ask every candidate:

Why do you want to leave your job?

That question may be a very common one to ask for most hiring managers, but it’s loaded with the opportunity to gather some great information that many times gets overlooked in an interview.

Why people leave a job is varied, but it can have a dramatic impact on whether or not they meet your expectations if you hire them. Mediocre candidates can and do say the right things in an interview. They look good to a hiring manager. Therefore, you need a context to help guide your interview and achieve your goal:

You’re looking for causality.

Simply put, you need to know if your candidate is a good performer leaving for legitimate reasons or if they’re a mediocre employee who was fired because of poor performance. Once you get the answer to this one important question, then drill down and get them to explain the circumstances surrounding their decision to leave. Here are some great follow-up questions to ask:

  • What did the company do or not do that’s motivating you to leave?
  • What was the moment you decided to seek employment elsewhere?
  • How would you describe the ideal work environment that would cause you to stay?
  • What obstacles, if any, did the company fail to remove to help you be successful?
  • How did you go about communicating your concerns?
  • What was their response?
  • What was the deciding moment for you to seek employment elsewhere?

The secret to uncovering the truth is in the follow-up questions. The questions listed above are very good, but require drilling down to learn more. For example, some strong follow-up questions or comments might be:

  • What do you mean by that?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • Why do you say that?
  • Tell me more.
  • How did that work out?
  • How did that affect you?
  • What would have been your preference?
  • How so?

Ideal Profile for Hiring Outside Sales Reps

Ask yourself: Does my candidate lay out a good case for why they are leaving?

In many cases, your candidate leaving has less to do with their boss or company policies, and more to do with things like a spouse relocating or the desire to move closer to family.

In addition, each of these questions focuses your candidate on providing you with feedback on their likes and dislikes. This includes how they like to be managed and the type of culture they prefer. You’ll learn a lot about why they left and how to create the right conditions for them to be successful. Interviewing truly is a skill to develop.

When people go through job transitions, it can affect their self-worth, self-image and motivation. You need to distinguish between highly capable candidates that struggle with job decisions versus low probability candidates that can’t perform. An in-depth assessment can help you discern the difference between these two types of candidates.