This question is a bit like “What parts of your previous job didn’t you like?” but with a different spin.
We’ll take this one in two parts.
If you are switching jobs, you want to follow much of the same advice for “what didn’t you like about your previous job?” In summary, you want to make sure that you’re not putting down the job, the company or the boss.
You also can draw parallels or point out what’s different with the new job; for example, praising company size (this one is bigger or smaller, and that’s what you are looking for), or some other obvious differentiator. But in general, the best way to answer this question is to talk about the challenges that the new job will bring.
But be cautious that you are not couching them in terms of a negative comparison to the current aspects of your job, because that can make you look like you are complaining or “above” those more administrative aspects of the job that still might come into play. A better route is to discuss the good challenges you are looking forward to.
If the position is a promotion, you might mention that your current department had no upward mobility. You don’t want the interviewer to think that you weren’t being considered for a promotion, so it’s important to mention that the department doesn’t currently hold possibilities because of its size, makeup, or whatever the case may be.
Phrase it in words such as “this opportunity is a logical next step for me in my career,” and be prepared to say why — for example the growth opportunities inherent or your desire to be in a larger company.
You also can mention positive attributes of the company with which you are interviewing. Such factors might be if they have products or services that you regularly use; if they are known for their commitment to the community or for working with non-profits; if they are on a fast growth trajectory; or whatever is applicable.
What if you are switching industries?
The goal if you are switching industries is to draw parallels between the industry you currently work in and the one you are aiming for.
Even if you don’t have direct experience in the industry you are aiming for, you need to help the interviewer connect the dots. A good way to do that is to identify transferrable or relevant skills. For example, think of projects, assignments or responsibilities that illustrate similar work you have done, or qualities the job demands, such as teamwork, attention to detail, customer service ethic or sales acumen.
Try to think of any areas where there might be overlap. For example, if you were in outside sales for a pharmaceutical company and are headed into a real estate position, point to your sales experience and numbers: sales are sales, no matter what you are selling! If you have ancillary experience in the industry make sure you mention that.
Here’s an example: you work in manufacturing for a small door company and you have decided that you want to transfer to an office job. One avenue might be that you look for an office job in a manufacturing company. You can point to your direct experience in the plant as the basis for why you’d be an excellent choice to assist with scheduling or communicating with the people working in this other plant. Underscoring your familiarity with the work, even if it was acquired in a slightly different industry or function, can be very successful.
Any time you are changing industries you have to recognize that the interviewer is trying to slot in the person who can come up to speed on the job as quickly as possible. You want to be that person, so if learning appropriate lingo would help in the interview, by all means do so. If you aren’t sure how to go about learning the industry’s “language” or worry that it feels forced, emphasize the fact that you understand and are skilled at all the tools or qualities needed to do the job. You can also mention another time that you did something similar in your past to emphasize that you are adaptable and can quickly come up to speed.
Make sure not to point out qualifications you DON’T have, even if they are described in terms of your willingness to learn them. For example, if you have never worked with a certain type of software, don’t mention it unless you are specifically asked. Then you have to answer honestly, of course, and take the opportunity to segue to a message about the fact that you have taught yourself this program and that program, and you are able to quickly come up to speed when it is warranted.
When either one of these questions arises, make sure that you have an answer prepared and customized for the particular company. Focus on the positive, and make a concerted point of showing the interviewer the connections so that he doesn’t have to make the inferences himself.
by Cathie Ericson