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Q&A: Can we ask an applicant why they are leaving their current job?

Question:

Can we ask an applicant why they are leaving their current job?

Answer from Monica, SPHR, SHRM-CP:

Yes, you may ask a candidate why they left a previous job or why they are looking to leave their current job. It’s fine to ask this question during the interview, but we recommend you collect this information ahead of time by asking about it on an employment application. In the section where the applicant lists their previous employment experience, you can ask that they provide their reason for leaving each job. When you see the reasons an applicant left previous positions, you may spot trends in the applicant’s employment history. These trends may be cause for follow-up questions during the interview or reason enough not to schedule an interview at all.

If you ask about previous or current employment during the interview, be mindful of the direction the response goes. As with all interview questions, you’ll want to redirect the candidate if they start to share sensitive information. For example, if a candidate says they left past employment due to medical reasons, you’d want to steer them away from sharing any details about the medical condition and refrain from documenting anything about it. Instead, you could ask them to simply state whether they provided notice of their need to resign and whether they left on good terms.

Picture of Monica, SPHR, SHRM-CP

Monica, SPHR, SHRM-CP

Monica has held roles as an HR Generalist and Payroll and Benefits manager at a large ski resort, providing HR guidance to more than 500 employees. She also has HR experience in the healthcare field and the non-profit world. Monica holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Linfield College.

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