“So Why Are You Leaving Teaching?”: How to Answer the Question You’ll Get Asked at Every Post-Teaching Interview

After all your hard work to tailor your resume, proofread it carefully and apply to jobs, you finally land your first post-teaching interview. But how should you prepare?

While you can dust off the suit you wore to teaching interviews, you’ll need to draft fresh responses to popular interview questions like “Tell me about yourself” and “Walk me through your resume.”

You should also be ready for a new question: “So why are you leaving teaching?”

I always hoped I wouldn’t get asked this question, but soon accepted it as inevitable. Of course employers want to know why you want to change careers.  It’s their way of asking:

– Are you genuinely interested in the job, or applying on a whim?

– If hired, will you commit to the job, or might you quit to go back to teaching?

– Do you have any personal issues that make you difficult to work with?

– Will you be a reliable, no-hassle employee?

Stay focused on addressing these issues and you’ll be on the right track.

Here are some more tips on how to navigate the “Why Quit?” question (WQQ):

Don’t

Complain about your current job or badmouth anyone you work with.

It doesn’t matter if your principal and department chair are making your life miserable — criticizing them will only make you sound unprofessional. You should also avoid complaining about colleagues and students. Don’t give the interviewer a chance to wonder if you’re the real problem.

Talk about how much you hate teaching in general, even if you do.

An interview is also not the time to rant about standardized testing, how many papers you have to grade, or talk about how a boring office job is just what you need. Doing so could play into the dreaded “lazy teacher” stereotype — and make you sound self-absorbed. Instead, focus on what you can offer the employer.

Treat the interviewer as a friend or confidant.

There’s no need to confess your doubts about leaving teaching or worries about liking the new job, even if your interviewer is friendly and nice. Most importantly,  don’t undermine yourself with statements like, “I know I don’t have the right experience, but…” or, “I know I probably won’t get this job, but…” Keeping your insecurities from slipping might seem like a challenge, but remember: your role is to help the interviewer see you in the job — not eliminate you from the competition!

Do

Use the question as an opportunity to highlight your strengths.

While you shouldn’t criticize teaching outright, it is possible to be honest and strategic in explaining your wish to move on. For instance, I said I was ready for a new challenge after 7 years of teaching (my first and only job out of college), and that I wanted better opportunities for career advancement. I felt these responses showed my desire to learn new things and set ambitious goals — qualities every employer wants.

Talk about how teaching has prepared you for the job.

You can also use the WQQ as an opportunity to show off your skills from teaching and explain how useful they’d be to the new position. An anecdote about how you managed a difficult parent, student or class, for example, can show how well you can collaborate with and influence others. Check out my post on transferable skills from teaching — and related posts about action verbs and business skills — for more ways to impress your interviewer with your education experience.

Tailor your answer to the job.

Just as you tailored your resume to different jobs, so should you tweak your answer to the WQQ for each interview. When I interviewed for writing and editorial jobs, for example, I talked about how much I’d enjoyed working on my college newspaper, and how that experience made me miss working on team projects for publication. And when I interviewed for jobs in educational publishing, I also made sure to talk about my desire to help students and teachers.

In short:

– Don’t be afraid of the “Why Quit?” question — be prepared for it!

– Show you are enthusiastic about the job and willing to do whatever it takes to succeed.


Former teachers, how did you tackle the WQQ in interviews? Please share your tips in the comments.

Related

How to Explain a Career Change in an Interview (Houston Chronicle)

How to Explain Your Winding Career Path to a Hiring Manager (The Muse)

Tell Your Whole Story in an Interview (Harvard Business Review)

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