Job hunting when you are already comfortably ensconced in a job is one thing. Desperately seeking employment after being laid off is quite another.
The hardest part of job hunting in a situation like this is that it comes with an unfortunate – and false – stigma. That you were let go from your job for cause, rather than through no fault of your own, which is often the case.
The goal in answering this question is to frame it as a way to showcase your skills and underscore that you have been moving forward – with or without employment. The response should have three parts:
1) Make the Business Case for the Layoff
Most business people understand that layoffs happen, and they are largely through no fault of the person losing the job. It’s key to plainly state that this is what happened. Don’t badmouth the company or your supervisor for poor business planning, but rather make sure that you tell exactly what the business climate was.
Reasons people are laid off are varied, but might include a merger or acquisition that made your position redundant; a downturn in your industry as a whole; an over reliance by your company on one particular client – who either left or had a downturn of their own; a reorganization/restructuring that flattened the organization and removed layers of management or other positions; or an outsourcing of functions such as accounting, marketing and the like which affected your department.
Even if you believe that there may have been some cause for your being chosen; i.e. a personality clash with a supervisor or a feeling that your work wasn’t valued for some reason, now is not the time to bring it up and inject potential doubt in the interviewer. Take care not to lie, in case your story needs to be corroborated by the company, but stick to business facts that explain why the layoff happened. If there was a large group laid off, or if it seemed that last hired were first fired, make sure you add that in to further underscore that the layoff had nothing to do with your work product or capabilities.
2) Discuss What You Bring to the Hiring Company
As soon as you have “dismissed” any fears the interviewers might have about your candidacy by moving aside the issue of being laid off, now is the time to segue from your past to your present – and hopefully future — helping the company! This is where you rely on the preparation you have done about the position, company and industry to really hit the high points of why you are perfectly suited for the job. As always, include vignettes that emphasize the key skills or needs that the company is looking to fulfill in this position.
For example, if it’s a sales position, underscore how you were the top salesman, or contributed to growth in the company at your previous position. The fact that you were laid off might undercut your statistics, so make clear again if you have to that the downturn in the business was not due to your expertise. You could say something like, “Even though I was consistently one of the top producers, we found that our clients had moved almost exclusively to online purchasing of office products and my company was not yet equipped to move our systems in that direction.”
Or, if you worked in the accounting department of a company that was acquired by another, you could say, “My supervisor routinely considered me the go-to person for any training that was required. I performed my job diligently and accurately, and also had a knack for prioritizing my work so that I could jump in on special projects, whether it was creating a best practices training guide or working with junior associates on procedures. In fact, even though Company X bought our firm and moved their people to the department, I believe that my training manuals are still being used.”
3) Mention What You’ve Been Doing Since the Layoff
The final piece to this question, after you’ve assured them that there was a business reason for the layoff and made your case why you are the best person for the job, is to discuss what you have been doing since the layoff.
Everyone wants to work with someone who is positive and proactive and you can ease your interviewer’s mind by discussing what you have been doing in the interim – no matter how long. You may want to highlight:
- Courses you’ve taken to brush up on your skills; or even computer programs or social media skills you’ve taught yourself on your own.
- Volunteer work you’ve done, whether it was in your field of expertise or just spending extra time at your kids’ school.
- Working on a family history or a memoir… something creative.
- Networking you’ve done within your field and other fields, and discuss the value that will bring to the organization.
Showing that you have taken the layoff time as a way to improve yourself and stay active will reassure the interviewer that you are the type of person who can flourish no matter what your circumstances.
Job hunting after a layoff can be a tricky proposition, but it’s easy to overcome the stigma if you stay focused on the fact that all interviewers have one ultimate goal – hire the best person for the job. Viewed from that perspective, it’s understandable, and quite legitimate, to ask questions about why a person was laid off. The more upbeat and positive you can be, without entirely dismissing the question, the better!
by Cathie Ericson