How to Explain Your Layoff During an Interview

Published: Sep 10, 2015 By

Being laid off is a common occurrence in today’s ever-changing business world. Among your circle of friends or family, you or someone you know someone has experienced a layoff and the nerve-wracking process of figuring what to do next.

Whether the result of a downsizing, merger, and acquisition, or lack of appropriate fit within your role or previous culture, it happens more often than you think.

The question is how should you position a layoff with a prospective employer? After all, getting it right could be the difference between landing your next job or being politely turned down.

First, know that companies understand layoffs happen. The layoff itself is not their concern. What they are looking at is you handled the layoff, specifically how you speak about the experience and your former employer. 

With that mind, here are some useful tips to frame the conversation the right way:

Address the issue upfront

To deal with the layoff early in the interview process; it’s better to address it upfront.  Doing so relieves the anxiety of when to bring it up. Be honest and forthright about what happened.  

Focus on the positive

Be succinct about the facts, but always focus on the positive aspects of your experience with your former employer. Speak about what you achieved in your prior role and how those capabilities relate to the job at hand. Your goal is to explain briefly why you’re in the market for a new position without lingering on the details.

Never badmouth your former employer

If there is one thing that can kill the interview and any chance of moving forward, it’s badmouthing, complaining or speaking negatively about your former employer. It doesn’t matter if the layoff was not handled well, or you harbor resentment against the experience; resist the urge to bring up any negative views about the company, your former boss, or your layoff. Displaying negativity and badmouthing a previous employer only frames you as a negative, disgruntled employee who might also turn on them if they step into the wrong with you. No one is keen to employ someone who seems bitter, angry or negative, as he or she will likely be concerned that this type of attitude may project itself in the work environment. Keep your emotions in check. It is okay to say it was a difficult period, but then be quick to point out that it has provided you with an opportunity to rethink what you want next from a career perspective. Doing so acknowledges you’re positive about what the future holds.  If asked what you’ve been doing since the layoff, be honest about job seeking but also any community activities or interesting travels or activities that may have happened since your layoff. Display a positive, well-rounded personality, and any negative stigma should essentially disappear.

Come to the interview incredibly prepared

The best way to counteract any negative stigma that could possibly arise is to display traits that would make you the ideal hire. Prepare for your interview by doing extensive research about the company, the role, and how your experiences make you the perfect fit. Arrive early. Come prepared with references. Send thank you letters immediately afterward.

Always remember that during an interview the employer is looking for how your capabilities fit with the open position as well as their corporate culture. A layoff does not need to negate your chances of getting your next job, so don’t let it.  A few simple do’s and don’ts can make the difference between the layoff being an elephant in the room versus it simply being part of your overall career history.

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