The old adage of “its better to look for a job when you have a job” continues to hold true. But you can’t always control when you might be severed from a position. One in three workers will be laid-off at some point in their career. The good news is that some of the stigma of getting laid-off has gone away. It has become so common, employer’s immediate reaction isn’t negative. Here’s how to parlay that positive, or at least not-negative, approach in answering tricky questions about your layoff in a job interview.
Why were you laid-off?
Always, always answer honestly, but not necessarily comprehensively. The best answer is “my entire department was eliminated” or “they closed our location.” These answers clear you personally of any reason why you were chosen to be let go. Answers like “there was a 20% reduction across the board” still leave an open question as to why you were one of the 20% chosen to be laid-off. “Last-in, first-out” is a valid reason that doesn’t reflect poorly on you, or a layoff that targets a certain salary level, but what if you were chosen for a performance reason? If your sense is the “20% across the board” answer isn’t sufficient, then you need to discuss why you were chosen in more detail. Try to answer this concern with the position you are currently interviewing for in mind. “I did not have the programming skills to do the work. As a result, I’ve done an online program since leaving and feel I can code at almost the expert level.” “I was brought in to manage a staff of five, and with three out of five being let go, the staff wasn’t large enough to justify a manager at my level.” If you still feel they have doubts, offer a reference from the company where you were laid-off, and make sure you confirm that reference will be positive!
What have you been doing since being laid-off?
Of course, you’ve been job hunting but they are looking for other things you’ve been doing to show your motivation level. Primarily talk about networking, online coursework, consulting projects in your area of expertise, or the area they are looking to hire in. You can discuss personal successes you’ve had while not working, but these should not be the highlight of this conversation. No one who’s currently working wants to hear too much about how much you are getting to work out, or the number of interesting vacations you’ve taken but they do want to be reassured you aren’t the type of person who is wallowing in self-pity on the couch, binge watching Netflix….even if you are doing a little bit of this.
Why have you been out of work so long?
This answer must be positive! The best answer is you’ve turned down an offer or two looking for the right fit and this position (the one you are now interviewing for) is just what you have been looking for, and then enumerate why. It is also okay to have taken a year off to travel or take care of a family member, but if you give that answer, make sure you make it clear you are actively on the market and ready to return to work full-time immediately. Do not dwell on what you did when you were not job hunting for a year.
If the reality is you haven’t found a job in a full-time job hunt for a year, address that before you interview. Do you need to do some additional training? Time off for that is a good reason. Are your expectations out of line with what you are qualified for? Sometimes it pays to take a good job instead of waiting indefinitely for your dream job. You can continue to look after you’ve accepted your “good” job. We’ve come full circle. Remember the acxiom, “It’s always better to find a new job when you have a job.”