Laid off or fired? You’re not alone (Part 3 of 4)

Eight experts offer advice on what to do when you’re let go

17643265_sEven in a good economy, people lose their jobs. Sometimes it comes out of the blue; sometimes you can see the writing on the walls. Whatever the circumstances it’s always demoralizing.

For this reason, I reached out to several experts with the hope of providing a few tips on what to do when you’re let go. What I got back was a ton of great advice. Everyone’s take was a little different. And I didn’t want to leave anything out.

Hence the one-off article became a four-part series covering the broad topic of ‘what to do when you’re let go.’ In part one, our eight experts answered my first question, ‘What are the first three things you should do when you are laid off or fired?’ Part two consisted of their responses to my second question, ‘What is the biggest mistake people make when they’re let go?’

In Part three they advise how to answer the question, ‘Why did you leave your last position?’ when you are fired or the only one laid off. Here’s what they had to say.

Bruce A. Hurwitz, Ph.D. – President and CEO
Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, LTD.

This one is both the simplest and the most difficult. The answer is what I call ‘The Three Ts': Tell The Truth. It’s going to come up anyways so better they should hear it from you.

If you were laid off, explain what was explained to you and then ask the interviewer about the business health of their company explaining, ‘I don’t want to be in the same situation.’

If you were fired, admit it, say what you did and, most importantly, what you learned from the situation and how the experience will make you a better employee.

Nancy B. Irwin, PsyD, C.Ht.
Speaker/Author /Psychotherapy/Clinical Hypnosis

You can honestly say that the company was downsizing if you were laid off. With the current economic situation, hirers are quite used to understanding this one.

If you were fired, simply say that it was not the best fit between you/your skills and the company. Be prepared to say what was missing before, and what you can offer the current prospective employer. State clearly what you are looking for as far as the company values and mission.

Frank G. Risalvato, CPC
Certified Personnel Consultant/ Recruiting Officer

Always provide the negative aspect of this reply along with a positive point. Example: ‘While leaving was beyond my control since I was part of a 13 person lay off, I am proud of the fact that I was the last to be let go after 18 months of financial losses and cutbacks due to my being the only one that knew the SAP payroll system’.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine
Partner, SixFigureStart’

Short and factual are best. If you were fired, you can say the company wasn’t the best fit so you parted ways. If you were laid off, say you were laid off. You don’t have to say whether one or one hundred were laid off.

Cheryl Heisler
Lawternatives: Career Consulting for Lawyers Exploring Alternatives

The best answer to ‘Why you left your last position?’ is always the truth (in one form or another.) If you manufacture an answer that doesn’t hold up under scrutiny, you will be perceived as less than truthful and you will knock yourself out of the running.

If, however, you explain the situation concisely but with your own “spin” on it, you have the chance of really being heard. For instance, if your last boss was really difficult and you just couldn’t seem to do anything right, you might try explaining the problem as an “interpersonal communication issue” that was unique to your last employer. It is also important to stress that, whatever the problem might have been at your last place of employment, it won’t repeat itself at the new job.

Richard S Deems, PhD
WorkLife Design

Here’s what we suggest for persons who have been fired for cause: ‘Yes, I was terminated, and this is what I was told’ This has been a learning experience for me and I’ve learned (describe what you’ve learned).’ Then sit and wait for the next questions. Or add, “Let me tell you my three greatest strengths…”

If you were the only one laid off you we recommend you say something like, ‘As you’re aware, the economy has hit various segments in several ways. And it hit the area where I worked. There was a downsizing, and I got downsized.’ You don’t need to tell them you were the only one.

Then continue with, ‘Now let me tell you my three greatest strengths and give you an example of each”

Tell them your strengths and the kind of contributions you can make. If you treat the layoff as no big deal, then so will the person interviewing you (usually).

Jennifer Fishberg, Ed.M.
Owner, Career Karma

The attitude you project when answering this question is as important as the content of your answer, especially when leaving wasn’t your decision — especially since most hiring managers are trained to pick up things like body language and tone of voice. Make sure you’ve dealt with your feelings about being laid off or fired so that you’re in a place emotionally where you can respond confidently without hurt or anger; or if you haven’t moved past those feelings yet, at least leave them sitting at home on the couch when you head off to the interview.

If you’ve been laid off, you can simply be straightforward and say that your company downsized due to the economic downturn and your position was eliminated. Chances are the person interviewing you has been there too at one point or another and recognizes it’s not a statement about your value as an employee or a person. You can also put a more positive spin on it by following up immediately with a statement that demonstrates your resilience and flexibility — traits employers love. For example, you might acknowledge that leaving was difficult because of all the positive relationships you’ve built with colleagues — this shows you work well with others– but you recognize that this is also an opportunity to grow — be as specific as possible here, mentioning skills applicable to the new job or a passion for your potential new employer’s mission.

This question can be even more nerve-wracking if you’ve been fired. The best answer depends in part on the reasons you were fired, but it’s generally a good approach to be direct, be brief, and move on. Briefly explain why you were let go, what you learned about yourself from it, and how you have addressed any problems. For example, did your job performance suffer when you were given certain new responsibilities? If so, you can say that you learned that these areas are not your strengths (assuming they’re not required in the job you’re interviewing for!), it wasn’t the job you were originally hired to do, and you’re looking for an opportunity to do the work at which you excel.

Take responsibility and avoid blaming others — these are also traits employers value. Another helpful approach is to bookend something that may be perceived as negative, such as being fired, with something positive; lead off and conclude the interview with your strengths to make sure these are foremost in the hiring manager’s mind.

Charles Purdy
Senior Editor, Monster+HotJobs

Explain the situation matter-of-factly, and take the opportunity to reiterate a positive’for instance, ‘I achieved a lot at XYZ, Inc.’in 2009, my new logistics strategy was credited with saving the company 20 percent on shipping costs. But when the company changed hands, management realigned priorities and began outsourcing a lot of the work my department had done, and my manager and I agreed that it was time for me to pursue new opportunities.’

About Annette Richmond, MA

Annette Richmond, MA is Executive Editor of career-intelligence.com. Having changed careers several times, including working as a writer, recruiter and vocational counselor, she has a unique perspective on career management. She contributes career-related articles to various other sites including TalentCulture, ForbesWoman and LinkedIn. She also coaches a few highly-motivated individuals, visit her site for information.

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