Most of us want to build longevity when accepting a new position, with the hopes of sustaining long-term employment within the same organization. However, these aspirations can often conflict with the realities of the current job market. When it’s our choice to leave an organization, discussing the terms of our departure can be tricky, but not necessarily an emotional burden. However, when a company makes the decision to part ways with you, talking about being fired or laid off can raise feelings of insecurity and stigmatization with new employers.
Rather than getting down in the dumps, let’s address some ways to successfully handle conversations about being let go or laid off in your next interview.
Situation 1: You’ve been laid off or restructured out of your position
Being “laid off” is often circumstantial, as business cycles and trends will dictate the workforce. Whether you’ve been laid off after three months or 30 years, the same principles still apply.
Be factual. If the facts are credible, you should be able to easily articulate them. “Don’t get too emotional, show frustration, or villainize anyone,” says Alan Zel of Zel Human Capital. Rather, focus on what you’ve learned from your past, and how you can apply that successfully to your future. Say something along these lines as a jumping points for your conversation:
- “There was a restructure within the organization and unfortunately my role was impacted.”
- “The business was going through changes and there was no longer enough work to sustain my position.”
Layoffs are an unfortunate reality beyond our control, and most hiring managers will be understanding of that.
Situation 2: You’ve been let go for performance issues
Remember your own value. Don’t ruminate too hard about the past and the negatives. Go into your next interview with the mind-set that you still have something great to offer the new company. Treat this as a new opportunity and a fresh start, rather than an event that’s dragging you down.
Stay succinct. When the hiring manager asks why you left your job or why you were let go, keep this answer short, sweet, and to the point. If you don’t say anything too glaring, they likely won’t press too much on the topic. When you start going into too many details, “That’s when a lot of the negativity and justification comes out, and negativity taints an interview,” says Marina Byezhanova of Pronexia.
Practice self-awareness. If you were in sales and not hitting your numbers, you’ll have to communicate some self-awareness of why and how things would be different in your new role, says Byezhanova. Consider saying something like the following in an interview:
- “Unfortunately, I couldn’t live and breathe the product line, and it made it difficult for me to translate the value to new customers. I now understand that kind of fit doesn’t work for me, and what I’m really interested in is ‘ABC’.”
- “I did not have the right skill set to succeed in that kind of role, so now I’m considering opportunities that would play better to my strengths such as ‘ABC’.”
Whatever the issue, you must be able to explain the problem, highlight what you’ve learned, and assure the hiring manager that it won’t happen again.
In either situation, there is no benefit to speak ill of your past employer. You still need to come off as grateful for your opportunities and show that you left with strong relationships and a good attitude. Be careful with your language, as words can be a delicate yet powerful tool!
I am not what has happened to me, I am what I choose to become—Carl Jung
Should I lie?
One should definitely be as truthful as possible in an interview. If an employer catches you lying about this, they may assume the worst and wonder what else you’re lying about. That being said, if the question of why you’re leaving your organization does not come up, you certainly don’t need to draw attention to it. Some recruiters may simply ask why you’re interested in the role, rather than ask you why you’ve left your organization. If the question does not come up, don’t make a big deal of it. As a candidate, you’re likely thinking way more about how you got laid off or let go than the employer, so only share what’s asked of you.
Some of the wealthiest and most influential people in history (think: Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, J.K Rowling) have used their experiences of being fired to help shape their success and accomplishments. To move past any negative associated feelings and kick off your next job search, it’s most important to remember that your professional value is never determined by this one single experience. Don’t let this setback hold power over you.