Explaining a Job Loss: Seven Tips
Downsized, restructured, displaced, canned, terminated – any way you put it, you’re still out of a job and it’s still not the easiest subject to talk about in an interview.
Recognize that there is life after a job loss and take some time to reflect and recharge your attitude. Think about what you learned from the experience, what you could have done differently, and what you will do going forward. Here are seven things to prepare you when the subject comes up in an interview:
Be prepared to be up front and honest about your dismissal. Don’t lie. If you fail to disclose that you were dismissed for cause, it is likely to come out when the employer checks references and your perceived dishonesty for not sharing this information may cost you the job. When interviewing, be brief in discussing the situation, show what you’ve learned or what you are doing to change and then move on to what you accomplished and how you can contribute to the new company.
Right job, wrong boss.
If your dismissal resulted from a change in management and you didn’t get along with a new boss due to bad chemistry or a difference of opinion, acknowledge that you recognize some people just don’t click, then share references of other supervisors you previously worked for and other colleagues.
You might say, “My new supervisor and I, unfortunately, had very different personalities and management styles. I made a strong attempt to create an amicable relationship. I had very good relationships with previous supervisors and was well-thought of by my colleagues.” Whatever you do, don’t bad mouth the boss. You’ll be the one who looks bad. Have a list of other supervisors and coworkers readily available to share with the interviewer. Most people have had a difficult boss at some point in their career and will likely understand.
Change in strategy.
Briefly acknowledge that there was a change in company strategy that you didn’t fully agree with, then move on to what you learned from the situation. Saying something like, “After the merger, my new boss had a different strategy in mind for our product group. I didn’t fully agree with it. Looking back, I realized that I should have tried to find out more about the rationale for the change and find ways to support it.” Don’t trash the company. Don’t blame the company for not following your direction. Every company will change. Show that you are willing to adapt to change.
Lack of skills.
If your job moved forward but you didn’t, it’s probably time to acquire the necessary skills to succeed. If you haven’t yet embraced technology, use your time off to take a few beginner computer classes and learn common office software. In addition to local colleges, many industry associations offer courses and workshops to keep your skills up to date. Take a refresher accounting course, attend a workshop to recharge your creativity, improve you management skills or learn to write for the web. Share your new-found skills with prospective employers and show how these skills will add value at the new employer.
If you received a series of poor performance reviews, you need to truly assess why. First, if you can muster the courage, consider calling your old boss and asking for advice. You may find the conversation easier than you think, now that the ties of employment have been broken. Call or meet with a former colleague or two and ask them for their honest opinion of how you could improve. Don’t be defensive. Listen openly.
If you made repeated mistakes, if you weren’t thorough enough in your reports, or missed your sales quotas, consider what you could do to improve. You may find that the job you had wasn’t really right for you. If you were a great sales administrator who was promoted to an outside sales position but lost your job because you couldn’t make the quotas, perhaps you need to seek an administrative position. If you were a great sales person who was promoted to manage the sales force then let go due to your poor management skills, maybe you’d be happier and more successful if you were back in front of customers instead of behind a desk.
Misdeeds or dishonesty.
If the reason for your dismissal was for something more egregious, like misusing company funds, sexual harassment, substance use or falsifying company information, you may need to accept that companies could be reluctant to hire you. Whatever the reason always be honest, say only what you need to say, share what you learned and how you’ve changed and focus on the more positive aspects of your performance and accomplishments.
Solid and legitimate references.
Ideally, your former employer will agree to just give the facts, by verifying your dates of employment and your titles. Secure references from other supervisors and colleagues who will give you a positive review and vouch for your integrity and ability. It’s best to have two to three business references as well as a couple of personal references.