We have several posts about answering the “Why did you leave your last job” question in a variety of situations (fired, left quickly, or something else – see the list at the bottom of this post). In this post, we’ll address the circumstance of answering why you left your last job when you were laid off.
This can be a scary question for a job seeker. However, if you answer smoothly in a matter-of-fact tone, with assurance, most interviewers move on to their next question.
Please note: Being laid off is very different from being fired.
An employer usually fires someone for a reason (“for cause”), whether real or imaginary on the part of the employer. A “layoff” is typically a move by management to cut costs by reducing the number of employees. Someone who is laid off qualifies, in the USA, for unemployment compensation. Someone who has been fired typically does not qualify. “Down-sizing” is another term for a layoff.
If you were involved in a very large and very public layoff or business closing (like Enron or Lehman Brothers in the past), you may not need to answer this question. The interviewer may already know why you are job hunting. If you were laid off by a smaller employer or in a less public situation, you will probably need to explain what happened.
Layoffs Are Common
Layoffs happen all the time, in good times and bad. Most people in business management are familiar with it and the process. Particularly in this economy, many organizations have needed to let employees go. Even large technology companies like Google and Hewlett Packard have had layoffs, and so have many other companies ranging from gigantic Citibank to American Airlines, Pepsi Cola, and JC Penny.
How to Answer Why You Left Your Last Job
Don’t feel like you need to apologize or explain, and don’t be defensive or feel you that you were not a good performer in your job. Layoffs happen all the time, and VERY SELDOM are employers careful to retain their best employees and let go of poor performers.
Usually layoffs happen too quickly for the employer to transfer their top employees to “safe” groups or safer jobs. So, don’t feel you were laid off because of poor performance, and be sure that poor-me feeling, if you have it, doesn’t come across in an interview.
When this question comes up, as it often does, stick to the facts. Be brief. Be unemotional. Be prepared!
What to say when asked?
K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Sweetheart!) Resist the impulse to tell the “inside story” about what went wrong at your former employer, no matter how juicy and interesting a story you think it is. The more you talk, the greater the chance you will say something that will not make a good impression on the interviewer, or you will sound angry or obsessed with what happened. Not good!
The interviewer is really interested only in discovering if you are qualified for this new job. They don’t want too much detail (and you don’t want to share too much information), and they have several other questions to ask. So don’t turn this into a monologue about how terrible management was, that crazy competitor who cut prices, etc.
1. Answer the question with a simple, factual statement.
Think about how to best present this information, and practice saying it out loud a few times. You want it to roll off your tongue, and clearly and concisely answer the question.
For example, possible answers, depending on the situation:
- Demand for the product (or service) our group/department/division provided/sold dropped, and management decided to close our group to reduce costs.
- The company determined that they could save money by moving the jobs in our group to another location.
- To reduce costs, the company decided to hire an outside organization do the work our group did. They out-sourced our jobs.
- My original employer was acquired by [former employer], and the acquiring company moved our group’s operations elsewhere to reduce their costs.
Notice how short those answers are! If a follow-up question about the layoff is asked, again, be brief and factual. Not angry.
Assuming you were not the only person laid off, be sure to include a reference that makes that point clearly – like using the term “our jobs” rather than “my job” and “our group” rather than “I” when you answer this question.
2. Ask a question.
You’ve put out the truth about what happened, and now it’s time to move on to the next topic. You should have some questions you want to ask, too, and asking one of your questions immediately after you have answered this question is a good idea.
The layoff was not your fault, and being laid off doesn’t mean you are or were a poor performer (see the Job-Hunt.org articles on Layoff Survival and Job Loss Recovery for more help dealing with the issue). It’s more a matter of bad luck – wrong place; wrong time. In your next job, keep your antenna up for signs of another layoff, and keep your LinkedIn Profile up-to-date and ready to support you in a job search.
More About Answering Why You Left Your Last Job
Layoff Survival Guide (Job-Hunt.org)
Job Loss Recovery (Job-Hunt.org)
About the author…
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. In 2011, NETability purchased WorkCoachCafe.com, which Susan has been editor and publisher of WorkCoach since then. Susan also edits and publishes Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Google+.