News Article

JOB INTERVIEW TIPS-How To Talk About A Layoff Or Furlough In A Job Interview

Posted 20th November 2020 • Written by Caroline Ceniza-Levine on •


How To Talk About A Layoff Or Furlough In A Job Interview

Mass layoffs and furloughs have been announced across a variety of industries — travel and leisure, media, energy, financial services, etc. While losing your job may be more commonplace now, it can still be difficult to talk about, especially in a job interview, where you might feel less confident admitting any negative news.

You will likely be asked about your various career moves and transitions, especially your most recent ones. You may also be asked about any gaps in your resume. Finally, with layoffs prominently featured in the news and top of mind for many, the interviewer may ask you outright if you were downsized.

The good news is that, with so many people affected, there is less stigma attached to being laid off or furloughed. The better news is that you have control on how you talk about a layoff or furlough. You can minimize the negative impact of being laid off or furloughed and still ace your job interview by taking these five steps:

1 – Address what the interviewer really wants to know

Remember that the purpose of the job interview is to determine if you’re the best candidate for the job. The prospective employer wants their problem solved. They really aren’t focused on you, except for what you can do for them. In the same way, they don’t really care about your layoff, except what it might reveal about how good an employee you will be.

A layoff or furlough can impact you negatively if the prospective employer thinks you were let go for performance reasons. You can counter that by confirming that you were one among many and not singled out for cause. The prospective employer might worry that your time away from work has eroded your skills. You can counter that by keeping your skills and expertise updated. The prospective employer might assume your recent bad experience has soured your attitude or work ethic. You can counter that by showing high energy and enthusiasm during the interview.

2 — Keep your answer concise

Concise means just enough information. You don’t want to say too little, such as avoiding talking about the layoff or furlough at all. This makes it appears as if you’re hiding something. At the same time, you don’t want to say too much and keep referencing it throughout the job interview. This is like going on a date where the other person spends the whole time talking about their ex! The incident is in the past, and the job interview is for the future. You want to assure the prospective employer that you only have eyes for them.

3 — Keep your tone neutral and non-judgmental

The prospective employer wants to hire someone who will be committed and a positive addition to the team. If you bad mouth your previous employer, your next employer will worry you will say the same about them. Even if the layoff or furlough was handled terribly or you felt you were treated unfairly or you have whatever good reason for having a negative opinion about your past employer, keep your tone neutral and non-judgmental when you explain what happened. (it helps when you keep your answers concise!)

Getting to a neutral tone when you are talking about a difficult issue is something you may need to practice. As a longtime recruiter, I have sat in too many interviews where the candidate clearly still harbors negative feelings toward a past employer. Outline in advance what you will say about the layoff or furlough. Practice saying it until you can do it without getting emotional – e.g., sad, angry, defensive. Role play with someone else who will probe on this issue to make sure you’re comfortable talking about it. (Read more tips here on how to handle a hostile interview.)

4 — Refocus the interview back to the job opening

The likelihood is that the interviewer will move on quickly after hearing a satisfactory explanation for your layoff or furlough. But you can help move the interview along by initiating the transition back to the job opening at hand. For example, as you talk about your recent job, you mention that you left because you were laid off, and then you immediately highlight the skills, expertise and experience you gained at the job that is relevant to this particular opening. No need to wait for the interviewer to sign off on your layoff explanation and give you permission to move on. The job interview is a conversation, a two-way street, and you can control the agenda as much as the interviewer by refocusing the interview on the job opening.

5 — Line up references to support your story

Too many job seekers wait till they have an impending job offer before lining up their list of professional references. It takes time to reach your references and confirm that: 1) they agree to give you a reference; 2) you have their most updated contact information; and 3) they know what to say to give you the strongest and most relevant reference possible.

Number 3 surprises some people, but you need to coach your references. You don’t need to tell them what to say word-for-word (and legitimate references won’t want you to do that anyway). However, you need to tell them what jobs you’re going for so they can highlight the relevant aspects of your previous work together. This includes talking about the circumstances surrounding your layoff or furlough – even if only to confirm that it wasn’t performance-related. Having your references lined up in advance, including someone who will corroborate your account of the layoff or furlough, will make you more confident and comfortable in your job interview.

You determine how strong a candidate you are, not your layoff or furlough

Being laid off or furloughed is the end of that job, but certainly not your career. You can still come across as a strong candidate during the job interview by highlighting the skills, expertise and experience you do have. Remember that the prospective employer is focused on hiring a solution to their problem, not your layoff or furlough at all.

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