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I'm working for a company "A" that was recently acquired by a larger company "B". There are some rumors that company "B" will shut us down and most employees will have to find somewhere else to work.

I decided to play it safely and find another job before it's too late. However, I know for sure that any coming interview will have the following logical question:

"Why are you leaving your old company?"

Is it bad to tell the truth? Will the new employer take advantage of my need for the new job?

Is it better to just say "I want to move on with my career" or "I am looking for a better offer"?

What's the most professional answer and attitude to take in this kind of situation?

  • 7
    +2 for Chad's answer. Also don't over-focus on it. people move all the time for a variety of reasons. Employers may ask that but it's really not a big thing (unless you are evasive or lie, which always shows, even if you don't realize it). So give a quick answer and focus on what you see as the +'s of the new job. Most smart folks know that when you say "you really want X and to not do Y" it usually means that the person has done X at the current/previous employer and want to avoid it in future gigs" – Michael Durrant Jul 3 '12 at 13:22
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    Always talk about positives and focus on the future desires for growth. Never, ever talk negatively about former or current employeer. There's no need to mention possible layoffs. Since you haven't actually been given a pink slip, it may come off looking like an unloyal rat ready to jump ship at the first sign of trouble. – Alan Barber Jul 3 '12 at 14:19
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    @AlanBarber I challenge the "never, ever talk negatively. You shouldn't turn your interview into a bitch session about your current boss and company. You should especially not complain about things that might seem selfish like too heavy a workload or not enough benefits. But recognizing a deteriorating situation and responding reflects more savvy than disloyalty. – JohnMcG Jul 3 '12 at 14:42
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    I guess the fundamental question is if you're playing to win or if you're playing to not lose. Whether you want to present a blank slate or your self, including some edges. And I guess the answer depends on a number of factors. If you need to pay next month's rent, and you probably have the job if you don't blow it, it's best to play safe. If you really are trying to advance your career to a good fit for yourself, it may make sense to take more risks. – JohnMcG Jul 3 '12 at 15:17
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    @JarrodRoberson The other side of that is that you would hit the job market at the same time as everyone else who did the same thing. – JohnMcG Jul 3 '12 at 19:14
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"I am very interested in the growth potential that I see in your company"

It is a simple statement that is hopefully true and a little flattery toward your prospective employer never hurts. This also opens up conversation about your future goals. So be prepared to talk about your short and long term career goals in general terms. This is my preferred answer to this question when i am currently employed. It has never let me down.

As an alternative:

"I am looking for a position with long term stability."

Most business people know that the cold truth of an acquisition or "merger of equals" is that the acquired firm will usually end up "restructured." And the cold truth is that when a company takes over a firm and that company already has a well staffed group that handles certain responsibilities the acquired firm's group is the one that goes.

If pressed further on the subject it is acceptable to talk about the merger so long as you can do so with out emotion. Explaining that you understand the needs of the new business will likely mean that your position will soon be eliminated is understandable.

Do not bad mouth your current company

The real point of this question is to see how you will talk about your current company. Regardless of what answer you give make sure it is not one that bad mouths them. Make sure you have 3 or 4 things that are positives about your current(last) employer. The answer should mostly look forward to your future.

26

Acquisitions are always beset with huge uncertainty. I can't imagine in this circumstance that anyone would have a problem with you indicating that the acquisition makes your career path no longer clear and that you're proactively exploring options (Of course the obvious follow-up question will require you to articulate your intended career path).

It is the responsibility of the leadership during an acquisition to clearly communicate to top-talent that their positions are "safe" and what their new roles will be as soon as possible. If they don't do this it could mean their own heads are on the block or that they've resigned to cutting huge numbers of positions.

Whatever the case, try not to be on the ship when it sinks. No one would expect you to do that (you won't get a medal :-)) and if you do stay until the lights are turned off, then you'll have to answer the much harder question of why you didn't/couldn't leave earlier?

Good luck!

  • 1
    +1 actually when the acquisition was announced they told us that they need all employees and nobody will have to resign. 1 month later they closed one of our branches then they dismissed one of our teams as the project they were working on wasn't "complying" the company's goals :D – Long Jul 3 '12 at 12:48
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    @Songo - That is how most aquisitions go. The last thing they want is everyone(especially the good ones) jumping ship immediately after they take over before they have had a chance to assess the actual business values. In my experience if the new company already has a group that can do or is doing what you are doing then chances are your group will be one of the first ones cut. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 3 '12 at 13:01
  • @Chad - been there. After the merger, the two groups got together, and we all agreed that we'd use "our" code as the base. Or, at least until we got home, and learned that the plan had changed. – Wonko the Sane Jul 3 '12 at 13:26
  • There can be cases where it is worth staying until they fire you - in the EU at least (and especially in Finance) you can get redundancy pay which can be a useful sum if you have worked in the company for a few years – Mark Jul 3 '12 at 14:31
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    @WonkotheSane - I was on the other side once. We went in and agreed with everything they suggested all the while figuring out what equipment they had and got access to their systems. The manager even promised that we would begin having small groups visit the new HQ to see our operations. I have never felt so dirty. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Jul 3 '12 at 15:04
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Incredibly difficult question to answer, from experience. Depends entirely on your interviewer.

If I ask you that question, I want to know the truth. I want to know if you're going to leave us for the same reason. If your reason for leaving also applies to us and we can't fix it for you, we're wasting your time and mine in hiring you.

However, I have been penalised in interviews for being honest. I was told that I was "far too negative about my current company". Which I actually didn't think I was. So perhaps they were in a similar position: I mentioned a problem that also applied to them and they weren't able or willing to fix it. I don't know.

What I do know is that whether it's because I said something that rang true for them or that they value lies in interviews, I really didn't want to work for them. So I'm still glad I was honest.

Of course, if you really need a job, you might not be able to be so picky. Then you might have to be more careful what you say.

  • I had one terrible employment situation in my career and was advised not to be negative when talking about it. I think you can be honest while not being detailed. Saying, "My boss was an idiot" never wins the approval of a future boss, but saying "I prefer a more (structured, creative, open source, well-documented, whatever) environment" sounds a lot better. Since attitudes often are absorbed by those we speak to, I like to make everyone feel positive by the end of the interview, since a happy feeling is more likely to result in an offer. – David Navarre Aug 24 '12 at 19:38
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Saying that your company has been bought out and layoffs are highly likely is a perfectly good reason for wanting to leave a company. It is not negative towards the company so it should be relatively safe as an answer as long as you don't go off on a tirade about how horrible the buyout is and how much you hate the new company.

I once starting searching for a new job becasue our government contract was expiring in Oct and it was Septemeber and we still had not heard yet officially if it was being renewed. Every person I talked to totally understood that as a reasonable reason for wanting a new position and is suspect they would feel the same way in your instance.

People know that aquisitions mean layoffs no matter how much they want to pretend in the beginning that they aren't going to do that. And frankly would you even want to work for someone who didnt see that as a reasonable action in response to an aquisition? Probably the people who would be most likely to turn you down for saying that are the companies in the midst of being aquired themselves and you really don't want to jump to a worse situation.

7

Give your interviewer some credit for intelligence too. I mean, he/she may know about company A and the "rumours" about forced layoffs.

So, try to present a reason that would be acceptable even if the present job IS secure. Something like :

  • You would like to acquire some new proficiencies;
  • You'd like to get the chance to practice some new proficiencies you've taught yourself;
  • You'd like to work in an organization with other technological attributes;
  • Had wanted to work on such-and-such type of work (make sure company B does it!) for some time now &

"and now seems an opportune time to look to do this."

This does not just mean that your timing is related to the situation in company A. Most people change jobs in summertime, due to relocation, kids changing schools, having a holiday before they join the new company, etc -- as well as the common desire to make the major changes in life in summertime . . . .

Just make sure that the professional reasons that you give are consistent with what's on your resumé. If necessary, re-edit your resumé to emphasise things that might support these assertions.

All I can think of.

3

I think that the answer depends on how long you've been with your current company. Telling the truth doesn't mean elaborating upon all the available information. Any of the following are permissible, truthfully generic, and are open-ended enough that you can steer the conversation in a more-positive direction:

  1. I am looking for a career opportunity
  2. I am looking to grow in a new role
  3. I would like to gain experience in a different domain
  4. I need a change of scenery
  5. I need to relocate

If you've been with the company for less than 2 years, bring up the layoff rumors. The risk attached to looking jittery is less than the risk attached to being labeled a job-jumper. If you're a young employee, nobody can fault you for getting jittery, especially given this economy. If more than 2 years, go with the "looking for a career opportunity" route. This makes you look like a lifelong learning-go-getter, while at the same time nullifying points they'll dock you for abandoning ship when the cards are down. Companies and organizations want you to loyally stand by them when the chips are down, but any one of them will cut your job in a heartbeat if they feel that they need to. It's important to note, though, that given whatever your circumstances are, none of the five I've listed (or insert your own) are untruthful, per se.

3

"I don't feel like I'm learning anything new at my current position."

That's my stock (and often not untrue) answer when I don't feel like going into the full parade of reasons for searching.

But really, if you loved your old job, would you be looking for a new one before you knew for certain the parent company was going to ditch your position? I'd focus on the reasons you were already prepared to leave before the buyout if you had them if finding work at whatever you do isn't particularly difficult. It might help you find a job that's a better fit for you.

1

Focus on the new job.

Be honest about your current situation without feeling you must reveal everything. You definitely don't owe your potential employer the whole truth (although I suspect that's not what you're asking about). There is no need to highlight a situation or behave in a way that can make you appear desperate.

Practice exuding the confidence in yourself that is probably well-deserved. List and concentrate on qualities that make you attractive to any employer and specifically the ones you approach.

Of course, neither will a potential employer be impressed if you bad-mouth your current company or spill any secrets. However, I would not be too concerned that your potential employer would look down on you for leaving a sinking ship. If they do, they may not be so great to work for. Reasonable managers know that their employees seek a certain level of security.

1

Personally - I have found that the best way to handle any situation is to be honest. You never want to "bad mouth" a former employer/employee in any way because the world isn't as large as we think, and you never know who knows who, etc. But also - you don't want to be viewed as a negative person, the type of person who is going to talk the same way about their company should you eventually be employed there. Keep everything positive.

In any case, don't be afraid to shed light on your current situation. Whether those are just rumors or not - this is simply the case of someone looking out for the continued development of their own professional career & aspirations, as well as their personal obligations (potentially family to think about, etc.). Letting a potential new/future employer know that you have a sneaky suspicion or feeling that things are going to change within your current environment is nothing to hide. Just don't make it the main/only focus of your search and why your open or interested in speaking/interviewing with them.

If you think that your New Potential Employer is going to use that potential lay-off/acquisition to their advantage in terms of low-balling a potential offer, it's not likely to happen. If you demonstrate your skills, value and overall benefit/need of hiring you - you have nothing to worry about. You have to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk right?

If you do go through the interview process and get an undervalued/low-ball offer, then that is probably a real good indicator that it might not be in your best interest to work at that specific organization now or in the future (as you are less likely to get raises, less likely for them to appreciate you, and maybe they aren't as sharp as you think they are). That is the same type of company that you are going to have a heck of a time growing with.

Having a job now - where you collect a paycheck and haven't gotten a notice - is an easy point to bring up should the offer come in where you don't want it to be. If they can't understand that, even after you are bringing that up, and they hold strong...then you switch over to the whole concept/idea that you do have several other things going on at this time that you are exploring, etc... and that you kind of want to see through before making a decision.

Bring up the point that you take your Career & Job very seriously and that you view it as a Marriage. You want both sides to feel like you need each other. Personally you want to be happy with where you go to work everyday, who you work for, and that you feel like you earned that paycheck & it's fair... but at the same point they are getting the right individual for the job, the right value, and someone whom wants to Grow with them.

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    I was with Ryan 100% right up until "you take your Career & Job very seriously and that you view it as a Marriage". That's such a ludicrous thing to say! A job is an economic arrangement that continues until one party or the other judges that the arrangement is no longer profitable. Viewing a job as a 'marriage' is woefully wishful thinking. – Jim In Texas Jul 4 '12 at 6:32

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