56

I worked in a big company, and was laid off during the company restructure, along with 2000 other employees. This was well covered in the news.

It was definitely not because of my poor performance; on the contrary, I believe I did such a good job on my project that the company considered it didn't need further improvement and my position was eliminated.

The second reason I may have been chosen to be laid off is that when the time came to make cuts, the manager kept his favourites and let the others go. I didn't have a bad relationship with my boss, just a normal working relationship, but I wasn't one of the favoured ones.

I am in a popular field, and hold a doctorate degree, so a lot of employers have expressed interest in me. I have answered both technical and soft questions well in every interview.

However, in the final stages, when I get asked my reasons for leaving my last job and I tell them I was laid off, their faces suddenly change. No matter how I explain it to them, they always believe I must have performed badly or been unable to get along with other people. They ask me for a reference letter from my former manager (which I can get), suddenly doubt my technical skills, and want to dig very deeply into my personal information.

It's clearly not appropriate to say to my potential new manager that I was let go due to favouritism. I have told them that 2000 employees were let go at the same time as me, but the potential employers always seem to wonder, "if you are so technically strong, why did you get laid off?"

I fully understand the importance of being honest, but I am running out of options here. I am strongly considering lying in the next interview I get, and saying that I am still employed. Is this wise? If not, how else can I stop them from doubting my abilities when they hear I got laid off?

  • 75
    When you say that you're looking for a job because you were laid off, do you clearly say "..because I was one of 2000 people laid off during a massive restructure"? – Carson63000 Apr 13 '15 at 4:54
  • 1
    I strongly recommend that you tell the truth. Most companies will check employment status by contacting your "current" employer, and if they find you've lied you'll be dropped from consideration immediately. – Bob Jarvis Apr 15 '15 at 3:11
  • 15
    One small piece of advice - use the phrase "my position was made redundant" to indicate that it was your position that was eliminated - not you. In Australia, if you were "laid off" it means you were sacked, whereas if you were "made redundant" it means your position is no longer being filled. Language is crucial in communicating the correct idea. – Stephen Apr 15 '15 at 4:59
  • Being made redundant at some point in your career is so common these days that I'm quite surprised it would give an interviewer pause. Perhaps you look embarrassed when you say it, which makes them suspect there's something more to the story? Or perhaps something you've said earlier makes them suspicious. Or perhaps you're lucky enough to be in a field where layoffs are uncommon. – mhwombat Apr 15 '15 at 18:19

10 Answers 10

36

I've been laid off a few times -- if you've been in the market a while, it's pretty much inevitable. Rather than just saying "I was laid off", which can, as you're discovering, be code for "I was a poor performer but they didn't want to actually say 'fired'", present the key facts succinctly:

  • My project was eliminated due to funding cuts.
  • My position was eliminated in a large restructuring.
  • I was part of a 2000-person reduction.

Don't just say I was laid off", leaving them to speculate about your qualifications or job performance. But don't be longwinded about it; that can sound like you're making excuses. You don't want to do something like this:

Them: Why are you interested in this job?
You: I was laid off.
Them: What's wrong with you? Skill problems? (etc)
You: No no, I was doing a great job and my manager really loved me and I got performance bonuses every year and (500 more words here) but there was this big layoff and I got swept up in that and...
Them: sigh

Finally, as HLGEM said, make sure you are answering the question they asked. "I was laid off" is an answer to "why do you want a job", but they don't care about that -- they want to know why you want this job. Somebody, somewhere along the line, will ask why you are looking for a change (or it may be cast as "reason for leaving" on the application); this may not be that.

  • Another note in this vein: if the question is "why do you want this job?" many employers are looking for your passion or interest in the field, not "so I can pay my bills." – GalacticCowboy Apr 14 '15 at 17:34
76

Regardless of how you currently feel about the issue, being honest is still the only way to go. Lying might get your foot through the door, but you'll never get hired if an employer finds out you haven't been truthful with them. If they find out while you're already employed, in many countries this is grounds for immediate dismissal (meaning you can get fired on the spot) as this is a serious breach of trust.

Your issue seems to be with the way you are presenting the fact that you were laid off. When asked why you left your previous job, if you respond with "I had a great relationship with my employer, but they simply could not afford to employ me anymore. It was part of a 2000 person layoff, it even made the news" you should never get any raised eyebrows. If you're simply stating "I was laid off"however, you're also 'being honest' but you're providing no context for the layoff, so people will automatically assume the worst.


Edit: In addition, the wording of part of your question suggests it may not be clear that you were laid off until the later stage of the interview. Your CV or resume should clearly reflect when your employment terminated and it's in your best interest to ensure that the interviewer is aware that you are currently between jobs and looking for new employment rather than a change of companies. By not making this fact clear, you are in fact hurting your chances because it can be interpreted as you trying to 'get this past them unnoticed' which would be dishonest.


Edit: If you have a good relationship with your previous supervisor, it may be a good idea to ask that person to write you a letter of recommendation. Having such a letter will help convince an interviewer that you were not let go due to bad performance or incompetence. Alternatively, ask them to be a professional reference and make it known to the interviewer that this person can be contacted if there are any questions about your performance or competence.

  • 4
    Note, intentionally misleading a potential employer with false claims such as saying you have a job you don't or degree you never earned, etc can potentially land you in legal hot water. (usually you'll just be dismissed, but it can get ugly depending on what was said, how long it takes to figure out, jurisdiction.) – RualStorge Apr 13 '15 at 16:49
  • 2
    Right. If I was fired for incompetence, I'd probably say something like "laid off". You should help them by differentiating the two. – Paul Draper Apr 14 '15 at 1:24
  • 6
    Context is a very significant part of this answer – Gusdor Apr 14 '15 at 7:54
48

I think that fretting about what constitutes "honesty" is missing the mark here. One can spin a layoff all sorts of ways, but what counts for the OP is the judgement of the potential employer. The unpleasant truth is that some employers view getting laid off as something akin to being fired. This is absolutely wrong, but it is a reality job-hunters must deal with.

It seems from the way you describe it that the interviewer is finding out about the layoff late in the interview stage.

However, in the final stage, when I told them that I wanted to change a job because I was laid off, their face suddenly changed.

In fact it even sounds like they believe you're still working. That can easily look like a "bait and switch" to the the potential employer: they think you are advertising yourself as working at the company when they give you the interview but then you announce that you've been laid off at the end. If this is the case, you may already be giving the impression that you're not honest.

There are two issues here that you need to resolve:

  1. Misunderstanding about whether or not you are still working. Plainly indicate start/end dates on your resume. There is nothing to be ashamed of and trying to make it "invisible" will backfire. If they know from the start before you interview that you were in a lay-off, but they still invite you for an interview it means they're willing to consider you anyway.

  2. How you are explaining the lay-off. You are right that you can't just criticize the previous company. The important thing is for you to indicate that you were NOT laid off because of performance or personality. Don't give theories about nepotism or bad-managment. Just say that the company made very large cuts that let a lot of people go. Cite your performance reviews and urge them to contact references.

  • 24
    +1 for plainly indicate start/end dates on your resume. This could be the reason for the sudden change in attitude every time they ask. – Kent A. Apr 13 '15 at 12:26
  • I have several Mon Yyyy - current entries on my CV, along with another several Mon Yyyy - Mon Yyyy for things that are a part of my history. This makes it perfectly clear to any potential employer both what I have done (and when), what I currently am doing, and the distinction between the two. – a CVn Apr 14 '15 at 17:47
19

I don't believe it is because you were laid off, most people I know who currently have a job who are 30 or older has been laid off at least once and sometimes more. Layoffs have been so common in the last two decades, it would be hard to escape ever being laid off. Most people who have been laid off find jobs (unless you are old enough to run into age discimnation as it is much harder to find a job after a layoff if you are older than 55). Sometimes it takes awhile. Most interviewers have been laid off or know people who were.

So the problem must be in your presentation. Get someone to help you and practice your answer to why you are interested in the job you are being interviewed for. Video tape yourself answering questions on the layoff and then watch them, pretending this is some stranger you are considering hiring. If you can find a life couach to help you learn to do a better job of interviewing, then this could be helpful.

If you are telling them you want this job because you were laid off, it also sounds to me as if you are missing part of the equation. Yes that is why you are in the job market, but why are you interested in that particular job? If you make your answer sound as if you need a job and any job will do, then they may well lose interest. The more desperate you sound, the more of a turn off this is.

If you have a reference letter from your previous boss, when you discuss being laid off would be the time to hand it to them to read. If you don't have one, try to get one. Be careful though as you only want to present a good letter. There is such a thing as "damning with faint praise".

  • 2
    +1 for when you discuss being laid off would be the time to **hand** it to them to read. You know the layoff has been a problem in interviews before, so come prepared. Don't just tell them you "can get" a reference letter, have it on hand and give it to them right then. – Martin Carney Apr 13 '15 at 18:53
9

From your description, these employers seem to be surprised when you tell them you were laid off. This kind of surprise is bad. If an employer really is not interested in otherwise good-looking candidates who were laid off, then you will never be invited to a face-to-face interview with those companies. They will simply not call you in that case. In your case, it sounds more like they feel they were somehow deceived, which is far worse.

Search out why these companies are surprised; the easiest way is to just ask them, or your recruiter after the fact. It could be:

  • They have an outdated resume from you. Easy fix. Update yours to include start and end dates. Provide fresh electronic versions to each recruiter you deal with. Ensure that all online profiles are up to date. And bring several printed copies with you to each interview. Plop one down on the table when you walk in the room, even if they already have one. If it's different than the one they have, you may have found the problem....
  • Your recruiters are telling them, or implying, that you are still employed. Recruiters lying about you in an attempt to get you hired is highly unethical but it happens. I once interviewed somebody for a contract position, using a resume provided by the recruiter. When I asked about his SQL experience, he said "None". But the resume cited "extensive, in-depth experience" with SQL, and I told him so. The candidate said, "Can I see that? ... I never said that!" Had the candidate tried to improvise instead of simply denying that he knew SQL, we might have reached a wrong conclusion about him.
  • Something in your conversational manner is leading them to believe you are still employed, even if you have not explicitly said so. I hope for your sake this is not it. If this is happening consistently, it can create a lasting impression of you as a dishonest or unstable person. Especially if similar surprises happen a lot, with many different people, not just in this one context. If this describes you, this is a bad personal quality to have, even if you think of it as merely being clever or whatever. It can negatively affect your entire life and your family, in ways you may not imagine, not just your job. If this is the reason, take it very seriously and search out the underlying causes.
5

I get the impression you're very preoccupied with the perceived injustice of your lay-off. My advice - put the focus on how qualified you are for your next job. Our industry is very cyclical and people get laid-off quite a lot, the more you downplay this event the easier your interviewer will find it to do likewise. If you've been looking for a job for awhile, be sure to portray it as your specific choice and not as something that happened to you - e.g.: took the time to learn, to travel, to consider your exact wishes more carefully, etc.

4

Obscuring is OK. Lying is not.

You're welcome to try... but most companies do do a reference check and the easiest thing to check is the period of employment. If a candidate told me he was still employed and then I found out post-offer during employment verification that he'd been laid off months back, I would stop asking any questions and simply reject the candidate. I would be legally entitled to do so - the candidate lied about his qualifications. Now it's two marks against you - (1) you were laid off, (2) you are a lier, and anything you tell me from this point on will be suspect.

I wouldn't want to try to start my employment that way.

Ways of shading the truth that aren't lying...

Resumes with start date, and no end date

I've seen a few cases of folks who tell me that they are "on sebatical" while basically getting long layoff payouts. I believe they did arrange this with their employers, but the reality is - they are being laid off due to a large organizational change. This let them put a start date/no end date on their resumes that implied that they were still working.

It got the candidate in the door to the point where I could meet him and make my own decision as an interviewer whether I liked him or not.

Because the candidate was pretty clear when I talked to him, I was glad to give him kudos for shading the resume well while still being honest in person.

Put the fault on the company

Not every potential employer will react equally - but where possible, put the blame on the company that laid you off, don't own the problem at all if you can help it. Examples of very clearly saying "it wasn't my performance":

  • The project I worked on was canceled during a large down size
  • My division was closed, my office location was closed
  • The company cut X% of it's staff due to low revenues last year
  • All of the people with my role in my location were let go

Don't start with "I was let go" - start with something where the noun in the sentence is your company. Talking about yourself and the bad recent experience is bound to be depressing and demoralizing... don't focus the attention on yourself on this - make sure it's clear the very first time you mention it that you are part of a large downscale that you couldn't have hoped to survive.

Focus on intervening projects

If possible, highlight the period of unemployment with the work you've been doing since to improve your skills do something interesting. Understandably, if your last day was a week ago, there won't be much to say... but if this has been 1 or more months - get yourself into some sort of volunteer/open source project that gives you new connections.

Combat specific market issues

In some markets, layoffs are more well understood than others. Right now, for example, in Boston, as a hiring manager, I know of certain companies that are laying off due to really serious business problems and certain industries that are just imploding. I may have a concern that a candidate from one of those industries won't have the skills that I need or won't fit my corporate culture - but I'm generally not concerned that the candidate themselves is necessarily weak. In these cases, the candidate may need to make sure that their skills are super clear and super good. And they may need to do the nearly impossible of sell of branding themselves in the culture for which they are interviewing.

  • Obscuring is NOT OK! Actually, it is a pretty bad thing to do! This answer is pretty good overall, but it's implied tone of "shading things up" makes me feel really uneasy about it. – T. Sar Apr 13 '15 at 15:03
  • 2
    I know of not one candidate who has walked into an interview with me and said bluntly "here's what's wrong with my past that I wish hadn't happened" - in fact, if they did, I'd find it alarming. Everyone sees things in a way that is to some extent selfish, and everyone shades meaning to suite their best interests - I call that "obscuring" if you have a better word for it, I'm glad to consider changing it. – bethlakshmi Apr 13 '15 at 15:20
  • Attenuating seems more in tune with what you are proposing. Saying the truth, just on a more mild way. – T. Sar Apr 13 '15 at 15:25
  • 1
    The word "lie" is a very strong word. To use a double-negative, lying is not merely NOT telling the truth. To lie means to intentionally deceive someone to believe something which is false for the benefit of the person telling the lie. There is a grey area here where an interviewer who assumes the previous job is still ongoing because there is no end date on the resume might feel deceived if it is revealed late in the interviewing process that candidate was laid off. Whether or not that feeling is justifiable must be up for debate, but it is a possibility the OP needs to at least think about. – teego1967 Apr 13 '15 at 16:26
  • 1
    @bethlakshmi I will say, in hiring if someone shows no end day and they've been laid off for a few months they better say the moment they come in "sorry I realized my resume is out of date" otherwise when they drop that bomb on me mid interview I'm going to just call it because that's a red flag in being able to trust them. The exception being if you were JUST laid off in the last week or two I'll assume I got a slightly out of date resume, no biggie. Yeah you don't broadcast all the negatives, but don't misrepresent yourself. Sales pitch vs dishonesty are two very different things. – RualStorge Apr 13 '15 at 16:57
3

If you did a good job and never bad a bad performance review, simply ask your previous employer/manager for a reference or letter of recommendation.

You stated:

Please do not say "be honest", tried many times, all failed.

Lying, however, is not an option. It could bite you in the arse and you will never regain your employers trust.

You weren't fired because you performed bad. You were fired/laid off because the company thought you, and all the other people, were no longer beneficial enough to the company to keep. It sucks, but it isn't something you can be blamed for. Everyone is replaceable. Reorganizations happens every day.

During interviews you actually proved you have the desired skill, techniques and knowledge to perform well. Now you have to gain the interviewers' trust to hire you. Do this by providing a letter of recommendation and/or reference(s) and tell them about the massive layoff of your previous company.

1

People say we should be honest during interview, but for my case, I don't think so. I would rather say I am still employed, and bet if they can find out the truth.

When they verify the dates you have been with your current employer, will they be calling a fake company or will they be calling the old company and you hope that they don't notice that they provided an end date. If they are calling the most recent company they may call your manager who you can convince to lie for you, or the 3rd party that provides employment verification and won't lie for you.

You are frustrated. You will run into people that believe that if you are not currently employed there must be a problem with the person. But you also have to realize that others have been in your situation, or have experienced close calls where they escaped being one of the 20% let go in restructuring.

0

Being Honest is crucial, but always gives best results.

However, before you start convincing them or telling them the reason for leaving, you should lead with your achievements in your last job - this will help make your case more than trying to undo their doubt.

Edit

After Reading comments and other posts I think this advice isn't a good choice so hiding it.

The other thing you can do is just say that you left the job for professional and financial growth. It technically won't be lying, as you did leave the job, and managers are unlikely to disclose the reason for your departure if they are contacted as a reference.

Explaining getting fired in job interview?

  • 5
    This is kind of contradictory - the last paragraph's suggestion of spinning the truth seems to go against the first statement of 'honesty is crucial'. Also, this is technically a lie by omission; if the referenced manager does come clean about the layoff, it could put a lot of egg on OP's face. – CodeMoose Apr 15 '15 at 17:17
  • First thanks for a Nice Edit, Actually in my opinion its no As, Becoming silent on something is not a lie and you will be silent just by saying that you are looking for a good opportunity and the reason for looking good opportunity may be anything. If hiring managers feels that you are good fit for the job they will hire you otherwise its there bad luck they left a good employee... ;) – Ali786 Apr 16 '15 at 6:56
  • I feel that the last paragraph is bad advice, and I fear it amounts to telling the OP what he wants to hear. I read it as, "imply that you quit, and you probably won't get caught." That would be plainly dishonest. – wberry Apr 17 '15 at 15:30

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.