How to Explain Being LAID-OFF or FIRED?

I’m going to tell you how you can explain to a prospective employer that you were laid off from your last job.

I mean, it happens at one time or another in your career. People get laid off. There’s nothing you can do about it. And it’s even happened to me. I’ve been laid off, if you can believe that someone would actually let me go. I know, I’m surprised too.

But it hurts. I’ve been there. I’ve been laid off many times in my career. Sometimes, for six or nine months at a stretch with a wife and kids and bills. It gets expensive and it’s really difficult and it’s hard to get through.

And what I want to do is help you get through this. I want to teach you how you can explain being laid off to a prospective employer, so that it doesn’t sound like you were fired or that you were let go because of poor performance.

I mean, most companies, if they have a layoff, it’s because the company isn’t doing well. So, if you were let go because of a widespread corporate layoff, let me give you a few ideas that you can use to tell employers that it really wasn’t your fault.

And one of the things that you really want to come through, to be crystal clear, in your answer as to why you were let go or why you’re laid off is to let them know that it wasn’t a result of your professional performance. You were on the job performance. You want to let them know it had nothing to do with you. In fact, you want to let them know that your performance was excellent. Let them know that your boss thought your performance is great. You have a long history of excellent performance reviews. You want to talk about how much you liked working there. You want to talk about how much you enjoyed what you did, you enjoyed the people.

So, you want to make it clear that it had nothing to do with your personal performance. In fact, your personal performance was great; they loved you. You have a long track record of excellent performance reviews. You loved working there. You loved what you did. The people liked you. The customers liked you and even your boss went and asked his boss if they could still keep you. In fact, that’s actually what happened to me.

In my case, my boss went to his boss, which was the owner of the company, and said, “Hey, we really want to keep Don. The customers like him, he does a great job, we want to keep him here”. But you know what? None of that mattered. They just simply said, “This is a numbers game and we have to let go” in my case, it was 45 people. They had to let go 45 people in order for the company to survive.

And they didn’t want to do that, because that was really putting them down to a bare bone, skeleton crew, but they had to do it. If they didn’t let these people go, the whole company would sink.

So, unfortunately, I got caught up on that and it sounds like that’s what happened to you too. You got caught up in an unfortunate corporate-wide layoff and it’s not your fault. And that’s the message that you want to come through when they ask you why you were let go from your last job or why you were laid off. That’s what you want them to understand is that it had nothing to do with you and in fact, they loved you there and they didn’t want to let you go.

And what this really does; this is sending a message to that employer that, “Hey, you know what? There’s another company that really liked this guy, but they had to let him go. So, this is our opportunity to pick this guy up; to pick up a good guy on sale. Maybe we can even pay him less than what he was making before”. I don’t know if that factors into it or not, but this is a chance for a company to pick up a good person who’s already been screened by another company as being a valuable asset.

Now, here’s a problem that often happens in cases like this. If you were very well-paid at your last job, that’s probably nothing that you want to share with prospective employer.

It doesn’t look good to go into a prospective employer and say, “Yes, I was very well paid my last job and then they had a lay off”. The underlying message in that statement could be that maybe you were laid off because you made too much money.

So, if you made a lot of money or if you were paid more than maybe you should have been paid, don’t let those numbers come out in the interview. You might have to taper down your salary a little bit and shut a few dollars off, so that you don’t look too expensive.

Because let’s just say for example, you were making $100 thousand a year at your last job and then you got laid off and you go and interview for another job, but that job is only paying, let’s say 75 thousand. And you’re thinking, “Okay, you know what? I’ll go ahead and take the 75”. Problem is that employer’s going to know that you’re making 100 thousand and then if they offer you a 75, that you’re more than likely not going to stay there for very long. You’re going to take the job at 75, you’re going to work there for a little bit, maybe six months or a year until you can get back to that $100 thousand mark and then you’re going to leave that company high and dry. So, they’re not going to be interested in you; more than likely they’re not.

So, keep that in the back of your mind. If you’re paid above market value for your position, you may not want to share that exact figure with them and tone down your salary to more about a market value for what you’re worth.

And by doing that, that’s going to help you transition from being unemployed and laid off into another position a little bit more rapidly than if you were to hold on to that past salary that you were making and holding out for that with somebody else. Makes sense? Okay.

So, in the end, when you rap up your answer to an employer, you want to let them know that it was the company’s fault, not that it was an individual’s fault, not that it was bad leadership, that overall, the company was struggling, the company was failing, they just weren’t making their numbers anymore, and they had to let go a certain number of people in order to survive. And unfortunately, you were caught up in that. I mean, it’s not your fault that there was a downturn in business or unless maybe you were in sales and it was your fault. But usually, in a case like that, there’s not one individual who is responsible for a corporate-wide layoff.

There’s a lot of reasons that a company doesn’t make its numbers. I mean, maybe the competition is too tight, maybe the economy has taken a dip, maybe the industry that you’re in is just struggling overall, and that happens. There’s so many reasons that companies layoff people. But most commonly, it’s a downturn in business. And the business that they have today isn’t the business that they had yesterday or last year. For some reason, they’re just not making the numbers and they have to let people go. And unfortunately, good people like you, good people like me, we get caught up in that, and we have to go out, and we have to hit the streets, and we have to look for another job.

But this makes us stronger, this makes us better. Every time I’ve been laid off from a job, and it’s been several. I’ve probably been laid off 3, 4, maybe 5 times in my career. And I’ll tell you it hurts; it hurts every time. I don’t like it. It usually comes as a surprise, because for some reason I didn’t see it coming; everything was great, and then they tap on the shoulder and they bring you into their office and they say, “You know what? Things aren’t looking good here. We need to let you go. Pack your stuff. Here’s your box and get out” and that’s just been said to me so many times and it hurts. And it’s happened to you and I’m sorry for that.

But it’s going to make you better. It’s going to make you stronger. You’re going to grow from this. You really will. You’re not going to realize that right now. You’ll see the growth and the strength after you get over this hump and you look back on it, but it will happen. I promise you that. It will happen. You just have to go out there and you have to keep looking. You have to keep your chin up. You have to be confident in your abilities and you just have to know and believe that something is going to turn your way again. It will happen.

When they let good people like you go, this really creates an opportunity for another employer to scoop up someone else who is already a seasoned worker, who is disciplined in what they do and can instantly bring value to another company.

And that’s the kind of message that you want to resonate from you when you go into an interview. You’re giving yourself strength. You’re putting yourself in a stronger mindset for the interview and it’s going to help you.

Like I said, it’s going to hurt now; it’s going to sting right now, until you can get situated again. But just know that you’re the kind of person that always lands on your feet and that this is only temporary. It might seem like forever, but it’s only temporary. And if you put your nose to the grindstone and you look and you work hard, you will find something.

And all you have to do when you get into the interview is one don’t complain. Don’t have any ill feelings toward your last company. Don’t throw them under the bus. Praise them, tell them how much you liked working there, what a great company they are. And that you would go back there again. But unfortunately, you got caught up in a messy layoff and you don’t regret it.

Now, more than anything, you have to remember that you’re not in a job interview to explain why you were let go or why you were laid off. That’s not the point of the interview. The point of the interview is to talk about the value that you can bring to them. That’s what you want to shine through.

Sure, you have to address this. You have to address why you were laid off, but you don’t want to spend a lot of time on that. Maybe 30 to 60 seconds, just talk about what happened, “Hey, I worked there for a long time. I was really happy there. Unfortunately, the company wasn’t making their numbers anymore and they had to let people go. My boss tried to save my job, went to his boss. It just didn’t matter. They had to let people go. And I got caught up in that” and then move on.

You have to move on from that, and don’t throw them under the bus. Just move on and start talking about the value that you can bring to this new company and this position if they hire you. I mean, that makes sense; right?

Now, of course, if they ask you more questions about the layoff, they start digging in picking your answer apart, what that’s really telling you or should tell you is that they’re not buying what you’re saying. They don’t believe something about your story.

So, if they start asking questions after you’ve already told them what happened, that means they’re not buying what you’re saying. So, keep that in mind. It may or may not happen. But ideally, generally, what should happen is you tell them what happened, here’s why I got laid off, and they should just accept that and move on with the interview.

But that doesn’t happen, watch out, because they’re not buying it. And you might want to give them a little bit more information about the company, what happened in your position, and everything else like that.

Alright, that’s all I have for you today my friend. I wish you well. I understand your position; believe me on that. I’ve been there; I know. Keep your chin up, keep your nose to the grindstone. Get out there. And remember, smart people learn from their mistakes. Really smart people.

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About The Author

Don Georgevich

Author of 4 top selling interviewing books, speaker, and job interview strategy coach. The one person everyone calls on before a difficult job interview.

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