What do you do if you are laid off from your job, and how do you discuss a layoff in future interviews?
Layoffs are tough, but they’re also an unfortunate part of life, especially in a tough market like the one we are facing today. While they can sometimes indicate poor performance, the more senior you get in your career, the more likely it is that the decision was probably not as personal as it may feel. Firms, especially larger ones, often have quotas they need to meet and strategic protocols they are required to abide by. Perhaps your group, your desk, or your position is simply no longer a fit in that long-term strategy, and the challenges of a difficult market forced the firm to make cuts in response. Regardless of the reasoning, a layoff is unlikely to be the thrilling news you were hoping to hear, so how can you be strategic about handling one? Should you divulge that you were laid off in future interviews? And if so, what is the best way to handle that conversation?
Determining how best to discuss a layoff with a future interviewer should ideally be a proactive strategy rather than something you only think about once your hand has been forced. If you accept that a layoff is always possible, no matter how much of a star player you are, and take the time to think through how to react if it happens to you, you’ll likely be much better positioned to have the inevitable discussion in future interviews. Your first step should always be to read your employment contract and to read it closely. If you are working in the U.S., you’re likely in a less favorable position, as most contracts are structured on an “at-will” basis, meaning your firm can terminate your employment without cause at any time. This can, however, differ depending on what state you are in, and there may also be other case-by-case exceptions. If you are working in Europe or elsewhere, you will generally have much more employee rights, and a layoff can be much more difficult for a firm to justify. Either way, it’s worth the few hundred dollars to have a lawyer review your contract and offer further advice as to potential next steps.
Even if your contract allows your employer significant leeway in letting you go, there are further proactive steps you can and should take before simply accepting the decision as is. Assuming you are getting let go on good terms, your firm may be open to “repositioning” the layoff as a mutual agreement instead, where you choose to leave the company. This essentially means you have quit rather than been forced out, and can offer you with more flexibility, whilst remaining honest, with discussing the move in future interviews. Another strategy, though one which is more likely to work at smaller firms, is to see whether your employer would be willing to grant you a short-notice period or gardening leave (assuming you do not already have one). Depending on the firms needs and reasoning, they may allow you to continue working, either in the same or in a different capacity. Alternatively, they may be willing to offer a gardening leave where instead don’t come to work but remain employed “on paper”. The benefit here is twofold: First, you have granted yourself a few months where you can recruit without needing to disclose that you’ll be leaving the firm; Second, even if you are not able to secure a new job in the extra time period, you’ve still done yourself a favor by reducing any “gap” in employment on your resume.
So you’ve read your employment contract and you’ve even taken the further step of having it reviewed by a lawyer. You’ve sat down with your boss and you’ve suggested potential alternatives, such as the ones discussed above. Yet, no luck – now what? While it is certainly important to take some time to yourself and process this difficult news, your long-term goal is likely to find a new role which you can be excited about, whilst concurrently aiming for the shortest unemployment gap possible. You will, inevitably, begin recruiting again, meaning you are likely wondering how to approach the layoff in future interviews. While people may certainly have differing opinions about this, I personally believe that remaining honest is paramount – while you will find another job in due course, repairing a damaged reputation is much more difficult to recover from. Especially if that damage is due to a question of your integrity and ethics. Given that an employer will always do a background check at later stages of the recruiting process anyway, it would make the most sense to provide the interviewer with details of the layoff upfront, rather than wait for them to ask or to find out once you’ve received an offer. This is especially true if it has been a few months since your layoff and it’s clear from looking at your resume that you’ve left your previous firm. The best way to do this is during the start of your interview, when you are asked to walk through your resume. This detail does not have to be extensive – simply stating that your firm did a round of layoffs and you were one of the people who were unfortunately let go is sufficient. If your whole group or desk was let go as a part of the firm restructuring or repositioning its strategy, it’s helpful to add this additional context, as it further suggests the decision was likely not personal or performance-related. If pressed or further questioned, your best response is to offer references for the interviewer to contact, who have in advance agreed to advocate on your behalf.
While disclosing or discussing a layoff is never an easy conversation, upholding your position as a strong candidate will only become more difficult with a larger difficult with a larger unemployment gap.It is important to keep this in mind and to hedge yourself appropriately. While you should continue to recruit for jobs you would be excited to take on a long-term basis, consider that the clock is ticking. While we would never suggest that someone take a permanent job they have zero interest in simply because its starting to feel as if too much time has gone by, there are other ways you can protect yourself against significant unemployment gaps on your resume. While concurrently recruiting, you may want to consider taking on a short-term internship or a remote position in a different but aligning industry that interests you. For example, if your goal is to get back into private equity, why not get operational experience through a short-term stint at a PE portfolio company? If you have a specific sector specialty, perhaps consider a corporate business development role within that industry. Other ideas include doing freelance fundraising or strategy work for a startup, applying for a masters degree or preparing for business school applications, or pursuing your own entrepreneurial venture. There’s really no right answer as to what you do, but the biggest takeaway here is the one thing you should not do – and that is to sit by idly, waiting for the perfect job to come your way, while the months continue to slip on by.
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