By Alison Doyle Updated July 30, 2020
If you are job searching after a layoff, take heart in the fact that your situation is far from rare. In just 19 weeks in 2020, over 53 million jobs were lost during the coronavirus pandemic. Previously, during the years following the Great Recession, one-fifth of American workers were laid off. 1
Even the best employees can find themselves out of work due to a reduction in force.
That said, hiring managers sometimes have a bias against job seekers who are unemployed, so you will want to prepare to answer interview questions about your layoff. You do not want interviewers to see a layoff as a reflection of your ability to do the job well. This may be complicated by your own strong emotions about the experience. It is normal to be sad or angry after losing your job.
Learn how to navigate this situation in an interview, and how to prepare in advance to ensure that being laid off does not diminish your employability.
How to Explain a Layoff in a Job Interview
Interviewers will often ask questions to determine the reasons for any length of time that you were not employed. You will need to assure the interviewer that you were performing at a high level and that your discharge was not in any way a result of your productivity.
Be prepared to explain any circumstances at your organization that necessitated your layoff. For example, a merger or acquisition might have caused a round of layoffs to eliminate staffers with duplicate responsibilities. Perhaps there was reorganization and all employees in your category were eliminated. Maybe your company was losing market share and needed to cut costs.
Many layoffs occur mainly due to business-wide decisions, not specific performance issues. If you were laid off as part of a group, mention that in your response. And, if you were laid off during the coronavirus pandemic, you can mention that as well.
Whatever the reason for the layoffs at your company, keep your explanation brief.
Keep it Short
One or two sentences is typically sufficient. Make sure you maintain a neutral or positive tone as you describe your previous employer. Avoid disparaging remarks about former colleagues, bosses, or upper management. As always, be honest in your response, since the company may decide to check with your former employer on the circumstances behind the layoff.
Show How You Added Value
You will also need to share how you added value in your role while you were employed. Make a list of your accomplishments, particularly those that impacted the bottom line for your department.
Explain what you did to increase sales, save money, raise funds, improve quality, resolve operational problems, etc. Emphasize the skills, qualities, and knowledge that you leveraged to generate those results. Provide specific anecdotes, examples, and stories that illustrate how you helped your department to reach its goals.
Fill in the Gap
If you have more than a brief employment gap on your resume, the interviewer will probably ask you what you have been doing while you have been out of work. Emphasize anything positive you have done to upgrade your skills during that time, such as taking online tutorials or doing freelance, consulting, or volunteer work. It can land a bit flat to say, “I’ve been looking for work since I’ve been laid off,” so try to come up with a response that goes beyond that.
If you were laid off in the past and have had other jobs since then, mention any steps you have taken to address weaknesses or enhance skills related to your target job in your more recent employment. Employers value candidates who are committed to self-improvement.
Testimonials about your performance by others can help offset any concerns by prospective employers about your layoff. Secure as many employment references as possible from former supervisors, subordinates, customers, members of your professional association, and former colleagues.
Provide prospective employers with easy access to these recommendations through your LinkedIn profile or online portfolio.
Showcase Your Past Work
Build a portfolio of work samples from past jobs including the one from which you were laid off. Include samples of writing, design, spreadsheets, reports, case studies, presentation slides, lesson plans, and other projects. Be careful not to divulge any proprietary information about past employers.
Share with employers via a link on your resume to your professional website or LinkedIn profile. Organizations will be more likely to believe that you have the right skills and knowledge for their job if they can see evidence of high-quality work products.
Differentiate This Job From Your Previous Job
If there is any hint that you were laid off due to inadequate knowledge, skills, or job fit, make a case for how your job target is a better fit.
Emphasize skills, knowledge, or personal qualities that will enable you to perform at a higher level.
For example, you might say “I believe your job is an excellent fit because it will tap the journalistic and storytelling skills that I honed as a reporter. My previous position was much more focused on event planning and fundraising.”
Use Your Connections
Endorsements of candidates from employees at prospective employers can have a strong impact on hiring decisions. Seek referrals from primary contacts to second level contacts working at the employer and arrange informational consultations to show a face and ask for advice.
If you make a positive impression, these individuals might put in a good word for you that can serve to counterbalance any concerns about your layoff.