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When the interviewer asks, “Why were you laid off?” Five tips to help justify your job loss

You may be facing the daunting prospect of job hunting while unemployed. Those fortunate enough to get an interview will of course be asked why their old employer got rid of them.

Here’s a short guide to dealing with that situation.

1) Chill: the interviewer would be more worried if you’d jumped jobs


“It’s sometimes natural to worry that employers may be skeptical about hiring someone who has been made redundant,” says Jane McNeill, director of Hays Banking in Australia. “But there is very little stigma attached to redundancy these days and most employers agree it is better to have one redundancy on your CV than two short-term jobs, both of which you left by your own accord.”

2) Business is business: don’t take it personally

Briana Hill, director and co-founder, Numbers Executive Recruitment, says most layoffs are not triggered by individual underachievement. “Welcome to the new era of redundancy: it’s business, not personal. Redundancy is no longer a dirty word, or an event to feel embarrassed about. Call it loud and proud because chances are it had little to do with your personal performance.”

3) Redundancy is the new normal: talk about it normally

Don’t go on the defensive during a job interview and appear as if you have something to hide. Talk about your layoff like you would about any other career-related issue. “You should feel comfortable to openly discuss your redundancy during an interview with a recruiter or potential employer because they will be aware of the current market conditions and conscious that you are not the only one in this position,” says McNeill.

4) Context is king: answer the ‘why’ question in full

Sharmini Thomas, associate director, Michael Page, says interviewees should provide proper background information about the reasons why the company decreased headcount, such as weak financial performance, restructuring or offshoring.

Hill adds: “When you speak about your reason for departure, provide further context on the business environment and performance, and the strategy for tackling challenging times. Communicate your redundancy with your business hat on – it’s not about being a ‘victim’ of the GFC or the feared ’round two’, it’s about re-aligning a business for survival.”

For more junior staff, being let go could just be a case of wrong place, wrong time. “When things get tight, teams can function with one or two fewer analysts because associates and VPs are less busy and have the time to go back and use their number-crunching skills,” says Barry Harte, director, Pentire Associates.

5) Achievements matter: be proud of your past

Interviewees should highlight what they achieved with their prior employer, says Hill. This will help dispel any doubts that the redundancy was performance related. Thomas adds: “In an interview, employers will want to focus on the talent and attributes a job seeker can bring to their business. For professionals to be able to confidently explain their skills and experience, they should clearly outline the previous roles and responsibilities listed in their resume, as well as talk through their achievements.”

Comments (3)

  1. Good advice… essentially boils down to take it on the chin and move on. You’ll feel much better about the whole thing if you can strip the emotion out of it and be pragmatic.

    The.wisdom.of.hindsight.and.perspective Reply
  2. Any advice for explaining why I was fired from a sales role where I couldn’t hit quota?

  3. Hmmm. ‘Interviewees should highlight what they achieved…dispel any doubts that the redundancy was performance related.’ Difficult to do when your employers have deliberately slewed your appraisals to justify your redundancy, especially when they’d picked you before those appraisals. Even worse when they’ve raised your targets to impossible levels so that you can’t reach your goals. Tough to strip the emotion out of it then, n’est-ce pas?

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