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If you've been laid off or fired, here's what you should tell employers in your next job interview

Sarah Jackson   

If you've been laid off or fired, here's what you should tell employers in your next job interview
  • It can be a tough conversation: What do you say in a job interview after being laid off or fired?
  • If laid off, you can say it was part of larger job cuts, and most employers will understand.
Losing your job is never easy. Whether you were laid off or fired, it's tough to deal with a job loss, financially and emotionally.

Getting back out there and interviewing for your next position can be just as difficult. Inevitably, talent acquisition asks what happened with your last job. What should you say?

We spoke with two career coaches to get their takes. Here's what they advised:

If you were laid off

Generally speaking, prospective employers are more understanding of layoffs than firings. It is, after all, easier to explain away a job loss when many of your colleagues were also cut.

In many cases, "layoffs aren't about getting rid of you, but the position," said career coach Marie G. McIntyre.

If you're asked about your layoff in an interview, career coach Dorianne St Fleur suggests saying something like, "My team was impacted by the mass layoffs and unfortunately had to make some decisions as far as hiring and resources, and so my role was eliminated."

If you were a more recent hire or in a more junior position, you might also mention that, as those factors can help explain your layoff as well without painting you in a negative light.

You might also mention if you survived prior rounds of layoffs before you were ultimately cut. You might say, "The company was going through multiple rounds of layoffs and my boss really tried to figure out how to keep me as long as possible, but in the end, I was part of one of the later rounds of layoffs our company had to do."

This shows that "you had a good relationship with your boss, and you must be some sort of top performer because they were trying to not make you be one of the first people," St Fleur said.

If you were fired

One of the first things you should do when you're fired is try to negotiate how your departure will be portrayed to prospective employers, McIntyre said.

She advises asking HR exactly what information they'll provide when asked to verify your employment. In some cases, she says, you may be able to convince your employer to let you resign instead of firing you, or to agree to discuss your dismissal with future prospective employers as "a mutual decision." In those instances, aim to get a reference letter that lays out the agreed-upon reason that you can use in your application process, McIntyre says.

It can also be helpful to describe a firing as "a mutual decision to part ways" in an interview or to say it "wasn't a good fit" or "wasn't the right match," St Fleur said.

Less is more

When speaking about a job loss, remember that "less is more," St Fleur said.

Address your departure, and then steer the conversation back to the role at hand quickly.

"It's kind of a politician's answer in that I'm not directly saying I left because I was fired because so-and-so happened, but instead I'm gearing the conversation towards what I'm actually looking for in the future," St Fleur said.

You might follow a structure like this when answering: "I'm no longer at the company. I left in October and I'm currently looking for a role where I'll have opportunities to use my strengths in X, Y, and Z, which is why your company and this position are so attractive to me."

Focus on what's next

Just as you'd do in the interview, you should keep your eyes on the road ahead when you've lost a job.

St Fleur tells her clients to "shift their mindsets and understand they're not damaged goods."

"Being fired or laid off doesn't mean you're not a good performer or that you're not worthy of getting another job," she said. The way you think about your dismissal "impacts your whole job search process," she added.

"It's about you figuring out what the right next step is for you," St Fleur said. "Try to find the next best fit for you based on what you want to be doing, what level you are, what skills you're trying to pick up, and what lessons you've learned from the previous role, no matter how you exited."