How to Answer Job Loss Questions in an Interview

Job loss is a deeply personal experience. You may be unsure how to answer the question in a job interview, and how you tell the story is important. Two career experts share 3 ways to control your narrative.

“It’s not so much what you say, but how you say it,” shares Tracey Anderson, Senior Career Coach at IMPACT Group. She has worked closely with hundreds of professionals who have experienced job loss. “I coach people to tell an emotionally neutral story. No shame, embarrassment, apology, hiding, or explaining.”

Prospective employers ask about employment gaps to have some foundational understanding of why you are no longer with an organization. Tracey believes they are most concerned about if you are the right fit for the role and the company rather than the past.

“Creating a statement that is short, to the point, and honest sets a great foundation for the interview going forward,” says Deborah O’Donnell. She is an Executive Career Coach and Vice President of Client Relations at IMPACT Group. “Don’t be afraid to bring it up yourself. Broaching the topic early in the interview allows you to be in control and stay confident. Waiting for the question to come up may throw you off guard.”

As you prepare for upcoming job interviews, here are 3 ways to approach job loss questions, depending on your scenario:

When You Were Part of a Downsizing or Layoff

“Be straightforward about the situation,” Tracey states. Explain that the company merged with another, or that there was a downsizing. Share why you did not apply for other positions within the company. This may be because they did not align with your career interests or you wish to explore new organizations. “Elaborate on what your interests are and how they align with what the organization needs.”

Consider if there are any facts you can share about your job loss. For example, “150 employees were let go” or “30% of the division was downsized.” This will take the attention off you.

For example:
“ABC company recently merged with XYZ company, and as a result, 30% of my division was downsized. I was given the opportunity to apply for open positions at the newly merged company, but they did not align with my skillset. My expertise in account management and lead generation can increase revenue for your organization. I believe this will be an asset to your company.”


When You Were Let Go

In this situation, it’s best to be honest. “Employers will pick up on dishonesty quickly, and dishonest behavior usually shows a lack of confidence,” Deborah points out. She suggests keeping your job loss story clear, factual, and simple.

“Explain exactly what happened, let the person know what you learned, and showcase the amazing skills you can bring to the company.” Tracey adds, “Consider the parts of the situation that were in and out of your control.”

Many emotions are tied to job loss, making it a complex topic to discuss. If you are still working through the termination or struggling with diminished self-esteem, this may be a difficult discussion to have. Deborah shares, “I believe you must come to terms with your emotions before you can step into an interview. It’s important to be able to speak calmly and articulate your value to the organization.”

Never say negative things about your past boss or company. This is very tempting. Instead, bring the conversation back to your skills, talent, and abilities.

For example:
“After pitching a new product and working on the project for 3 months, unfortunately, because of a lack of follow up on my part, we lost the account. I have reflected on what happened and realized going forward that client contact is crucial to keeping accounts and making sure customers are happy. I believe this experience will allow me to bring this learning into my next position and be a stronger account manager because of it.”


When a Former Manager Cannot Be a Reference

Knowing the reference policy of your former organization is important. “Some companies will not allow personnel to give references,” Tracey explains. Their policy might simply state they can only give start and end dates of employment.” Since this will not be informative, consider other options.

Prepare an explanation if you do not use your past employer. You might share that your former manager was downsized from the company as well. Or say something like, “Because of the circumstances in which I left, I don’t feel comfortable giving my last manager as a reference. I do have (name) from XYZ company that I feel comfortable using.”

With a little time and a little practice, you’ll be in the best position to share your story and move into your next career.

IMPACT Group walks alongside organizations and separated employees as they manage tough changes during downsizings and reductions in force. Compassionate outplacement is possible. Learn more here.