Dear New Shrink,
My company recently downsized and as a result I was laid off from my job. I have been a consistent and responsible employee for the past 12 years and my termination with the company had nothing to do with my performance. I am currently exploring new opportunities but feel really unsure about how to document this on my resume. I do not want to hide anything, but at the same time I do not want being laid-off to keep me from a new opportunity. Do you have any suggestions about how I should handle this?
I am sorry to hear about your news. In a time of tight budgets and difficult business decisions far too many competent and qualified professionals are finding themselves without work. Most employers are forgiving of layoffs and given our current economic climate it does not have the stigma it used to. However, even if they are understanding of your situation, there are several things you can do to handle this situation, both on paper and in person.
Most important is that you are honest and accurate with the information that you provide. Resist the temptation to keep “to present” listed on your resume. Put the month and year you ended your position and use the bullet-points below to describe your accomplishments and deliverables during that time. A potential employer will find out the truth through the interview or background check, so it’s best for you to present them with the correct details from the start.
Fill potential gaps on your resume with volunteer work. Find a cause that you are passionate about or that relates to your career interests and volunteer your time. This will show perspective employers that you are committed to staying active and will help alleviate potential gaps on your resume. Employers want to hire candidates who are proactive and engaged in the work they do.
Use the cover letter to describe the circumstances of your recent departure. Even if you are upset about the termination, it is important that you remain positive in your explanation. Try framing your experience in terms of the news regarding your company or industry. Mention that they may be aware that your company/industry recently announced staffing reductions and that your position was included in those cuts. Then go on to describe your successful performance and the things you were recognized for. You can conclude your introductory statement by focusing on your current career goals and how the present opportunity fits those objectives.
Use your time and energy to focus on the positive, rather than explaining the negatives. Your resume should document your accomplishments, performance, and measurable results. If an employer gets a strong resume they will pay less attention to the timeline and more to the talents you bring to the table. Always focus on connecting your background and experience to the qualities described in the job description.
As with any position you apply to, you should also tap into your network. Having someone on the inside of a company sharing your information with a hiring manager will increase your chances of securing an interview. In addition, if that person knows more about the details surrounding your layoff they can share that with the hiring manager to reduce any concerns.
It is also important that you practice telling your story. The interview will require that you share the details surrounding your departure. Be prepared to answer questions about your previous employer and termination. Start by drafting a pitch of how you will introduce your layoff to a perspective employer. It may also help to prepare for more specific, challenging questions such as: “Why do you think you were laid off” or “did you see this coming and why didn’t’ you plan earlier.” Share the details you are comfortable with and present your story in a positive, or neutral light. Even if you have negative feelings towards your former employer it is important that you do not voice these to your perspective employer. Employers are seeking specific qualities when they interview and hire new candidates, among those qualities are loyalty and commitment. Show them that you are a team player and that you remain positive and professional no matter what.
KATRINA DAVY, M.A., Ed.M, is a Santa Monica-based professional college and career counselor. She holds degrees from Columbia and Cornell universities. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. All questions are kept anonymous; let us help you with your life matters!