Job hunters have always fretted over how to handle this interview question: Why did you leave your last position? Today, even though we all know someone who has lost their job due to the recession and there’s a perfectly understandable rationale, job hunters are just as worried about how to respond to this question.
Not too long ago, losing a job wasn’t always so understandable. Situations can be complex. So you needed a well-thought out response that forbade bashing your former company or revealing dangerous details of a relationship gone sour. Doing so could unleash a flood of questions and open an unfortunate can of worms that could easily have stayed shut.
Today, you still don’t want to go into a boss- or company-bashing tirade. Granted, half the world may be rooting for you because they’ve been adversely affected by the economy. And today when someone hears you lost your job, eyebrows are not quizzically raised and doubts of your ability immediately cast. Most people get that many job losses are likely due to the economy.
But even if you lost your job due to cutbacks, the same no-bashing-he-said-she-said rules apply. You don’t want to come at this with an attitude. Steer clear of phrases like: “Our company was stupid enough to let our entire department go” or “The company didn’t appreciate me or never listened to my ideas. If they had, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Something simple will do:
“I worked for the S. J. Mathers Company for the last 15 years and enjoyed my position. But like many companies these days, they were hit by the recession and downsized the work force. Unfortunately, my division was affected.”
What if personalities, improper handling of situations, goofing off or lying led to your departure? Well, I suppose you have a choice. You can take an easy out and chalk it up the economy. Or you can, as others before you have had to do, come up with a reasonable explanation using artfully chosen words.
Now is a good time to also examine what might make you so uncomfortable about this question. A recent article by Matt Bai in The New York Times Magazine got me thinking about one reason. He talked about how General Motors has resisted bankruptcy, believing that “going under would mortally wound its brand.”
He goes on to say, “There probably was a time when a well-publicized bankruptcy would … have destroyed the viability of a brand. But in the 20 years since Silicon Valley startups began transforming the workplace, younger Americans … have largely dispensed with the mythology of the infallible institution. Transparency and reinvention, rather than stability and regality, are the more valued assets in an economy where entrepreneurs expect to stumble more often than they succeed and where employees expect to have to change jobs (if not careers) multiple time. In the fastest-growing quarters of the economy, admitting your failures and remaking yourself is the new American work ethic.”
This is a useful way of looking at and accepting job loss. It would take dispensing with the mythology of the infallible career. It would mean realizing that a job loss is not a mortal wound, admitting to shortcomings and remaking yourself into a new, more valued asset. That’s something that people definitely understand these days.
Andrea Kay is the author of “Work’s a Bitch and Then You Make It Work: 6 Steps to Go From Pissed Off to Powerful.” Send questions to her at 2692 Madison Rd., (POUND)133, Cincinnati, OH 45208; www.andreakay.com or www.lifesabitchchangecareers.com. She can be e-mailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.