Can You Answer the Interview Question “Why are you no longer working?”

November 14, 2011

Exit Statement

Make Sure You Have A Solid Exit Statement

Prepare Exit Statements

Interviewers frequently ask, “Why did you leave (or why are you leaving) that employer?” This is a difficult question for many candidates to handle well. If a candidate was let go for cause, answering is an embarrassment. Even in a bad economy, where the reason is a layoff, a candidate may get defensive and tend to ramble with his answer. To effectively answer this question, prepare an exit statement for each employer for whom you worked. The statements should be brief, factual, and not defensive. Some examples include:

     *     Candidates who’ve been laid off

“Due to declining market conditions, Konix underwent a major reorganization. This resulted in the elimination of more   positions from the national sales force, including mine.”

“Due to market conditions, Mileage Automotive has reduced the size of their workforce by 350 positions. I was able to retain my job through two rounds of layoffs; however, my position was eliminated in the third round.”

    *     Candidates who are working and looking for another job

“Although I’m performing very well as a senior business analyst with Capital Tech, I have learned that there are no opportunities there at the level appropriate for me, especially across the disciplines in which I work best. Therefore, I’m exploring senior-level management positions that will leverage my understanding of technology, marketing, communications, and sales.”

     *     Candidates who’ve been fired

“The culture at my last company was not a good fit for me. My style is to bridge differences to find common ground. I believe that’s the most effective way to move forward when two sides disagree. That style was instrumental in the successful resolution of several serious negotiations at Zenox Company, but at Stricker, I found the situation to be quite different. In fact, when I tried to intervene to resolve a problem that had brought our new product group to a standstill, my manager pulled me out of the group and told me he thought the creative differences would result in a better product. This trend continued for the 18 months I was there, so I wasn’t really surprised when I was asked to leave.”

A few rules about exit statements:

     *     Never be negative about the employer. Even if the layoffs were due to terrible planning or you were let go because of a bad boss, do not be negative. Notice that in the first exit examples, layoffs were due to “market conditions,” not bad corporate planning. If you were fired, don’t blame your boss; talk about strategic differences or differences in work philosophies.

     *     Keep it simple. The briefer the better. Only give pertinent information, and do not go into detail. Long explanations make you sound as if you’re being defensive and covering up something. If the interviewer wants more detail, he will ask for it.

     *     Communicate magnitude. If you were part of a large layoff, include numbers. Being one of 15 or one of 2,000 (depending on the company’s size) makes it clear you weren’t singled out.

     *     Mention multiple rounds of layoffs. Often, companies lay off workers in multiple rounds. The common perception is that the first round of layoffs consists of marginal workers the company wanted to get rid of anyway. The subsequent rounds begin to include good employees. If you were in a second or third round of layoffs, mention that in your exit statement.

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