How to Talk About a Layoff in a Job Interview

“Why did you leave your last job?” can be a stressful question to answer — especially if you didn’t get to part ways with your previous employer on your own terms.

Unfortunately, how to talk about a layoff in a job interview is a question many job applicants have to consider, as the number of redundancies in several key industries continues to rise in 2023.

While experiencing a layoff is unpleasant, knowing how to talk about a  layoff correctly in a job interview prevents it from reflecting negatively on you as a job applicant — and helps boost your confidence too.

Here are five ways to turn challenging layoff questions around and impress employers. For specific responses, customize the examples at the end of the article.

How to talk about a layoff in a job interview (5 tips)

Here’s how to expertly turn any redundancy-related questions into a net positive for your job application.

1. Prepare a concise answer to “why did you leave your last job” interview questions

Your interviewer probably doesn’t know you were laid off. Even if you mentioned your layoff in your cover letter, your interviewers likely only scanned the cover letter–more likely, they never read it at all. But even if your interviewers knew why you left your last job, they’d still ask.How you talk about your previous employer and rationalize any career changes can reveal a great deal about how you respond to adversity–not to mention your relationship with management and company culture.

Practice explaining your layoff in 1–2 sentences that give sufficient context to the situation, then connect it to why you’re a fit for the role. For example:

 

“My previous company faced some financial challenges and needed to restructure its workforce, at which point my position was eliminated. Although it was disappointing, I understood the circumstances and took the opportunity to reflect on my career goals. I concluded that [career goal that relates to the mission of the company you are interviewing with]. That’s why I’m so excited about [company], because [why the company connects to your career goal].”

“My previous company faced some financial challenges and needed to restructure its workforce, at which point my position was eliminated. Although it was disappointing, I understood the circumstances and took the opportunity to reflect on my career goals. I concluded that [career goal that relates to the mission of the company you are interviewing with]. That’s why I’m so excited about [company], because [why the company connects to your career goal].”

2. Empathize with your previous employer

Regardless of how you parted ways with your previous employer, talk about your layoff in a positive and understanding way:

“There was an unavoidable shift in my company’s business direction, and some positions were made obsolete to streamline operations, including mine. While it was unexpected, I hold no ill feelings toward my previous employer and understand that they had to make tough decisions.”

Showing understanding toward your previous employer will help you appear measured and professional. Never say that your employer was right to let you go or that there were better people on the team. Though you want to show empathy, your main goal is to promote your skills, work ethic, and positive attitude to the employer.

3. Use numbers to contextualize the layoff

Numbers help interviewers understand the scope of a layoff and see that your layoff was part of a wider company situation — and not because you lack skills or experience.

Provide the employer with a solid, accurate number to contextualize what happened and take attention off you as an individual. This could be the number of other employees who were let go or the percentage of employees who were laid off from your department:

“I was one of 120 employees that were laid off during the company’s restructuring 70% of the positions in my department were eliminated.”

Be sure only to provide information that you know can be publicly disclosed. Divulging sensitive information about your previous employer can make you look unprofessional in the interviewer’s eyes — or get you in trouble with your previous employer.

4. Practice reframing the question

Talking convincingly about a layoff in an interview is as much about how you pivot to your skills and achievements as it is about how you frame the layoff itself.

Asking you about the layoff is just another opportunity for the interviewer to assess how good of a fit you are for the open position. So take advantage of that opportunity by:

  • highlighting the benefits you brought to your previous team
  • showing how you’ve used the experience to reorient your talents toward the employer’s goals

Remember, skills are your currency as a job seeker. Recruitment statistics show that skills gaps are a major obstacle for hiring managers. If you can show an employer you have the right skillset, they likely won’t care that your previous position was eliminated.

Regardless of how your previous job ended, you’ll have gained extensive experience and skills while working for your last company.

Avoid focusing on a negative experience and focus on how your previous job equipped you with new skills you can bring to the employer.

5. Prepare references to support your skills

Nothing makes you shine as a potential new hire like a testimonial. Before the interview, ask your previous employer if they’d be willing to be a reference for you.

As you were let go, they’ll likely have no problem with vouching for you.

You’ll then have the leverage to emphasize your strong performance in the job interview and make it clear that you were not let go because of your performance as an individual.

3 additional example answers of talking about a layoff in a job interview:

Here are a few job interview answers to questions about leaving your last job that demonstrate how you can showcase your best qualities while addressing a recent layoff.

Example 1: The self-rebrander

If you’re changing careers, “Why did you leave your last job” is an excellent opportunity to outline your transferable skills and explain how they can benefit your new employer.

In this example, the applicant quickly explains their layoff before moving on to why their customer service experience will support them in the vacant sales position they are applying for:

“Why did you leave your last job?”

“I left my previous company after management outsourced the customer support department in an effort to cut costs and remain competitive. Unfortunate as this experience was, it allowed me to reevaluate my career path and discover that I am better suited to working in sales.

Throughout my time in the customer support department, I developed exceptional communication and analytical skills. I was recognized by my former employer for maintaining a customer satisfaction rate of over 90%, supporting a significant reduction in our Customer Churn Rate (60% to 30% in one year). My ability to build rapport and work productively with frustrated or anxious customers would be an asset to a sales-oriented team, and I am genuinely excited to apply this skill set as a Senior Sales Associate at Plecco.”

Example 2: The high achiever

Even though you didn’t get to leave your last job on your own terms, you should still be proud of your achievements. Use mention of your layoff as an opportunity to talk about what you did best in the job, just as the applicant does in this example:

“Why did you leave your last job?”

“I left my previous position after a sudden decline in demand for our company’s main product led to a significant downsizing of operations. The organization had to make difficult decisions to adjust to ensure its long-term viability and about 120 positions were eliminated, mine included. 

While the redundancy has undoubtedly been difficult, I am confident in my abilities as a sales lead and am looking to apply my skills and experience in a new environment. Last year, I successfully used my product knowledge, research skills, and ability as a negotiator to open up a new market in Southeast Asia, supporting a 30% increase in company revenue. This experience demonstrates that I am a resilient, adaptable, and motivated individual ready to contribute to the success of a forward-thinking company.”  

Example 3: The valued employee

If you performed well in your last job, talking about your layoff is a great time to mention any references that you’ve prepared. Doing so tells the employer that your colleagues were impressed with your achievements because they’re willing to support you in your transition to another role:

“Why did you leave your last job?”

“My former company, Mole Security, experienced a sudden decrease in revenue due to market fluctuations and was forced to restructure to adapt to the market conditions. Unfortunately, this involved drastically reducing the marketing department from a staff of 80 employees to just over 30. I was unfortunately let go as part of the adjustment.

While it was disheartening to have left Mole Security under these circumstances, I am proud of what I contributed to my team. As Senior SEO Specialist, I secured page one SERP positions for 5 key pages, supporting a 90% increase in page visits and conversions over one year. My supervisor, John Whitehead, and department manager Emma Langley were both enormously appreciative of the strategic solutions I delivered. Both have offered their support in confirming my high-performance levels should you wish to reach out to them.”

Sebastian Morgan is a career expert and digital content writer at Resume Genius, where he writes about employment and productivity. He’s written for a number of publications including NewsLens International, Time Out, and Taiwan Scene.

At Pathrise, we understand that getting a new job can be a challenge, especially in a competitive landscape. That’s why our program is designed to help you reach your goals by pairing you with a mentor who can provide personalized guidance and advice tailored to your unique needs.

Our mentors will work with you to create an effective job search plan, build the skills you need to get hired and increase your visibility in the job market. In addition, our outcomes-based model ensures that you only pay for the program if you succeed in getting hired at a high-paying job first. To get started on the next part of your career journey, apply to Pathrise today!

Apply today.

Sebastian Morgan

Sebastian Morgan is a career expert and digital content writer at Resume Genius, where he writes about employment and productivity. He’s written for a number of publications including NewsLens International, Time Out, and Taiwan Scene.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *