Like many workers, Richard Pummell is no stranger to economic upheaval affecting employment.
“My first layoff occurred in 2007,” Pummell says. “I had been with the company for six years, had received multiple promotions, and was then laid off during a reorganization as the company was preparing to de-list and go private.”
But unlike this experience, he had no idea a layoff was coming when a second one occurred with a different employer in 2017.
“The impact of being laid off cannot be [overstated], especially when it is not expected,” Pummell says. “Confidence is shaken, and everything comes into question. All of this occurs while trying to prepare to find a new opportunity, which is a process fraught with frustration for even the most seasoned job seeker.”
Plenty of talented, hard-working people possess work histories that contain layoffs, and hiring managers tend to understand this fact of modern life. Yet when you’re trying to put your best foot forward to land a new position, how to explain multiple layoffs can prove tricky.
“The downside in an employer seeing multiple layoffs is that you could be perceived as someone who wasn't worth keeping around,” says certified professional resume writer Kelly Donovan, principal at Kelly Donovan & Associates. “If you don't include explanations, the reader might assume the worst -- that you got fired, or that you couldn't handle the job and decided to quit.”
Resume and Cover Letter
When considering how to write a resume, applicants often choose to very briefly explain a layoff when listing a past position. This action can help convey that factors other than performance led to the dismissal.
“For example, you could include a parenthetical note at the start of the job description that says ‘Position eliminated as part of 10% reduction in force company-wide’ or ‘Position eliminated as part of extensive restructuring following bankruptcy filing,’ or ‘Position eliminated due to closure of the Atlanta office,’” Donovan says.
When doing this, she suggests using italics and a smaller font size than the rest of the body text to visually convey that this is not core information but rather an FYI for the reader. “You want your accomplishments to stand out more than anything else.”
Another possibility for how to explain multiple layoffs is briefly mentioning short tenures in certain positions in your cover letter. Touch on the reason -- company reorganization, FIFO (first in, first out), etc. – and say that you look forward to staying in your next role longer.
Bear in mind, however, that HR screeners nowadays often don't read your cover letter until after they've examined the resume and short-listed you. If you use the cover letter to explain your layoffs, but say nothing on the resume, you might not get selected for further consideration in the first place, so they might never know the explanations.
To avoid panicking when an interviewer inquires about an employment gap, be ready to speaktalk calmly and confidently.
“When you know that you will be asked an obvious question, make sure that you have thought through the response and that you have a defensible but not confrontational approach,” says career coach Roy Cohen, author of The Wall Street Professional’s Survival Guide.
He suggests adopting a “bring it on” strategy:
“Rather than wait for the interviewer to raise the question, make the explanation about the many moves a significant story line in your introduction and reason for looking for a new job. By running interference from the start, you demonstrate that you are well aware of the layoffs and the concern a potential hiring manager may have; that it is an issue and concern for you, too, and you don’t take it lightly: ‘You’re probably wondering about some of the moves I made. I wanted to share with you the backstory.’ Your goal is to minimize the potential to be seen as the problem.”
Finally, remember that a job seeker’s main goal is to prove why they arehe or she is the perfect fit for the position at hand. Don’t get so caught up in how to explain multiple layoffs that you fail to emphasize your strengths and how they fulfill the prospective employer’s needs.
Also – and this can be hard -- try not to wallow in what happened. Instead, show that you’re a person who is interested in what the future holds rather than dwelling on the past. Talking about the intriguing online class you’re enrolled in or the volunteer work taken on during an employment gap definitely beats a monologue about how hard life is when you’re unemployed.
Pummell used the time following his layoffs to perform freelance work, saying “it ensured I was able to keep my mind occupied, use my skills, and also keep an ear open for new opportunities.” Today, he serves as the human resources lead for Develop Intelligence as well as continues to grow a business he decided to start following his second layoff.
“My advice is to explore things that interest you, get fired up about them, and be very open with potential employers about your experience,” Pummell says. “Having survived the Great Recession, many workers have experienced a layoff, and there's no longer the stigma associated with periods of unemployment that there once was. That said, it's still extraordinarily difficult to find new opportunities, so tenacity, grit, confidence and a good network (built when you don't need it!) are they key.”
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