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Lost Your Job? What to Tell a Prospective Employer

Posted by: Jo Banks

Date: 21-08-2020

If you've lost your job, knowing what to tell a prospective employer can be anxiety inducing...

 

A client said to me this week, “'Pastures New' must be a wonderful place to work; that’s where everyone seems to go when they leave here!”

One of the first questions a new client who’s lost their job will ask me is, ‘What do I tell a new employer about my reason for leaving?’

For those who've had the decision to leave forced on them, how they explain it to a recruiter can be anxiety-inducing.

Following is the general advice I give in this situation:

Redundancy – No brainer, you tell the recruiter exactly that.  There is no stigma attached to being made redundant, although I still get clients who think that it will reflect poorly on them and their capability.   

There is no better reason for looking for a new role than redundancy.  No employer will read anything untoward into it; after all, it's the role that is redundant, not you.

Development/promotion – Again, there’s absolutely no reason not to tell the recruiter that you are looking for a new challenge; that their role offers a great opportunity that not only suits your skills and experience but fits with your future plans.

Underperformance/company ‘fit’ – When we reach the heady heights of senior management/ director/ executive, it is surprisingly common (even after many years of service) to be ‘let go’ from your employer without going through any formal process, e.g. performance review, improvement plan, disciplinary procedure, etc.  

I most often see this situation, where there have been fundamental changes in personnel at the top of a company or organisation.  Senior people like to bring in their own ‘trusted’ colleagues, often replacing long-standing employees, seemingly without a second thought.  

It's also common where a business tries a new approach, e.g. 'We want to be more commercial'; and so, they bring in external talent to help reach their goals without a thorough understanding of what that means in reality.  Within a relatively short space of time, they may realise that expectations from both sides (the newly recruited employee and employer), are not the same, each having a different understanding of the role and the outputs required from it.  As a result, the new starter will be exited from the business, often within two years.

The first question I get from clients who’ve lost their job for ‘underperforming/fit’ is, ‘What the heck am I supposed to tell a new employer?’

Often, they are able to negotiate a ‘package’ (a sum of money in return for giving up employment rights) which will include an agreed reference and exit statement, usually reading something like, ‘John has decided to move on to pastures new’ or ‘John has decided to take some time out to be with his family’.

My advice is to quote the reasons agreed with your employer and be as honest as possible, without giving the recruiter a reason not to employ you. Stick as close as possible to the truth; that way, you won't find that you trip yourself up during a prolonged recruitment process, maintaining a consistent story between recruiters. It's a small world, and people do talk, your reason mustn't vary from interview to interview!

Following are a selection of acceptable reasons for leaving your current employer without having a job to go to:

  • ‘There have been some fundamental changes in structure, and my role was no longer needed.' i.e. ‘I’ve been made redundant.’
  • 'I've never had any time off in my career (other than holidays), and the business were offering a considerable package, so I decided to take a leap.' i.e. ‘Voluntary’ redundancy.
  • ‘For a while, I’ve wanted to do something different (e.g. take time off with the family, build a house, build a boat, travel extensively, etc.), this is the first time I’ve had the opportunity, so I took it’.
  • ‘There has been a new senior team/CEO/MD who wanted to move the business in a different direction’.

It is incredibly common for senior personnel to exit with a package without a job to go to; regardless of the reason you give, most recruiters will be able to read between the lines. Be careful about blatantly being untruthful.  Lies are likely to be uncovered and that, more than anything, will completely ruin your professional reputation.

If you're applying for roles within the same industry/location, likely, the recruiter will already know you (or know someone who does).  They may be aware of your reputation or can see that you have some fantastic skills and experience that they need, i.e. your track record speaks for itself.  As a result, they will be willing to make their own minds up.

 

Incidentally, I have purposely chosen not to include 'dismissal following disciplinary hearings' in this article.  For how to position that with a new employer, I suggest that you discuss your personal circumstances with ACAS, an HR professional or coach.

For more information on finding and landing your dream job, my FREE online course is still available and is packed full of my top tips used in my webinars, corporate programmes and one to one sessions.  This advice has helped thousands of job seekers find the right next role for them.  Click here for more information.

Jo Thin 3

(N.B. Each person's situation is entirely different, and I cannot possibly cover every scenario here.  The information I have included is for general demonstration purposes only.  Should you choose to use the advice given in this article, you do so at your own risk.  If you would like to discuss your personal situation with me, please do not hesitate to get in touch.)

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