EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

Down sized, right sized, laid off, fired, reduction in force. I think you have to agree that the world has developed a very colorful vocabulary to describe those things that have caused many of our members to be active in their respective job searches.

If one of us went in for an interview and was wearing a cast on one arm, I don’t think that we would hesitate much to explain how it happened. Furthermore, I am pretty sure that we would provide an explanation without any prompting. It is just such an obvious thing that it cries out for commentary. And, as long as it didn’t happen in any embarrassing manner, such as sheer clumsiness, I don’t think that there would be much hesitation in your voice as you delivered the story.

The same thing is not true about why you left your last employer. For some reason it just doesn’t seem to occur to us to provide an explanation unless we are asked.

Friends, it is an obvious question and one that must be answered. The choice you have to make is whether you provide the answer in a positive manner or whether you wait until you are cornered like a rat and forced to provide one.

A bit of advice on this is that when you have an obvious question “hanging out there” during a conversation, you can be well assured that the other party really isn’t listening to a word you are saying. They have this question that they are trying to find a polite way to ask and they are just waiting for an opportunity to throw that ball your way. If you want them to focus on the core communication you have prepared, you have to get the nonsense questions out of the way.

Listen, it isn’t even that the reason you are looking for a new job is really all that important. (Unless of course you were fired for cause, and then you probably aren’t going to tell them anyway!) It is just that folks have this prurient interest in why you were let go, fired, terminated (gosh, so many words to choose from). If I were in a slap happy mood I would tell them “they stopped paying me.” (Probably not a good thing to say, but I thought I would throw it out.)

If you have been part of a down sizing, right sizing, or some other “sizing,” the question really isn’t why you are looking for another job, but rather why you were picked and not someone else. Now this is a trick question and a no win situation if I ever heard one. Chances are you don’t even know why you were picked, and ANY answer is going to sound worse than sour grapes.

I wish I had a suggestion here, but the truth is you really can’t come up with a good answer because you probably don’t know the truth. (The possibility that they just threw all the names in a hat and pulled yours is likely to be as close to the truth as any other speculation.) The likelihood that you were given a complete and truthful explanation is about nil. (Just think of the lawsuits that would follow if they told everyone the truth.)

So, what to do?

What you need to do is focus on the positives of your most recent work experience. For example: “I was working for a start-up company most recently, and funding simply dried up. But because of the frenetic nature of start-ups I got more work experience in that year than I could have gotten anywhere else.” See, a positive spin on a short term job.

Whatever it is about your career that, on reflection (now that I mentioned it) needs commentary, get out in front with it and get it behind you in the conversation. If you were with one firm for 30 years, it cries out for an explanation. If you have had 5 jobs in the past 5 years, you have a need to explain. But, keep it short and keep it positive. Focus on the knowledge you gained. Focus on your ability to manage people and situations.

These are the skills that any rational employer wants and needs.

Just as Ricky Ricardo would tell Lucy, you got some splaining to do.

Be smart and address obvious issues head on so they in no way diminish the valuable time you have in an interview. When you get that far, it is a shame to blow it.

Regards, Matt

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