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Brooklyn Resume Studio - How to Discuss Unemployment in the Resume or Interview

Q: How do I address being laid off in a resume, cover letter, or an interview?

Like many people this past year, I was let go unexpectedly from my company. The layoffs were a result of pandemic-related cutbacks, and not due to performance issues. However, I’m concerned about communicating this to potential employers in a way that doesn’t make me look bad. How should I explain my unemployment in the interview process and in my resume?

A: In this case, honesty can be the best policy – if you do it right! The key aspect is emphasizing that your unemployment is not related to your performance. It was likely due to factors outside of your control, whether that was restructuring, layoffs, financial issues, or a global pandemic. 

Once you’ve made clear the terms of your separation, you want to bring the conversation back around to your strengths, and get away from the potential negatives.

What if I’m Asked About My Unemployment in the Interview?

Given today’s economic and cultural climate, a gap in unemployment stemming from pandemic-related layoffs or restructuring will not be surprising to anyone. That said, you are still competing against other qualified candidates, and need to position yourself as strategically and competitively as possible.

Start by being honest in the interview process – it’s likely your interviewer will either ask if you are currently employed, or reference the end date on your resume. Keep your explanation brief and avoid making negative commentary about the situation or your most recent employer. Instead, acknowledge that your role came to an end, that the circumstances were out of your control, and bring it back to a positive – “I was happy in the role, consistently a top-performer – unfortunately, the company downsized in recent months and my position was eliminated.”

Then bring the conversation back around to your strengths, skill sets, and why you’re a fit for the role. For example, “In the end, the situation gave me an opportunity to think strategically about my next move. I was really enticed by this opportunity at [COMPANY NAME] because it’s an exact match for my experience and skills in X, Y, and Z.”

Should I Address Unemployment in My Resume or Cover Letter?

If the departure was recent, it may not be necessary to go into detail in the cover letter. It may suffice to simply say that you “wrapped up your most recent role with X Company in June,” and are pursuing your next opportunity in whatever specialization you’re targeting.

Similarly, the resume is not the place to address reasons for leaving a company, only the timeline of your employment there. Add the end date, make sure all of your most recent accomplishments and activities are represented, and compare it against comparable job descriptions to make sure you’re capturing all the right keywords. Utilize a keyword matching tool like to gauge how your resume will perform based on specific job descriptions.

It’s also important to practice how you speak about your situation prior to the interview. The more comfortable you are explaining the circumstances of your departure and highlighting your qualifications, the more confident you will come across in the interview. 

What if I Was Fired?

If your departure was in fact based on your performance, don’t lie about it. If they conduct reference checks and find out that the information you provided is misleading, that can be grounds for rescinding the offer. Be honest about the separation, and then again, pull the conversation back around to your strengths:

“I came to an agreement with my supervisor that perhaps my role wasn’t the best fit on both sides. I appreciated her honesty with me because it helped me realize that my strength is more on the internal operations side than in a client-facing role. I’m really great behind the scenes when it comes to coordinating meetings and logistics. That’s why I feel this opportunity is such a great fit…”

Put Your Best Foot Forward

How you position yourself in your resume, cover letter, and in the interview process will make or break your chances of scoring the job offer. As resume and job search experts, we know the best strategies to create a winning presentation. Contact us and we’ll help you craft the right strategy and a world-class resume that will stand out.