handle the conversation about your layoff with grace and positivity

How to Talk About Your Layoff in Interviews

It might have happened to you recently or even a year ago—no matter when it happened, being laid off can feel like the rug has been pulled from under you. Even if the layoff is completely out of our control, it is often unexpected and we often feel the most hurt over the toll it takes on us personally. We ask ourselves things like: Why me? Why now? Where do I go from here? Call it what it is: getting laid off is traumatic. Like all traumatic things, we have to examine them, heal our thought patterns around the situation, and, when we’re ready, figure out what comes next. So let’s take a moment to look at some of the more grounding aspects of layoffs—especially if you were laid off due to COVID. 

The facts—a record-breaking year in job loss

  • Layoffs were prevalent last year.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15% of people were newly unemployed from February through May of 2020. That number steadily decreased through December 2020, but nevertheless, it’s clear how prevalent job layoffs were in the last year. While it can feel shaming to be laid off, the numbers point to shedding that shame—it, unfortunately, happened to so many people and you are not alone.


  • There were little-to-no suitable jobs.

Only now, as of March of 2021, employment is coming back as the nation tries to reopen (unemployment is still higher than it was last February, though). While you may have spent the year writing and rewriting cover letters, and revamping your portfolio for the millionth time, the circumstances (aka total job loss) were also out of your hands. There were honestly so few jobs available in 2020.

  • This wasn’t a typical “gap year”.

In pre-Covidian times, you might have had trouble discussing a gap year in your employment history. Some employers may have overlooked people who’d been unemployed for a year or more. But 2020 is different: it was not a gap year, it was a disaster year, and it has changed the way employers are looking for candidates. So, if you get that shaming feeling, thinking “I should have been more productive or proactive”, nip that thought in the bud! 2020 truly was unprecedented (thus why you saw that word in every ad). Survival—mentally and physically—comes before work or even looking for work, always. 

Interview tips

Keeping the above in mind, let’s get into talking about your layoff in your next interview. As Forbes pointed out, you have a lot more control in how you talk about your layoff or furlough, given the past year.

  • Practice beforehand 

Like we said, layoffs can still feel like an open wound no matter when they happen. Talk to someone you trust about the layoff, practicing the following tips as though they are a potential employer. This way you’ll have a better handle on how to look at the story objectively, from an outsider’s point of view, and thereby reframe what happened as just that—a very short story.


  • Tactfully choose your references

Remember that there are definitely people in your business circle who have your back, especially after the layoff or furlough you’ve been through. Heck, they might have experienced it, too! Lean on your best references to confirm your layoff wasn’t performance-based and to double-down on how you’re the best person for the position. Talk to them ahead of time and let them know which positions you’re interviewing for. Teamwork makes the dream work, even in job hunting.

  • Keep the past brief

Phew! Okay, you’re there in the (virtual or physical) room and it’s time—the interviewer just asked you point blank, “why were you laid off or furloughed from your last company?” Be honest and keep the story as short as possible. Don’t blame, don’t mention names, don’t put down the company or linger on how the layoff was handled. Just state the facts and move on. They may also ask you further pandemic interview questions around the past year and what you’ve done to continue your growth. Focus on any new developments and interests, no matter how small. Feeling overwhelmed? Lean on your resume as a reference. Make sure you’re honest about your previous job duties, learned skills, and end dates. Remember that a resume gap will be typical for most people, but your own personal growth story is what they’ll remember.

  • Stay positive 

Once the 2020 discussion is over, it’s then in your best interest to pivot to positivity. Focus on your strengths, the skills you’ve been developing, the projects you’re most passionate about, the lessons you took away from the layoff, and anything else that displays your eagerness to work at this particular place. Skills from outside the workplace are great, too! Maybe you have developed communications skills through volunteer work or have taken classes worth mentioning. Anything, even the smallest step you took toward your career growth over this past year will add up to a win in your favor. Lean into what excites you and your excitement is guaranteed to be contagious.

  • Focus on the future

Once you’ve highlighted your strengths, remind the interviewer why you’d be the best possible person for this job. Assuming you’ve done your research, ask details about what they’re looking for and show them how your portfolio specifically satisfies their needs. You’ve done this work already! Now it’s time to show off.

Okay, but what if the interview goes poorly?

Interviews are learning processes for both you and the potential employer. You might have followed all the steps above but maybe the job turned out to be not as described, or you got some red flags about the company in question. Or it might be that you weren’t entirely prepared, having a bad day, or said things you wish you hadn’t. Either way, cut yourself some slack! After all, it might be well over a year since you’ve last interviewed. What matters is that you and your potential employer click. You’ll know when it happens and if this wasn’t the right time, then there will be more opportunities. Remember that job growth is on the rise right now. And, come to think of it, so are you.   

Recruiters—the other great resource.

We mentioned leaning on friends and former coworkers for interview prep, but recruiters are more than equipped to help you craft your narrative around your layoff. If you have questions on what to say or how the job market is looking, they’ll likely have the best insights to offer; including trends that potential employers might be looking for like specific skills and emerging job titles.

Speaking of recruiters and new positions, we’re here to help you find your next great gig. Give us a shout if you see something you like…

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