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Job Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Job, After a Layoff (Plus Sample Answers!)

By Beth Colley

After a Layoff, Answering This Job Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Job?When you've lost your job due to a layoff, you need to be prepared to explain what happened -- very carefully.

Layoffs Happen, But Still Need Explanation

It's a common fact -- companies increase staff during periods of economic boom, and companies reduce staff to reduce expenses when business is bad.

The largest overhead expense that impacts most companies' bottom lines is employee compensation.

When a business or economic downturn has impacted an organization, reducing the level of staff is the fastest way a company can cut costs and save money.

That choice is often the option selected by corporate management looking for a quick fix. As a solution, it rarely works. When an employer begins laying off staff, they usually end up doing more layoffs later.

Whether you use the term layoff, downsizing, or RIF, the result is the same; you lost your job and were involuntarily separated.

[Related: articles in Job-Hunt's free guides to Layoff and Layoff Recovery and Job Loss Recovery.]

Prepare Your Explanation Before You Need It

Rather than squirm in your seat while you figure out how to discuss your involuntary separation, think through your answer in advance so you can provide the right response for the situation.

Answering the question, "Why did you leave your last position?" will likely be uncomfortable at best. Preparation is your best strategy.

Follow these simple rules when you answer:

  • Keep your answer brief.
  • Keep your answer positive.
  • Share something you learned through the process.

A job interview is NOT a time to share grievances or speak disparagingly against an employer.


Sample Answers to the Question

When it's time to respond to the "Why did you leave your last job?" question, take a deep breath, be brief, answer the question, and stay positive.

Here are a few ways you can respond to the question:

  1.   Reduction in force (RIF): 

    To dramatically reduce expenses, the Company decided to shut down our entire division, which impacted 15% of its workforce across North America. Unfortunately, I was one of those people.

    I've had time to re-assess my strengths, skills, and interests, and I recently enrolled in a class…have been studying independently…took a workshop…(fill in with something you did to learn something new).
  2.   Reorganization:  

    The Company reorganized, shifted some responsibilities to another division, and upgraded their technology to automate other processes. They eliminated about 8% of the workforce.

    While looking for work, I've been volunteering with a local nonprofit and assisting with various organizational needs. (If you can share a story about how your volunteer work has positively impacted the employees, other volunteers, or people the agency services, this is a good place to share it.)
  3.   Downsizing:  

    Over the last year, the company took a hard look at its organizational structure. The last thing they wanted to do was eliminate jobs, but it was a small company and I was one of 6 people who were let go.

    One thing I've learned through this process is to make myself less expendable and to take more responsibility to invest in my career and myself. I recently enrolled in a class…have been studying independently…took a workshop… (fill in with something you did to learn something new).
  4.   Temporary Layoff:  

    Much of the work I performed was seasonally based.

    I typically would find other work to do in the off-season, then, go back when things picked up, but I've decided that I need to find something more stable.
  5.   Corporate Merger:  

    My employer was acquired by a larger company in another state. The other company was in the same business and had employees doing exactly what I do.

    They decided that they didn't need employees in two different locations doing the same thing, so they consolidated the work at their corporate headquarters and eliminated my job here. I was disappointed to have my job eliminated, but, from their perspective, it was a logical decision.

Stay Busy and Productive

If you are angry about your layoff, deal with it. Don't let the anger grow -- you will probably have a "bad attitude" that will impact your interactions with employers and recruiters, damaging your chances of landing a new job.

The best thing to do following an involuntary separation is to stay busy by enrolling in a class, networking with business groups, and/or volunteering your time with a local organization while you seek a new job.

These strategies provide a platform for learning and skill building. It's essential to demonstrate personal and professional growth through these experiences and share that during an interview.

The Bottom Line

You did nothing wrong -- you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time! So don't feel like you have any apologizing to do. But, in the interview process, do ask about the employer's history with layoffs, and, of course, be wary if they have just had a layoff or seem to be in the process of down-sizing.

More About Layoffs and Successful Job Interviews

About the author...

Beth Colley CEO/owner of Chesapeake Career Management Services has guided over 1,200 job seekers to career success since joining the careers industry in January of 2000. She is a Certified Master Resume Writer, a Certified Career Management Coach, and a Certified Brain Based Success Coach and an active member of Career Directors International, The National Resume Writers Association, and Career Thought Leaders.