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How do you answer "Why did you leave your job?"

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Question: “When called for a reference, my former employer tells prospective employers all of my strengths, but it also says I was terminated.  The reason given is that the position had changed from the time I was hired five years ago and I was no longer a good fit.  I believe  I was laid off because I got a generous severance package and unemployment.  How should I answer this tough question?  I already lost one job offer because I said I was laid off, and that did not match the employer's reason, so they thought I was hiding something.  What should I say?  I was never on probation, disciplined, written up or warned so it was a big surprise when it happened.  The company did not replace me, the other five admins split my responsibilities, and the company "terminated" three other people after me.” – Anonymous

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Outsourcing April 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Outsourcing has become a very popular alternative for a number of very valid reasons. Outsourcing initially emerged as a way for companies to cut costs by having processes such as manufacturing and assembly done in overseas locations where costs were much lower. Lower wages and operating costs both contributed to these reduced costs.


Ryan February 11, 2010 at 9:23 am

I have been fired from my job due to so called “no tolerance rule”. I have never been written up before, had a performance plan recently, but that was it, about how in the morning I would call because of trafficv and I arrived at work 10 minutes the latest before work, never written up. (Sorry I am just venting need advice) The president of the company ran into one of my job seekers and had recently attended to 2 departments that where fighting, which had nothing to do with my prgram, but was adding fuel to the fire that had been going on in our agency explained by the human resource VP for 2 weeks now. I was on my break and we have outlook for scheduling clients and me rushing because I have 100 ex-offenders that I have to attend to for job-seeking, counseling, services, training, job-placement. This is a 1 year grant affiliating Department of Corrections with Department of Labor, there was a competition between cities and my city was the smallest. I ran this expensive grant onmy own. I never complained, I never even leave my work for a break, because I’m so mobed with walk-ins and my enrolled clients. I have to sometimes beg these clients to come in for services. This non-profit program dealt with my termination unprofessional, as I was out on my break I had been rushing around and I saw 15 people the day before to meet our quota of 100 and I had 45 placements, in the grant we have 1 more month to reach 50 and I was on my way of almost completing my quota.
Moving forward, I was attending to my break and our policies are always changing everyday in a non-profit organization, not all policies where in afect, oh yea I also had to deal with community partners and there clients who just walked in for services which was against what we discussed. The reason for the firing was because on my outlook email ,I scheduled one person for job searching and I was on my break and was running late. I called my boss but he didn’t answer to explain I would be running late. Then sudden;ly it happened my boss called me and explained did you schedule someone on your outlook for today and I tried to explain and he said answer I said yes and he states “do not return to the office”. I knew right there and then all that hard work and steress I embraced and dealt with came crashing down at that very moment. I did everything to make sure the job was successful and I was now terminated for this. Wow! Anyways thats my story, does anyone know how to explain about this for potential employers during my next interview?


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Frankel April 6, 2009 at 12:30 pm

I was in this situation 8 years ago when my position was eliminated due to budget cuts. In my resume, letters of references and interviews, I noted that the release was due to a reduction in force and stated that my previous supervisor(s) would be available to speak to them. I am facing the same situtation again having received my reduction in force letter three weeks ago. With the economy and jobs scarce, I am very worried this time I will not be as fortunate this time.


Liz April 4, 2009 at 10:05 am

I like Cindy’s suggestion of saying the position was terminated, therefore, you were, in turn, let go.

However, Mark’s feeling were nagging me from the start. Having been laid off in a downsizing situation, the company you worked for will probably readily admit to “an economic reduction in force causeing your job to be eliminated”. (By the way, this was the catch-phrase we were instructed by outsourcing professionals.) They will also gladly provide a letter for you to use, as suggested by several people.

There is a different connotation in being laid off and terminated. An employee that is being terminated for cause will often receive some sort of severance … even if only a couple of weeks. In actuality, everyone leaving a job is terminated, the reason is varied.


Mark April 3, 2009 at 5:30 pm

Diane, actually, in Illinois an employer is allowed to give specific reasons why a person was terminated. They can give any work-related information to prospective employers (regardless of if the employee was terminated, resigned, or laid off) as long as what they say is documented and on file.

I am wondering if part of the problem here could be that the person was not laid off but was actually terminated (fired) and only thinks it qualifies as a layoff because of the severance and unemployment. In Illinois, being fired does qualify for someone to get unemployment (but quitting doesn’t) as long as it was not for gross negligence or dereliction or duty. In addition, many people are given severance packages even though it is considered to be a termination and not a layoff.

I don’t think the person is lying in the question above. I just wonder if they misunderstand what really happened when they were let go. From the way it reads, it sounds like they were terminated/fired, not laid off.


Cindy April 3, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I would also use your cover letter as a tool to clarify the “termination of your position” leaving you “terminated” as well. People can gleam a lot from how a person represents themselves within the cover letters they send with their resumes. The resumes state the employers, positions, and job related tasks, but the cover letter details more about the individual behind the resume.


Another Anon April 3, 2009 at 4:44 pm

This happened to me a few years ago and I put position was cut from the budget. I have had 3 new jobs (all promotions) since then. No questions were ever asked.



Marie April 1, 2009 at 7:09 pm

Ask your previous manager to write you a letter of recommendation on company letterhead and sign a number of originals for you to give to targeted employers. When you submit your letter of interest with your resume and application, you can mention your letter of recommendation. Be sure to bring it with you to your interview. Good Luck!


JoJo March 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm

If you place on the application “position terminated” this would conicide better with what the company is telling protential employers. I would also in an interview tell them as you did in your email “the job had changed from what it was five years ago, and I was no longer a good fit” . You may want to also speak to the HR of the former company and request a letter outlining what had occurred or ask if they would let potential employers know it was not you but the position that was terminated.


Diane Johnson-Hung March 27, 2009 at 5:40 pm

I would say exactly what you said toward the end; “The job had changed from what it was five years ago, and I was no longer a good fit. The company split my remaining responsibilities among the remaining administrative assistants.” Then I would go on to talk about your past reviews with that company (right up until the time they let you go) and how you were evaluated. I was in the same spot as you, and this is how I overcame that obstacle.


Susie March 27, 2009 at 2:54 pm

I was in the same situation a few years ago. I kept it short and simple by stating that my position had been eliminated. No one ever questioned that statement (it was true for me and it appears to be true for you), and I received several job offers, so I don’t think it hurt me at all. You could also contact your former employer and ask that they also say the position was eliminated instead of using “terminated”.


gohughes March 27, 2009 at 2:53 pm

I would suggest you say your position was terminated and your duties were split between other admins. This would be in line with your former employers response that you were terminated. In HR the word terminated simply means “ended” and does not, and should not, be misconstrued to always mean discharged or fired.


Diane March 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Be careful with this one because, In Illionios anyway, a former employer is allowed by law only to comment on the dates of hire and termination. They are not allowed to comment on why you were released.


Teena March 27, 2009 at 2:46 pm

I would include as a sidebar note (remaining as brief as possible) ex: due to the economy and the company’s recent restructuring/reorganization, your job was deleted. Your termination was not due to poor performance. Then I would subtly “guide” the person checking your references to ask the RIGHT questions. Did this former employee serve you well? Were they teachable? If you had the opportunity to rehire this former employee would you? You mentioned above your former employer listed all your strengths, I would focus on those strengths given the opportunity for a follow-up interview, along with any additional continuing training, education or experience you may have gained since your termination. Also, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH about the company you are interviewing with. Then you will know how to better answer the questions you are being asked — and still answer them honestly.


Cynthia March 27, 2009 at 2:39 pm

I would deal with the “termination” word from the source from the start. Also share the positives that you shared in your email. In this case, being forthright could work to your advantage. Also, since your job was abolished, I would ask the person you gave as a reference to explain the use of the term “terminated” instead of “laid off” or “position abolished”.


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