Career Report
February, 2009 — Issue 108

Explaining a Layoff to a Job Recruiter

If you’re among the growing number of workers who’ve been laid off from their jobs, finding a new job will require a strategy that clearly differs from a typical search, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, the competition may be stiffer than anything you’ve faced before, and you’ll likely be asked difficult questions about your dismissal. Knowing where to look, how you set yourself apart and what to say about your situation could mean the difference between getting a job and sinking deeper into unemployment.

A critical first step, according to the article, is to come to terms with your job loss, said Cynthia Shapiro, a career strategist in Woodland Hills, Calif., and author of “What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here.” Some people become angry, others insecure. While these reactions are normal, they can derail a job search should recruiters pick up on them. “You have to take some time to mentally regroup,” said Shapiro.

Once you’re ready to hit the pavement, consider that the wider you can look geographically, the greater your chances. To identify employers that are still hiring, start perusing local newspapers, trade magazines and business publications, advised Howard Seidel, a partner at Boston-based Essex Partners, a provider of career services. “Some [people who have lost a job] stop reading newspapers because it can get depressing,” he said. But if you keep at it, “you’ll get a feel for what companies seem to be doing OK.”

Be sure not to rule out small businesses or those in struggling industries, the article pointed out. “There are some companies that are counter-cyclical,” said Seidel. Industries like health care and education are still adding jobs. Public accounting and financial advising are also continuing to do well, although their growth is more muted.

Another important job-hunting method is to network, the article noted. Recruiters, in particular, can offer valuable insight, regardless of whether they have any search assignments that match your skill set. “They’re very close to the market and tend to have an idea of what’s happening,” Seidel explained. Additional venues for networking you may not have thought of are discussed in our webinar entitled “Supermarket – Gym – House of Worship” which is available by clicking here.

If you don’t already have relationships with recruiters, now is the time to start developing some, the article advised. Many search firms accept résumé submissions through their Web sites, which can lead to a recruiter contacting you. But you can boost your odds of success by reaching out to recruiters directly. Since they typically prefer to meet job hunters through referrals, ask former colleagues, business associates, alumni and other members of your network for an introduction to a recruiter they have a relationship with already.

Studies show that referrals lead to the most job placements, so devote the majority of your search time to networking, said Annie Stevens, managing partner at ClearRock Inc., an executive coaching and outplacement firm in Boston. Responding to job board ads also ranks high. To listen to a presentation by Bob Larson, CPC, President of Berman Larson Kane, on the subject of job board usage during your job search, please click here.

When applying, avoid expressing bitterness or self-pity. Many layoff victims send cover letters that blame the economy for job loss, said Shapiro. There’s no need to even point that out, she explained, since your résumé will state your last date of employment. Save the details about the job loss for the interview and use the cover letter to describe your strengths.

Meanwhile, show employers you’re flexible and not fussy. Keep your requests for concessions–like working only out of a particular office–to a minimum. You can work up to those perks after you’ve proven yourself in the position. But don’t go overboard. Offering to do things you really don’t want to do–such as relocate anywhere or travel up to 100 percent of the time–can turn off recruiters.

Some unemployed job hunters also hurt their chances by volunteering to take significantly lower salary than what they earned in their last job. An offer to take a pay cut of more than 20 percent can suggest to employers that you’re biding your time and would re-enter the job market in search of higher paying positions once the economy improves, Jeff Joerres, chief executive officer of outplacement firm Manpower Inc., told the newspaper.

A better strategy is to wait for the hiring manager to raise the subject of salary. If the job pays less than what you previously made, respond with a plausible reason for accepting it. For example, you might say that you recognize what’s going on in the economy and note reasons why you’re attracted to the position and the company.

Finally, prepare an explanation about what led to your layoff. And if you’re been unemployed for a long period of time and a recruiter asks why, consider pointing out that you’re being selective about your next move, said Joerres. Or you might explain that you opted to delay your search to spend time with your family or take a class, suggested Shapiro. “You have to make the last months sound like a conscious choice,” she added.

News from BLK

Berman Larson Kane’s Career Transition Coaching free webinar series continues to provide timely and valuable information to its growing number of participants. Bob Larson, CPC, President of Berman Larson Kane, former Chairperson of the National Association of Personnel Services and the author of “Aim, Shoot, Get Hired” hosts this weekly live webinar series on a variety of topics of interest to job seekers. Please visit out website at and click here to register for upcoming webinars or listen to archived versions of our previous presentations.