If you’ve interviewed in the past year you’re likely to have been asked a version of these questions: “Could you have avoided being laid off?” “What did you learn about yourself, your performance or your relationships when you were fired?” “How did you feel when the company went bankrupt — or was sold?” “Did what you produced make a financial difference to the organization?” Before you dismiss this as a product of the Great Recession consider what prompts such questions.
Here’s what the interviewer wants to know.
How hard did you fight to keep your job? Were you happier to get severance? Was the job important to you or just a paycheck? (Everyone under 40 should expect a variation of this question.)
Can you focus when chaos reigns? Can you learn from events, circumstances, or change?
How resilient are you? If you fail at a task or make the wrong decision will you reduce effort and pout?
Does it matter to you if your work has measurable financial value to the organization?
Write your answers to each of these questions — and any other hard questions you would rather not answer. You will be asked. Edit ruthlessly. Listen to yourself speaking out loud. Are you convincing or lame and defensive? Try your answers on your network and other job hunters. It’s O.K. to discuss non-confidential problems as long as you don’t reveal confidential information, e.g., sales data, bankers’ opinions, or major judgment errors with the names of those responsible.
Here are some answers we like:
“I’m sure you know about ABC, Inc. The media were all over us. However, working through the problems while getting the product out the door was worth it. My family thought I was crazy to work so hard when the outcome was unclear. I’m glad I did. It was a priceless leadership opportunity. (Hirer’s view: Hire this man. He’s going to perform responsibly regardless!)
“For six months I was certain I’d never be laid off because my department couldn’t keep up the demand. I shut myself off from the office gossip and worked overtime to meet customer orders. I should have been more plugged in to what was happening. Still, I’m proud we never let a customer down.” (Hire this woman. Anyone who puts the customer first under fire will find working for us a walk in the park.)
“It may seem like bragging but my team was first-rate. We did six different marketing plans each month and kept implementing pieces of each to fit market conditions. We enjoyed working together so much we got tee shirts with the team logo. I still wear mine.” (“An honest-to-God team player under 30. How can I get my hands on the rest of them as well as her?)
Nothing makes a greater difference in an interview than clear, compelling explanations for your choices. You may have them but if you don’t write, edit, and rehearse them will the interviewer know?
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