should I tell recruiters I was laid off?

A reader writes:

I just graduated in December, and started work in January. The company lost a large contract, and my site had to lay off 20% of the work force, myself included. Any recruiter is going to ask why I left, and a friend of a friend who works for a staffing agency said she always chooses a candidate who already has a job over one who doesn’t. Of course this is true or she wouldn’t have said it, but I’m not sure how common it is.

I’m also not sure it’s good advice, particularly in my case where it looks like I’m looking for work only 8 months into the job. I recently had a phone interview and the recruiter asked why I was leaving after only 8 months. Not only did she emphasize “only,” but her tone was mildly disgusted. I had planned on saying “I just needed a change” or something like that, but told her I was laid off (though I beat around the bush a little), and she sounded relieved.

The pros I see to telling the truth (besides telling the truth) are that layoffs aren’t the employees’ fault and a good recruiter would understand that, and I think they also might see it as their company getting a deal on “talent” lost by another company that can’t afford to keep it. The con, for lack of a more professional way of putting it, is looking like a loser. I don’t know if anyone has heard this advice before, but I’m really curious to hear your take on it.

That friend of a friend who said she “always” chooses a candidate who already has a job over one who doesn’t? She’s a jerk. And short-sighted and probably not very good at her job.

Yes, it’s true that it’s often easier to get a job when you already have one, a cruel reality in an economy like this one. But for a recruiter to make that a rule? It’s ridiculous.

Most recruiters, HR people, and hiring managers aren’t going to freak out that you were laid off, especially right now. Half the people we’re seeing were laid off. It’s become the new normal. Explaining that you left your last job because you were laid off is far better than answering that you were fired, left because of differences with your boss, or left with no job lined up (which looks really odd in this economy).

Your idea about saying you left because you “needed a change”? Really bad idea. First of all, it’s a lie. And what’s going to happen when they check your references, ask why you left, hear that you were laid off, and wonder why you told a different story? Plus, when I hear that someone left because they “needed a change” — in any economy — I wonder what the real story is. Did they need the change because they couldn’t get along with their boss? Because they’re easily bored? Because they make rash decisions? Of course it can be a legitimate reason to leave, but it does raise these questions in my head, and I’d rather not have red flags to worry about. And especially right now, in the middle of such a bad job market, if you really left with no job lined up just because you needed a change, I’m going to wonder about your judgment.

For some people, the truth about why they left a job is sticky and they have to give a lot of thought to how they frame it. For you, that’s not the case. It’s straightforward and not a red flag. You were laid off. Say it and move on.

And send this post to your friend’s friend at that staffing agency.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Evil HR Lady*

    Seriously short-sighted recruiter. Do you know how many people I've laid off? Thousands. Do you know how many of those were good, hard working people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time? Most of them. Sure, some were picked because of performance, but not most.

    Heck, my former company got bought out and the site I was working at will likely be shut down. 5000 people will be let go and to not hire those people because their site was shut down is stupid.

  2. Anonymous*

    I was laid off in November and that's what I told every recruiter or interviewer who asked me — no one seemed to care and I got a job (a GOOD job) within two months. Being laid off should not deter a good company from hiring you.

  3. Susan*

    I agree with AAM. You were laid off because you were the one of the newest people on the job. It didn't even matter if you were the best at what you do. Many places use the last in, first out rule, so you can't help it that you were laid off.

    I agree that saying you were laid off sounds a whole lot better than any made-up alternatives. As was mentioned earlier, a prospective employer is going to call your former workplace and find out anyway. It would look really odd for them to find out that you lied about why you're out of work. I think your friend is doing you a disservice with this advice.

  4. Charles*

    "That friend of a friend who said she "always" chooses a candidate who already has a job over one who doesn�t? She's a jerk. And short-sighted and probably not very good at her job."

    Unfortunately, she is not the only "jerk" out there. As narrow-minded and down-right stupid as this attitude is, I think it is far more common than most hiring folks want to admit.

    That being said, ALWAYS, ALWAYS, tell the truth. Try to turn this into a positive thing to your advantage.

    This a useful way to "judge" the potential employer. If they wince or otherwise show something negative in their tone of voice, body language, etc., when I say that I was laid off or if I even mention that I am "between jobs"; well, then, I have some idea as to what kind of employer they might be – shortsighted and stupid. Not someone who I really want to work for/with.

    P.S. I know, I know, ANY job in this economy is needed. But, always try to find the silver lining in the storm clouds.

  5. Christine Witt*

    I would not only tell the recruiter that you were laid off, but also let them know either the % or number of other people that were laid off at the same time.

    If you were the only one being laid off – fishy.

    If you were one of 20% of the workforce – not fishy.

    If you were one of 4,500 people being laid off – not fishy.

    You might even mention it in your cover letter. Because job hoppers are a red flag to interviewers – a brief statement in your cover letter could lower the flag.

  6. the medical sales recruiter*

    As a medical sales recruiter, I see people who were laid off all the time. It's not a problem. I know the industry and know which layoffs were not the candidate's fault. Good recruiters look at the circumstances and at the quality of the candidate, and don't hold bad circumstances against a great candidate.

  7. Aswin Kini*

    No matter how open we are, it is really embarrassing to admit to your prospective employer that you were laid/fired from your previous job.
    Although it would be the best option to do, many people beat around the bush coz they think that stating the truth may hamper their chances of getting the job.

    And also, kindly keep in mind that some companies do take extreme advantage of this situation and force the candidate into accepting an offer which they would never have accepted during good times.

    Alas, this is the perfect times for the hawks to prey on hapless employees and buy them for peanuts :(

  8. Kerry*

    I hope you really ARE going to send this post to your recruiter friend, because I have something to say to her:

    GET OUT. Get out of recruiting. You suck. You suck as a friend, and you suck as a recruiter.

    If you are too stupid to understand that your job is to determine which candidate is most likely to be successful in the job, you're too stupid for this line of work. And if you think that whether someone is still employed or not is an indicator of this, in a time where unemployment is 10%, 15% or higher in some places, you are REALLY too stupid for this line of work.

    Honestly, recruiters like these make me want to scream. You give the rest of the profession a bad name. GET OUT. RIGHT NOW.

  9. Diane*

    I agree. You should tell the interviewer that you were laid off. The impact will be on HOW you tell the story. You definitely don't want to sound bitter (which is probably hard). You just want to tell the story matter of factly. If you are straight forward, and do not bash your former employer – you will be fine.

  10. Faryal Humayun*

    As a Recruitment Consultant I have come across a lot many profiles where good, qualified and experienced people were laid off simply because the company was downsizing. Of course, not all of them were selected but a lot of them did. And they did well. I would prefer a one candidate over the other based on relevant experience, accomplishments, and their attitude. Not because they lost their job during an economic crunch.

  11. Rampancy*

    I like it when you get edgy! Woof mammi!

    To keep it more on topic you are so right, but then I hardly ever disagree with you… On what kind of planet must this recruiter be living to think that (especially in this economy) candidates with a job or somehow better then people who were laid off????

  12. Jim Y*

    As the president of a staffing company, I would prefer that everyone be honest and up front in telling me their situation. We realize that every situation isn't the best for every employee, and this is a tough economy, so lots of jobs are being lost.

  13. Tracy*

    A recruiter called me when I was unemployed in 2007. I got a job offer from one of the top 50 best employers in Canada because she had tried her best to get the interview for me.

    There are fair and very good recruiters that will look at your qualifications. I would always bless them by referring excellent candidates to them.

  14. Erry*

    I would tell the truth to the interviewer as well. I recently was laid off and told the recruiter during my phone interview that I was laid off. I just mentioned an approx # of how many ppl were laid off and stated it a matter of factly and didn’t go into great detail. And… I passed the phone interview and was scheduled for an in person interview. Always tell the truth!

Comments are closed.