In the current state of the global job market, we've been getting a lot of questions lately about how to address a layoff or firing on your resume. It's an unfortunate reality, but there are some simple dos and don'ts to keep you on track.
For hard-working individuals, there are few things more frustrating than being laid off or fired. Some take the loss of a job as a personal attack on their self-worth. Others can become despondent, especially during times when the labor market is tight. There are almost as many varying responses to being let go from a job as there are possible reasons for those dismissals.
One thing that almost all those employees have in common, however, is the need to somehow explain that dismissal in their resumes as they search for a new job opportunity. And since terminations often result in resume gaps, it’s important to know how to address a layoff on your resume. Here are some resume tips that can help when you’ve been laid off or fired.
Know the difference between “laid off” and “fired”
First, it’s important that you recognize the difference between being laid off, furloughed or fired. Employers use layoffs all the time. There are times when they need to cut their labor costs, so they eliminate certain workers from the payroll. There are companies that have laid off hundreds and even thousands of employees in a single day. In short, there are many understandable reasons for being laid off that have little to do with your job performance.
Employers who fire their workers typically have a more individualized reason for the termination. These reasons can vary from poor attendance or chronic tardiness to an inability to meet expectations or outright insubordination.
It’s important to note the distinction between those two types of terminations, since you will want to handle them in somewhat different ways when creating your resume.
How to address a layoff on your resume
Many job seekers ask, "How do I address a job I was laid off from on a resume?" There are some different schools of thought when it comes to choosing how to explain getting fired or terminated on a resume.
There are some who believe that it is important to be as upfront as possible, and thus suggest including information about the reason for leaving within the body of the resume itself. Others believe that such explanations are typically best handled in the personal interview. Still others argue that you should put that information in your cover letter after being fired.
When it comes to figuring out how to put “laid off” on a resume, no one has yet come up with a foolproof solution that will ensure that you never need to answer questions about the termination. That makes it critical for you to learn when and where you need to address a layoff or past firing. And to do that, you need to follow a few basic principles:
Emphasize your achievements
Always focus on your accomplishments. When it comes to layoffs, most employers will be more interested in learning what you achieved at your last job than in why your company restructured, automated your position, etc. Keep the focus on the positive achievements you’ve racked up rather than on the layoff.
Minimize the disruption to your employment dates
If the termination caused a gap in your employment history, eliminate the months in your chronological resume list of employers. That can help to ensure that your resume demonstrates continuous employment. You only need to include your start and end year. There's no reason to offer additional details unless you are specifically asked.
Put your best foot forward
You should not mention your reason for leaving a job on your resume. There is no need to provide exhaustive explanations about why your position was terminated, or the conditions that resulted in layoffs at your previous company. If there is an obvious gap you need to explain, you can instead address the matter briefly on your cover letter and move on to more positive territory.
Your resume should not include this narrative, but you can be proactive by including it in a cover letter. Otherwise, be ready to talk about why you left your last position in an interview. It might not come up but it's good to be prepared with a simple answer.
That brings us to that list of things that you shouldn’t do when you’ve been laid off.
What not to do when you were laid off
Don't be disrespectful
Do not speak poorly about the company that let you go. If you mention the layoff in your cover letter, be sure to include praise for that company. Your prospective employer doesn’t want to read even a single negative statement about other companies you’ve worked for in the past.
Never be dishonest about the situation. That doesn’t mean that you need to go into detail about the layoff; just don’t write anything that’s false. Always assume that your new employer will somehow find out the truth.
Don't be ashamed
There is no need to feel shame about something that was beyond your control. As mentioned earlier, layoffs are a common thing these days, and no serious employer is going to refuse to hire you based on that criteria alone.
Should I put a job on my resume if I was fired?
If you were fired from a that you only held for a few months, you may not need to list it at all. If you have had a series of firings, however, you should consider how you will address that in your cover letter or interview. You might also want to get introspective and ask why you’re continually being fired.
As a rule, though, you usually shouldn’t avoid the issue. List that period of employment on your resume along with all the others. That way, the employer cannot come back and ask why you failed to mention that job if it comes out on a background check or in conversation. And if your potential employer does have questions about why you left that company, you can explain it in an interview.
Of course, it’s important to know how to deal with that issue if it is raised during an interview. There are a few things that you can do to effectively address most firings, but they all involve being as direct as possible without going into too much detail. For example,
“Yes, they did let me go two months ago, and I was sorry to part ways. That’s a great company, and they’re doing great things in the industry. I really feel as though my time with them was an invaluable lesson that truly helped to sharpen my skill sets, and I’m disappointed that my relationship with them didn’t last longer than it did. However, I’m hopeful that the many lessons I learned with XYZ Corp will help me to be an even greater asset when I’m employed with your firm.”
Consider the functional resume to deal with firings
The functional resume is the ideal format for dealing with a less than stellar employment history. It can provide you with an opportunity to redirect attention from your past job dates, and focus it like a laser on the skills that you offer to any new employer--as well as the accomplishments that make you such a great candidate.
The functional resume is perfect for downplaying any gaps in your work history, especially when you just list the years of employment rather than the months and years. It also puts that work experience into perspective by listing the work history last on the resume. And since the goal is to reduce the attention paid to layoffs and firings, the increased focus on your skills and abilities will help to highlight your qualifications rather than waste time dealing with the details surrounding your previous jobs.
If you aren't sure what resume format to use, this guide walks you through the three most popular resume formats for American and Canadian employers.
How to address layoffs in the cover letter
Again, layoff issues are best addressed in the cover letter that you send along with your resume. The resume itself should be used to details your skill sets and accomplishments, while de-emphasizing the actual positions that you’ve held. That’s why Zipjob's career experts recommend the functional resume as an ideal vehicle for addressing these types of issues.
With your cover letter, though, you want to continue to focus on all those great benefits that you bring to the table for any new employer. If your layoff or firing was recent, you may want to mention it in passing, but only in a positive way. You don’t have to be deceptive, but you do have to be diplomatic. Always think about how you would want prospective employees to describe their former employer if you were in the hiring manager’s shoes.
Cover letters help your job application stand out to a hiring manager. Here's what a good cover letter looks like in 2021.
What if you’ve been laid off and you are still unemployed?
Another question that many would-be workers often ask is how they should handle situations where they’ve been laid off and still haven’t found a job. In addition to the resume gap, that unemployment status can be an obstacle to gaining employment.
Yes, that seems counter-intuitive...but it’s true. Hiring managers are often resistant to hiring people who are unemployed. In much the same way that it takes money to make money, you often need to be working to obtain work.
Catch-22? Perhaps, but that’s life.
The good news is that you can close gaps and remove the employment barrier by being creative. If you were fired or laid off, do more than just submit resumes and wait for the next opportunity. Fill some of your time with activities that can at least give the appearance that you’re working:
Learn new skills.
Earn industry certifications. We have several free certification suggestions for your resume!
Start a blog.
Begin to write a book.
Volunteer for a nonprofit.
Do some independent contracting or freelancing
Keep yourself active and in the marketplace in one way or another. That can help to ensure that you’re seen in the best light possible.
You can’t just ignore being laid off or fired, but neither should you allow the loss of one job to stand in the way of getting the next. By using the right resume format and focusing on an honest and positive promotion of your great skills sets and accomplishments, you can create a resume that minimizes the impact of being laid off or fired in the past.
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The ZipJob team is made up of professional writers located across the USA and Canada with backgrounds in HR, recruiting, career coaching, job placement, and professional writing.