Earn Job Hunting

How to Frame a Layoff After a Short-Lived Gig

Hayden Field  |  May 22, 2020

Should you take it off your resume? Hold back certain details? Here's what to say if you're job hunting and held a role for less than a year.

If you’ve been laid off or furloughed in the past two months, you’ve got a lot of company — more than 36 million fellow free agents are also updating their resumes and looking for the next job opportunity.

There’s a lot you can do to increase your employment prospects and stand out from the herd, such as updating your LinkedIn profile and warming up your professional network. But what do you do if you lost your most recent gig after only a short amount of time? Will that hurt your chances of getting hired?

It doesn’t have to if you frame the layoff the right way. We asked resume and career experts about the best ways to present a short-lived gig on your resume, in your cover letter and in a face-to-face (virtual) interview. 

Think of your resume as a marketing document — not a work history transcript 

Resumes are designed to “present you in the best possible light,” says Amanda Augustine, certified professional career coach (CPCC), resume writer (CPRW) and career expert at TopResume. “[They] tell the best version of your career story, or your narrative, by emphasizing the parts of your background, your skills, that are going to be most important.” 

A resume doesn’t need to be a detailed transcript of every position you’ve ever held and for how long. However, Augustine says, that doesn’t mean it’s ever OK to lie on your resume. Rather, it means you can pick and choose which details you highlight, downplay or omit entirely. 

If your most recent role was very short-lived, you have the option of removing it altogether. But before you scrub it from your record, consider the positives of leaving it there: Augustine points out that keeping it on your resume reduces the length of time between jobs. (If your last job before the layoff was in 2019, for example, it looks better to list your more recent gig, even if it didn’t last long.) 

Another way to minimize the perception of major employment gaps on your resume is to list the years you worked at each position (e.g. “2018,” “2019 – 2020”) instead of the specific months, says Augustine. If you go this route, consistency is key: Since most resumes are put through recruiting software that parses your data, you’ll want to keep the format the same for every role. 

More relevant than the amount of time you spent at each company is what you did while you were there, says Lynee Alves, career coach and president of Interview Like An Expert. Use your resume to showcase concrete results, metrics and accomplishments. 

Don’t feel the need to explain the layoff 

You may still feel emotional about the layoff (you have every right to), but keep in mind that potential employers aren’t looking at your work history with any preconceived notions. You’re more fixated on this than they are, and although you’ll likely feel tempted to explain what happened on your resume or in your cover letter, experts say it’s smart to resist. 

Employers understand that layoffs are a standard part of the business world today, says Alves, and they tend not to worry much about it when interviewing candidates. They may even assume layoffs were involved if they see on your resume that you were in a position for a short amount of time.  It’s better not to “waste space” explaining, Augustine says. After all, you wouldn’t have even made it through to the interview process if the potential employer interpreted something as a huge red flag.

If you’re asked about the short stint in an interview, be honest and succinct. Keep your emotions out of it, and avoid over-explaining. Augustine and Alves suggest keeping it simple, e.g., “I was released due to COVID-19,” “The company was impacted by coronavirus” or “Yes, I was one of [X amount] of people laid off due to COVID-19.” Then transition back to the topic at hand: the opportunity to apply your skills in a new role. 

Augustine suggests talking about what you gained from your time in the position, saying, for example: “I enjoyed my time there, learned how to work in [X type of situation], got to sharpen my skill set and learn more about [X area] — and I’m very excited to take what I learned there and apply it to this role.”

Practice your positive spin 

Even if you weren’t a fan of your last gig before it was cut short, don’t let that show. “The way it feels to you is devastating, but you don’t treat it like that when you speak to somebody about it,” says Alves. “You can start your whole relationship with them on a positive note and let them know that you’re taking an optimistic approach to this whole situation.” Another plus: It’ll demonstrate your resilience as a candidate. 

Offer a brief explanation of something you learned that informs your work going forward. Takeaways could be things like enjoying working for a company that has similar values to you, or that you discovered that you wanted to leverage a certain skill set in your next position. Then, connect the dots for your interviewers by telling them why you’re excited about this opportunity. 

Potential employers want to know that you’re looking forward, not backward. Alves recommends showing that in the way you frame your job search. For example, you could say: “While it wasn’t something I was expecting, as I look at opportunities in the marketplace right now, I’m quite encouraged to see how many are a great fit for my skills and experience.” 

Do your best, too, to show that you’ve used your time wisely between roles — especially, Alves says, if you’re a recent graduate who may have fewer at-home responsibilities during the pandemic. You’re likely dedicating the majority of your time to the job search, but for an extra boost, look into online courses that specialize in one of the requirements (or nice-to-haves) you’re seeing on the job postings you’re interested in. 

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