Responding to “Why did you leave?” Archives

“After severance, what you CAN and CANNOT say”

Published on January 13th, 2015 by Alan L. Sklover

Question: I was laid off a few months ago in what they called a “position elimination.” While I disagreed that is why I was chosen, I did, with your blog help, get a better package. Thank you!!

Actually, it came at a good time in my life, as my husband was ill and it gave me an opportunity to take care of him. I signed a severance agreement in order to get my severance monies. Now that my husband is better, I am free to go back to work. I am now looking for a new job.

What can I say, and what can’t I say, about why I left?

Name Withheld
Cheyenne, Wyoming

Answer: Dear Blog Visitor: The first item you should carefully review to determine what you can say, and what you cannot say, is your severance agreement. That said, almost all severance agreement express – or imply – what you can and what you cannot say, about your experience on the job, and why you left. Here are ten things you CAN say, and CANNOT say, about leaving your last job:
Read the rest of this blog post »

“Resigned and relocated for my daughter’s health; seem plausible?”

Published on January 22nd, 2014 by Alan L Sklover

Question: I recently came across your blog and I believe that the information and resources you provide are fantastic!

I moved to Australia with my family three months ago after 13 years in the middle east. I am actively looking for employment but as a newcomer it has been a little challenging so far. I am preparing for interviews and I need your advice regarding the best answer to the following question a prospective employer may ask: “Why did you leave your last job?” 

The real answer is that my daughter developed asthma while living in the middle east due to the weather conditions, and while it was not an easy decision to leave, I am happy I made it because so far her health has improved. 

In my opinion this is not the ideal answer to a prospective employer and here is where I need your help. What do you suggest? 

Many thanks for your time and consideration,

Answer: Dear Lenush: Here are my honest thoughts and best answers on the challenge you face:      

1. To begin, I must say I find your “real answer” to be a great answer. Whenever I think about “What will another person think?” or “How will others react?” I try to pretend for a moment that I am that person. While I cannot imagine what every person or every prospective employer may think, I do believe I have a pretty good sense and sound judgment on these things. I have given your question a lot of thought, asked others what they think of your dilemma, and have concluded that your “real answer” is nothing less than a “great answer,” in that it is entirely believable, entirely understandable, and entirely defensible.   

2. Your “real answer” (a) shows you have concern for others above your concerns for yourself, (b) suggests that you are a person whose values are squarely in the right order of priority, and (c) in my opinion, is one that any person with children (or spouse, parents or siblings) can quickly, easily and heartily relate to. The answer that is best – from the perspective of what employers seek in a job candidate – is one that shines a positive light on your character, with strong values, and the ability to act selflessly. Basically, “Is this person a true team player?”  

I, for one, deeply admire your “what needs to be done” and your accepting life’s difficulties head on as they come upon you. Quite candidly, though I am as fallible and imperfect as we all are, I strive daily to be the kind of stand-up person and caring person and father that you surely are. It is my belief that almost all employers – and surely all employers worth working for – support employees who hold their families first.   

Another thought that came to me is this: your “real answer” – including your daughter’s health improvement – suggests that you won’t be again relocating soon.     

3. In addition to your “real answer” being a great answer, your “real answer” just happens to be the truth, and for that reason alone it is so very much preferable. It is simply undeniable that the truth is always the preferable path. First, it comes from the heart, and others can usually sense its presence. Second, it does not have to be practiced, rehearsed or remembered. Third, you don’t have to worry about getting caught in “the truth.” Fourth, by its very nature, the truth is verifiable. Fifth, for those concerned about comfort with themselves, it just feels better. And sixth and finally, for those who live lives of faith, the truth is simply required of them. Albert Schweitzer always said, “Sincerity is the cornerstone of spirituality.”

4. I am struggling a bit to imagine what your basis might be for the sense that your “real answer” might not be ideal to a prospective employer, as you state. Are you concerned that prospective employers prefer employees who are willing to endanger their children’s health? Might you think that your reason for relocating is not sufficiently business-oriented? Is it possible you think your reason for leaving the middle east might seem implausible to a prospective employer? Is it even possible that you are trying to make sense of your inability so far to gain new employment? 

While I am not “in your shoes” and so cannot truly see the world from your prospective, it is my view at the moment that, if any of these thoughts might be the basis for your concern, they are probably in error.   

By the way, if you are now interviewing, don’t forget what your Mom always told you: “It pays to be polite!” Use our Model Letter After Interview; with Later Follow Up. It shows you “What to Say, and How to Say It.™” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!

5. Might it be the case that interviewers have given you these explanations, or these impressions, for not recalling you for further interviews? If that is where your concern has arisen, then it just might be that you are not being told the truth. And, if you are being told the truth by interviewers, might I share with you my strong sense that this interviewer’s company is not a company you really want to work for. I take the unusual step for me of inviting you to email me again, and in your email let me know the source of your concerns, with the assurance that I will respond directly to that email if you send it.  

If, nonetheless, you would still like to consider using other reasons to explain your last job departure, we offer a list of 50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Job Departure. It is one of our very best selling items, and those who have obtained it have commented that the 50 Reasons are original, creative and so very useful. To obtain your copy, [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

Lenush, I hope this is helpful to you. It is never easy, and in fact often quite difficult, to be out of work and looking for a new position. Please simply have faith. Faith in what you have done, faith in what you are doing, faith in yourself, and faith in what got you this far. Faith is what gets us all through life’s inevitable darker moments. If you keep up your faith, and continuing pursuing the “shining light” of your values and principled reasons for doing things, I guarantee you that things will only get better. Just like they did with your daughter’s health. 

Please consider telling your friends, family and colleagues “down under” about our blog – we’d REALLY appreciate that!! Oh, yes, and tell them, too, that subscribing to our blog is free, fun and helpful.

My Best, and My Admiration,
Al Sklover 

P.S.: Plan on looking for a New Job? We offer a 152-Point Master Checklist of Employment Negotiation Items to help you make sure you have not (a) forgotten to ask for anything, (b) failed to raise any issues, and (c) that your interests are protected in your offer letter and/or employment contract. To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly!    

© 2014, Alan L. Sklover All Rights Reserved. Commercial Use Prohibited.

“What can I tell prospective employers about my secret government work?”

Published on June 14th, 2011 by Alan L Sklover

Question: Hi, Alan. I worked on a large research project for the government for the last couple of years. Now I am looking for work in the private sector, and am not allowed to talk about it. I really want to move out of government work, but am finding that there’s a large gap in my resume I can’t discuss.

I’m wondering: is there a standard way to say that the information is on an appropriate “need to know” basis? What can I tell the prospective employer? Thanks for your help.

San Francisco, California

Answer: Dear S.I.S.:     

While I don’t think there is a “standard” way to express what you need to express, these are the guidelines my clients have followed in circumstances similar to yours:  

1. To begin with, your own words are a good start. As a start, I like what you have suggested: “For three years, I have been working for the federal government in the field of nanotechnology. Unfortunately there are many specifics of my work that can be shared only with others who have a federal ‘Top Secret’ clearance, and a demonstrated ‘need to know.’” (Of course, I used nanotechnology only as an illustration.)

2. Your first focus should be any Government Guidelines given to you, and perhaps signed by you. Your first real “guideline” should be any that the government provided to you, and/or had you agree to. Organizations that are involved in secretive efforts often provide secrecy guidelines, and often require employees to sign that they will adhere to those guidelines. Such guidelines are commonly quite broad, and so general so as to be unhelpful, but this should still be your first focus to find what you can, and cannot, say. Since you are not the first person to face this dilemma, I’m confident you will find that government guidelines do, in fact, exist.

3. In general, anything that is already in the public domain can be shared. Suppose, just for a minute, that over the last two months three scientific journals published articles about one certain area of your work, mentioned the names of two of your supervisors, and also provided specifics about the success your group had using new plastics in nanotechnology. Materials in “the public domain” which you had no role in putting there, are no longer considered protectable secrets. So long as there are no written guidelines that specifically prohibit you, you should not be too concerned about mentioning those already-published facts in your resume and interviews.

4. Of course, keep to the more general side of things, and avoid specific facts, names, events, and findings. If there is one general guideline to follow, it’s “Keep things general.” Though your prospective employers may ask specific questions, your answers should stay on the “vague” side of things, to your best ability. If you worked with high-energy lasers, that is probably OK to say, but if you worked on a new way to make high energy lasers by putting 100 amps of electricity through salt crystals (just my imagination), you should not say that. 

5. You may consider requesting the Government’s permission to disseminate a written statement that you have prepared. I suggest you consider drafting up a written statement that you would like to disseminate with your resume, and forward it to the Security Clearance Officer or Compliance Manager on your government project. People have a much easier time responding to an actual statement than they do to a general inquiry. Of course, send it only to someone you are confident has the necessary security clearance in the first place. This has been perhaps the most effective measure taken by my clients in situations similar to yours. 

S.I.S., I hope these give you a sense that you can get past this “speedbump,” and some of the guidelines to follow. Thanks for writing in, and we hope you’ll continue to visit our blogsite regularly. Consider becoming a Subscriber – It’s free!

My Very Best,
Al Sklover

We also offer several helpful Model Letters, Memos and Checklists to help you get a New Job. To review a list of those that are available, just [click here.]

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

“Eight positive reasons to explain frequent job changes.”

Published on May 14th, 2011 by Alan L Sklover

Question: I am an Indian, male, engineering graduate, 53 years young, currently posted as the country head of a textile trading company in Dhaka, Bangladesh for the past 1 year. In my long career of 32 years, I have changed 8 companies to spiral my career up because it is very difficult to get promoted in a textile profession working for a single company.

I am going to attend an interview in a week’s time for the position of Senior President of a large corporation in India. The interviewers will ask me why I made so many changes in my career that looks like frequent job hopping.

My question: What answer should I give to make a positive impression? Please help! Best regards.

Delhi, India

Answer: Dear APC:    

Your question is a most interesting one.  I do not know why you have left each of your previous positions, but these Eight Positive Reasons are the reasons put forth by my clients in the very same situation as you are, and they have worked for them:  

1. My usual stay in a position has been 4 to 5 years; I am told by recruiters that this is about average these days.

2. Within 4 to 5 years in most of my positions, I have always been able to successfully revamp and reinvigorate every department I have run; that is, my assignments were then successfully completed. 

3. After successfully turning around every department I have run, I have always sought greater challenges, greater responsibilities, and greater successes. 

4. In each of my positions, when my colleagues and supervisors went to work for other companies, they have always recommended that I be hired by their new employers.

5. I have always sought positions in which I could learn all there is to know about  every aspect of the Textile Profession; my “education” is now nearly complete.

6. In every position I have held, my success has been so widely known that competitors and recruiters have sought my services  so very vigorously.

7. Since I have been a much younger man, I have dreamed of becoming the Senior President of a large textile corporation, and I saw each position as training for this very moment.

8. It has been said to me “Opportunities pursue Leaders.” I believe this explains my experience.     

APC, being prepared for a job interview can give you extra confidence, and confidence is attractive in a job interview. I hope one or more of these Eight Positive Reasons to Explain Frequent Job Changes are helpful to you in your upcoming interview. Good luck to you.

If these are helpful, please let us know, and please consider telling your friends and colleagues about our blogsite. 

Al Sklover

We offer “50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure.” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered Instantly – By Email.

We also offer several helpful Model Letters, Memos and Checklists to help you get a New Job. To review a list of those that are available, just [click here.]

Help Yourself With These and Other
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Next Step 1: Letter to Friends, Family: Seeking a New Job
Reference 8: Request for Positive References to Former Managers & Colleagues
New Job 1: Cover Letter Submitting Your Resume
New Job 2: "Thank You" Letter after Job Interview
New Job 8: 50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure
New Job 10: Model Response to Interview Asking Your Salary Expectations
New Job 21: 163-Point Master Guide and Checklist to Interviews

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© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

“I don’t know how to answer ‘Why were you terminated?’”

Published on January 18th, 2011 by Alan L Sklover

Question: I was unfortunate to receive a termination letter from my company. In spite of working very long for them, with a completely clean record, I was not given any chance to appeal their decision. 

I am trying to apply to the same field but I fear having an interview. I am not sure what answer I can give them when they ask me “Why were you terminated after 13 years of service in a very large company?”

Manila, Philippines

Answer: Dear Jaemond, The anxiety you feel about what to say in an interview is extremely common. Here’s a few thoughts that I hope will help:

a. If you were given a reason, and it is not hurtful, simply tell the truth. For example, if you worked in the company’s corporate headquarters, and they were moving the headquarters to Norway, that would be a fine reason to explain your departure.

b. If you were given a reason, and it is hurtful – such as an allegation of misconduct – you face something of an ethical dilemma. In this circumstance, the significant issue is this: Do you agree that the reason offered is the REAL reason? Don’t forget – sometimes people make mistakes; many people are arrested for crimes and are found “not guilty.” Sometimes employers – just like us all – make mistakes, or even do things intentionally hurtful to good people.

If you have good reason to believe the “hurtful” reason is not the “real” reason – such as when a person is either scapegoated for someone else’s “sins,” or is the only person against whom a rule is selectively enforced – I think you may be entirely justified in responding, “Personality conflict with a new supervisor,” or “New captain of our department decided to bring in her own ‘crew,’ and the rest of us ‘walked the plank.’”

c. If you were not given a reason by your employer, don’t be afraid to say just that. From your letter, I can’t tell if you were given a reason for your termination. Most people are not; most employers do not offer a reason. If this is the case, don’t be afraid to say so. And don’t be afraid to say, right after that, “but I had a completely clean work record, without any complaints of poor performance or misconduct.”

d. In any event, you might consider stressing the “circumstances” when asked for a “reason.” Imagine the following question and response:  “Why were you terminated?” “It was after a period of very slow sales and position eliminations.” While the answer does not express the reason you were chosen for termination, it surely implies a reason. I think many – if not most – interviewers would accept that as a proper response.

e. Some of our clients ask for a “Departure Statement” for this very reason. We have coined the term “Departure Statement” for this very purpose. We encourage our clients who are asked to depart their employment to ask for a letter – that they offer to draft – that provides a good reason for the employee’s departure. It is not a reference or recommendation, but simply a “reason for departure” that assists the employee during interviews. If you have one of these, at your interviews you can simply take a copy out of your briefcase, and leave it with each interviewer.

To obtain a Model Letter to help you in requesting a “Departure Statement” [click here].

 f. In other circumstances, you may use one of our “25 Neutral Reasons.” For all other circumstances, you might review our list of “Our Top 25 Neutral Reasons to Explain Why You Left Your Old Job” if you [click here]. Many of our blog visitors have found one or more on our list that has suited their purposes. 

Jaemond, with a little effort and forethought to the problem you face, I think you have a good chance of coming up with a very satisfactory solution to your problem, one that should alleviate your anxiety. You know, when a job applicant portrays confidence during an interview, it is very attractive to an interviewer. Being ready for the question you fear should give you that confidence.  Good Luck!!

And, thanks for writing in all the way from Manila. I hope you will share with your friends and colleagues the value of our blogsite to the improvement of your life.  

          Best, Al Sklover   

We offer “50 Good Reasons to Explain Your Last Departure.” To obtain a copy, just [click here.] Delivered Instantly – By Email.

We also offer several helpful Model Letters, Memos and Checklists to help you get a New Job. To review a list of those that are available, just [click here.]

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

Alan L. Sklover

Alan L. Sklover

Employment Attorney
and Career Strategist
for over 35 years

Job Security and Career Success now depend on knowing how to navigate and negotiate to gain the most for your skills, time and efforts. Learn the trade secrets and 'uncommon common sense' of Attorney Alan L. Sklover, the leading authority on "Negotiating for Yourself at Work™".

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