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.