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Turn question about layoff into an opportunity

By Patricia Hunt Sinacole
Globe Correspondent / August 14, 2011

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Q. After nine years, I was laid off by a large Boston company in January 2010. I have picked up some contract and consulting work for short periods. However, I can see from the interviewers’ faces that I need to work on a response to one question: “Why do you have such a large gap in your employment history?’’ I want to say, “Because I was laid off . . . isn’t that obvious?’’ These interviewers don’t understand that being unemployed for more than a year takes a toll on self-esteem. How do I answer this question?

A. You will get that question again. Expect it, prepare for it, and don’t let it irritate you. This part of the interview may play out like I’ve described:

Interviewer from XYZ: “So John, you have been out of work for over a year. That’s a long time. Tell me about the circumstances of when and why you left ABC and tell me what you have been doing since.’’

You: “Jane, thanks for giving me an opportunity to explain. I should point out that I was with ABC for nine-plus years. Like a lot of companies, they struggled in 2008 and 2009. I survived three layoffs, but finally, in early 2010, I was laid off, too. As you probably recall 2010 was a tough year and a lot of companies were not hiring. Fortunately, through networking, I have been able to secure quite a few consulting roles.’’

In short, what you are communicating is that you:

■ Have had a strong professional work history and that the layoff was an aberration and because of the economy.

■ Are not bitter or angry, but are looking for your next opportunity with a positive outlook and enthusiastic demeanor.

■ Were proactive and an effective networker, which enabled you to land consulting roles.

Every question asked during an interview is an opportunity. Don’t run from it or take offense. Instead, prepare by crafting a response to showcase your abilities, skills, and relevant experience.

Patricia Hunt Sinacole is chief executive of First Beacon Group, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton.