Career Coach - 7

How can I explain to a prospective new employer that I lost my last job as a result of downsizing?

Career Coach is a column that gives IT professionals a chance to pose questions about training, certification, salaries or any other career-related issues to eWEEKs panel of IT managers, hiring and training experts.

Dear Career Coach: This is actually three questions but all related to a very timely topic:

1a) How do you suggest covering/explaining the all-too-common reason for seeking employment these days, the dreaded downsizing?

1b) Perhaps more importantly, how do you suggest handling the timing gap (if any) between the unplanned event (the downsizing itself) and the current interview?

1c) Finally, if part of that time was spent consulting or trying to get a consulting or other new business initiative going, and the gap is now a year or more, what explanation is acceptable?

Thank you,
A former financial industry senior IT manager

Gary Bronson

Career Coach: GARY BRONSON

Since getting laid off is a common circumstance in todays environment, most managers realize that the cause may include factors outside of an employees control… Examples: Mergers, Enron, Arthur Andersen, etc...

With that in mind, the character of an individual is displayed by what he does and how he does it during the employment gap. You cant look back and carry a chip. Complaining about the ignorance of a former employer and their inability to recognize a star player doesnt convey a good message to future employers.

Be positive in your outlook and focus on the opportunities that are ahead. This entails having confidence in yourself and your abilities, not your present employment status. Carry this positive attitude with you as you occupy your time with consulting, volunteer groups, coaching and anything else that will enable you to network with potential employers and demonstrate what kind of person you are and what kind of skills you possess. I often hear people refer to getting that next job as lucky. But heres a definition of luck I heard long ago: intersection of preparation and opportunity.

Gary Bronson is IT enterprise operations manager at Washington Group International, in Boise, Idaho.

Career Coach: JORGE ABELLAS

The best policy is to explain succinctly what you have been doing in the gap between jobs. As with most things in life, honesty is the best policy.

Jorge Abellas is senior vice president and chief information officer at Arnold Worldwide in Boston, Mass.

Brian Jaffe

Career Coach: BRIAN D. JAFFE

Years ago an employment gap on your resume was to be avoided at all costs as it could turn into the proverbial albatross around your neck. In todays environment, the situation is quite different. In a recent Career Paths column, I indicated that more than half the candidates I interviewed were unemployed. It was so common that I sometimes forgot to ask the candidate about the circumstances. The issue of a candidates current employment status ended up being a non-issue. The person I did hire was out of work.

In the current market, most hiring managers and recruiters are going to assume that if you are out of work it is through no fault of your own, and that you were simply a victim of down-sizing. (This plays to the advantage of those who were laid off due to performance problems.) When asked about your status, you should be prepared with a short and simple answer to explain it. Terms like downsizing, cost-savings, workforce reduction, etc. are fine. Simply state the facts, but dont act with hostility toward your former employer. You need to practice delivering this response in as straight-forward a fashion as you would the answer to any other interview question. If you hesitate, break eye contact, or choke on the words, the hiring manager may think you are hiding something.

Similarly, even if its been several months since youve been employed, it is unlikely to raise many eyebrows from hiring managers. Your situation is unfortunately too common, and your resume wont be the first to show that kind of gap. I would prefer to see that the candidate has made some effort (e.g. consulting) to keep him/her self occupied during the intervening period. As a hiring manager this would indicate someone who is eager and ambitious. And, if it the candidate were, for example, a network engineer who did consulting as a Help Desk analyst, it would indicate someone who isnt hung-up with issues of pride, status, ego, etc.

However, I would caution against presenting yourself to hiring managers as Jason Miller, CEO of Jason Miller Consulting Enterprises. Thats terribly transparent, and reeks of self-import. Your resume can simply list a period of consulting. This works particularly well if youve worked on several assignments with different agencies.

Brian D. Jaffe is an IT director in New York, an eWEEK contributing editor and co-author of the "IT Managers Handbook: Getting Your New Job Done." He can be reached at brian@red55.com.