Whether you are looking for a job, are contacted by a headhunter or networking with someone from your dream company, it will be the question everyone is asking.
It therefore behooves you to prepare what I like to call your “Reason For Leaving (RFL) elevator speech”. Basically, these are a few concise talking points stated in a positive and professional way to describe why you want to leave your job or why you have already left. Believe it or not, how you answer this question will play a role as to whether you are considered as a viable candidate for an offer.
Even if you were laid off or were let go from your previous position, you can still craft a winning RFL elevator speech that will help you to turn the corner and move ahead towards your next chapter.
Why are you leaving?
To borrow from Newton’s First Law: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” If everything is just fine, you will stay in your job.
When someone wants to leave their job, there is “an unbalanced force” behind this decision, and it is normal that a prospective employer would want to know what that force is. Everything can be said, but it’s how you say it that will help you to move forward towards your goal.
For some, the reason is straightforward: the company is laying off employees and they want to protect themselves, they are looking for a growth opportunity or making a move from consulting to industry or vice versa. But what if the reason is more delicate, such as you don’t get along with your boss?
My recommendation is, as much as possible, try to keep your talking points to impersonal or situational topics. Stick to talking about growing your responsibilities (and being specific about what that looks like for you) and other career-related facts. The reason I say this is because as soon as you go down a road about your boss or your co-workers being the reason, it raises the question whether it’s really them or if it’s actually you. The same goes for other similar landmines such as anything to do with politics or “games” being played or anything in the romantic arena. It’s difficult to be taken seriously if you come across as someone who complains, gossips or is petty.
I would also recommend ending your talking points with what you want to move towards. This acts as a neat and tidy segue to steer the conversation towards positioning what you can bring to the table and why it would be great for them to hire you.
When the separation was not your decision
Having worked for several years in fashion, I have witnessed some devastating layoffs first hand. It was heartbreaking to interview someone with limited education who had spent their entire life in needletrade and was now trying to survive in such a globalized and competitive industry in their final years before retirement.
I have also had the gut-wrenching experience of working on confidentially replacing someone who was to be let go, knowing the date they would be let go, then running into them in the cafeteria as they unsuspectingly came towards me with a smile and a warm “good morning”.
Employment separations are fraught with a flurry of emotion because work is so deeply woven into life. Not only is the source of income lost, which is overwhelming on its own, but people also face feelings of rejection and grief because a part of their life has come to an end.
In cases such as this, it is even more important to have carefully worded talking points.
When you have a moment of clarity, when you are not gripped by emotion or thoughts of blame or anger, sit down and think about why you were let go or laid off. Ask yourself, if you had to do things over again, what would you have done differently. The reason why this is an important question is that it will be your key to turning your experience into a learning opportunity.
We have all seen those quotes on social media about falling down and getting back up. The reason why there are so many versions of this sentiment and why they are so popular is because everyone faces this many times and in all areas of life. HR professionals and hiring managers – we are people too – and we can recognize when someone has honestly reflected, learned and is getting back up.
My recommendation would be to craft your talking points in three parts:
- What happened
- What you learned
- What you are doing differently
This will help you to keep your talking points concise, professional and focused on how you are growing because of this situation. Keep your talking points brief then segue into what you would like to move towards.
I would caution against being vague or lying about the separation. The reason is that this will raise flags and open a line of questioning that you won’t have control over. If the interviewers find out you were lying or you embark on an explanation about why the company was wrong terminate your employment, this will be the kiss of death. No matter how specialized you may be in your field, you will come across as someone deceitful or who makes excuses and no manager wants an employee with these character traits.
The beauty of crafting a winning RFL elevator speech is that once you are anchored in what you will say, it will come across effortlessly as a part of the conversation and won’t raise any questions. Once you have sailed past this topic, then you can really focus on winning them over with your skills and experience and land a great job.