While employment losses may be slowing, the COVID-19 pandemic left over 22 million Americans unemployed. Unfortunately, leaving a job—for any reason—is always a challenging experience. It can be even more difficult if you leave under negative circumstances. Yet how you come to terms with that experience and respond to questions about it can influence the results of your current job search. To make sure that influence isn’t harmful, a positive “leaving story” is essential.
What Is a Leaving Story?
The job market has just become a lot more intense with millions now looking for new employment and preferably remote positions. If you are one of these people, your circumstances right now are almost certainly challenging. You may also have a lot of negative feelings associated with your job loss. However, now is the time to overcome your current situation and develop a strategy to secure another, better opportunity.
One aspect of your strategy should be to create a “leaving story.” This is an explanation of why you left, were laid off, or terminated from your previous position—presented in a positive way. While this sounds like a simple plan, to be effective, your leaving story should go deeper than making up a few sentences to write on an application. Below are some areas to consider when developing your leaving story.
Be Honest With Yourself
The first thing you need to do is process what has happened. Whether you quit, were laid off, or were terminated with cause, the most important activity in your life is gone. Feelings of uncertainty, anxiety, and depression are normal as you grapple with a host of life-changing decisions. Sometimes you may have a tendency to blame others and be angry for perceived slights.
Take some time to honestly review your circumstances as objectively as possible. Regardless of your situation, job loss is normal. Almost everyone loses a job during their career. Yet it doesn’t need to be an overly disruptive or negative event.
When you review the events leading up to your leaving, try to discern what larger factors may have been the sources of the problems you encountered. If there were personality conflicts, why do you think they occurred? If you were unable to meet expectations, why did you fall behind? The answers to these questions will give you valuable information regarding what it will take for you to thrive in your next position.
Following your contemplation, develop a list of objective facts to work with. A list of the events and occurrences leading up to your leaving and what you think might have caused them. This is the basis of your leaving story.
Tip: If you feel overwhelmed and stressed out, you are not alone. Learn some simple techniques to improve your mental health in the article below. Reach out for qualified professional help if your stress is becoming a persistent problem.
Further Reading: Mental Health Strategies for Remote Workers During COVID-19
Reframe the Facts
Now that you have a set of objective facts, try to reframe each event in a positive way. If you were fired, look at the situation from your employer’s perspective. You can also try and view the situation as though no one you know is involved at all. What does it look like now? People usually have reasons for their actions that don’t have anything to do with you, regardless of how it appears.
If you were fired, perhaps you didn’t share the company’s values or have faith in their products. A layoff is an opportunity to reexamine your career goals and improve your job satisfaction. In extreme cases where you have been victimized in some way, take comfort in the fact that you are now out of that situation and have the opportunity to move on to more favorable circumstances.
Use this painful situation to learn more about the type of job you do want, that you will succeed in, and what you need to do to get it. For example, do you need more training? Did your previous job not fit your skills or aptitudes? What have you learned and how can you overcome or address this problem going forward? Try and learn from any mistakes on your part. In this way, you can look forward—past the job you lost and toward the job that you do want.
Tip: All situations that you encounter can be looked at from a positive perspective. Not only is this a great way to put a positive spin on a negative situation, but it also works to relieve stress! Learn more about reframing in the article below.
Further Reading: How to Reframe Situations so they Create Less Stress
Create Your New Story
Now you have all the information that you need to create your new and improved leaving story. Remember that recruiters and hiring managers are looking to disqualify you from consideration, so your leaving story needs to overcome objections and avoid raising red flags. To accomplish this, your story should answer three questions:
- Why did you leave/get fired/get laid off?
- What did you learn from your experience?
- Why are you a good fit for the new position?
Following a recent corporate restructuring and change in job description (1), I learned that my skills and aptitudes lie in a different direction (2) and I am excited to explore new opportunities (such as this) that will leverage my previous experience (3).
If you want to address multiple reasons or situations that led to your departure, answer the three questions for each. By addressing the reasons for leaving your last position, showing you can learn from mistakes, and knowing how to succeed in a new position, you will transform a negative into a solid reason you should be hired. In addition, this information will help you target your remote positions that will support your goals moving forward.
Tip: Everyone is going to have a unique leaving story, so it’s important to address your specific situation and not be too vague. However, if you’re having trouble getting started, you can find a few practical examples to give you some ideas in the article below.
When to Use Your Leaving Story
You will need to prepare your leaving story for three situations that may arise during the hiring process.
If you are currently unemployed and are asked as part of a written application why you left your previous employment, keep it short and simple. Just “job ended” or “laid off” should suffice at this point.
Cover Letter/Additional Information Requested
Depending on your situation, you may wish to address your leaving story in a cover letter. Or a potential employer may request an additional explanation on the application form. A frequent method of weeding out unsuitable candidates is to request responses to questions in addition to providing your resume. If asked, your leaving story should consist of a brief written statement phrased in a positive way. Don’t go into too much detail, save that for the interview.
The best opportunity to transform your leaving story into a positive is during the interview. However, with nerves already in play, rambling on, talking tangentially, and reacting defensively to questions is common.
The best way to overcome your nerves is to orally practice your leaving story. This will enable you to relax and feel comfortable while telling it. Your ability to do this will depend greatly on how well you have managed to change your perspective to be positive and forward-looking. Remember, your potential employer is on the lookout for red flags and will pick up on any bitterness, evasiveness, or inconsistencies.
Remote jobs are particularly dependent on building trust, so make sure you are coming across as honest, reliable, and trustworthy. Practice telling your leaving story over the phone and during video calls. Monitor your tone of voice and body language to project a calm and confident demeanor. Recruit friends and family to help. You may be asked follow-up questions, so develop a few examples to provide details in support of your leaving story.
Tip: The most important thing to avoid is negativity. Don’t let any negative feelings you’re still harboring leak through in the interview. You may indeed be the wronged party, but your potential employers are not to blame. If you bring up negative information about your previous employment, your employer might deem you a troublemaker. At best, they may feel you are difficult to get along with. They may also wonder that if they employ you, will they become the subject of your future complaints?
What Will Your Previous Employer Say
Circle back to your previous company and contact the human resources department to find out how they are recording your departure and how they will respond if potential employers contact them. What information will they divulge if requested? This is integral when putting together your reference list, as well as for developing your leaving story.
Tip: Make sure that you understand what your rights are as an employee and the employer’s obligations regarding your termination. A good place to start is the article below and the U.S. Department of Labor, but also check your state’s online resources as well because they may have additional laws that apply.
Further Reading: Federal Protections: 7 Laws That May Apply to Remote Workers
Identify Your Supporters
Now that you have reframed your situation in a more positive light and you know how your company is going to answer any information requests, it’s time to talk to your friends. Get in touch with former colleagues that supported you and see if you can secure a reference within the organization. Even if your previous employer won’t sing your praises, you can often find references through former co-workers.
Share your positive perspective on your departure and make sure you are on the same page with former colleagues. This will serve to add to your credibility. Do not engage in negative gossip or sabotage and accept your leaving with as much grace and dignity as possible in order to retain a measure of your reputation and professional goodwill to help you moving forward.
Tip: Stepping up your professional networking during a job search is a great way to learn about different companies and find new job leads. Even though there are not many in-person networking opportunities right now, there are still ways to connect remotely. Check out the article below for some ideas.
Further Reading: Remote Networking: 6 Tips for Building Business Relationships
When dealing with a challenge such as job loss, the key to moving forward quickly and positively is to examine your circumstances in a positive light. Armed with the answers to these questions, you can create a leaving story that presents you as a potential success. This can turn a negative situation into a positive reason for seeking better opportunities.
Do you have a leaving story that helped you overcome employment gaps or allowed you to get a new job? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you!
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