DEAR J.T. & DALE: I worked for a company for 10 years. I gave it my all. Then the company lost a government contract and had to lay off thousands of people. I was one of them. I am bitter and can’t get past it. I worked so hard for this company, but my division was “eliminated due to performance.” How do I explain that in interviews? To say I worked for a failing division doesn’t sound good, especially when it wasn’t my fault. – Ryan
Dale: Here’s an interesting exercise: Make a list of the worst possible words that you, as a job candidate, would want used to describe you. Near the top of my list would be “bitter,” “resentful,” “discouraged” and “stuck.” My point is this: Sure, you can try to fake your way through job interviews, but a good interviewer will see through to your state of mind.
J.T.: Yes, you must get past the bitterness. First, you must take some accountability. I know you said, “It’s not my fault.” You’re right – the company having laid off thousands of people wasn’t your fault. However, as a business-of-one whose main client fell on hard times, accept that you should have seen it coming. Then, show respect for your 10-year run with the company. Employers want to know that you understand that being an employee is a business contract. Perhaps you could put it like this: “I got laid off, and I’ll admit I didn’t expect it. But I stepped back and realized that I had 10 great years with them. They had to make massive cuts to stay in business, and now it’s up to me to move on. I learned an important lesson: Always make sure you are adding value, knowing that the day may come when you have to find a new employer.” This shows that you grew from the experience, and it shows your character. Next, you can ease the conversation along to more important considerations – like why they should hire you!
Dale: Good, but I’d suggest one change. Instead of just being the victim, the “poor me” who was part of a failed division, give the facts a little spin. Say something like: “I was one of the people working hard to save the division. We were doing some exciting new work, but we ran out of time.” Let them know you were one of the good guys, heroically working to save the division, not some bureaucrat swept up in the “perennial gale of creative destruction.”
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am in my late 50s. I’ve been looking for work for over a year. Recently, someone took a look at my résumé and said the chronological dates are giving away my age, and that’s why I’m not getting hired. He suggested I get creative and take out the dates. What do you think? – Jon
J.T.: The creative résumé he is referring to is called a “functional résumé.” It showcases your experience instead of your job history. Sounds good, but I have to tell you, recruiters don’t like those résumés, and often will skip over them in frustration. So I don’t feel that such a résumé is the answer. Your best option is to go around the online application process. When you contact employers directly, and people meet you and see that you are knowledgeable and current, the age factor goes away.
Dale: You could, however, look for middle ground. For instance, you could list your most recent jobs, covering the past, say, 10 years. Then, under the heading of “Additional Experience,” list highlights from previous jobs. If this annoys recruiters who are trying to screen you out because of your age, well, good, let’s annoy them. Still, thinking of the bigger picture, working on your résumé is not working on getting a job. If you’re counting on your résumé to get you a job, count on being unemployed. That’s hyperbole, yes, but unless you are a rookie or have special skills, the odds of winning résumé roulette are quite low. So start over, using your years of experience to yield lots of contacts, and get yourself, not your résumé, out there.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a professional development specialist and the founder of the consulting firm jtodonnell. Dale Dauten resolves employment and other business disputes as a mediator with AgreementHouse.com. Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 300 W. 57th St., 15th Floor, New York, NY 10019.