The Importance of Distinguishing Between Layoffs and Terminations

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In the age of online job postings and one-click applications, recruiters must sort through dozens or even hundreds of applications to find the candidates worth interviewing. As a result, most recruiters have developed a few simple criteria they can use to sort resumes quickly. Long resume gaps have traditionally been a resume-killing red flag, as has gig-only work history.

Forced terminations have also been one of the recruiter’s go-to filters, with recent data from TalentWorks showing that being involuntarily separated from a company makes a candidate 43 percent less hirable.

Look Both Ways Before Trashing a Resume

But as unemployment rates hold at steady lows, hiring authorities are being forced to reconsider whether their stringent criteria are truly practical. Upon closer inspection, some recruiters are finding that just because a candidate was pushed out the door of their previous job doesn’t necessarily mean they were fired.

“Hiring managers aren’t keying in on the fact that people are laid off, per se,” says Kushal Chakrabarti, CEO of TalentWorks. “They are scanning resumes with a default position of ‘no’ in their brains. It’s the only way to deal with the amount of applications they receive. Any negative, including a short stint at a position, is the reason they are looking for to toss your application.”

The impact on a laid-off candidate’s next job search depends entirely on how high up on the corporate ladder they climbed before being kicked off.

“It’s a matter of higher expectations,” Chakrabarti says. “At the C-suite level, any possible skittishness or propensity to jump ship is magnified, because your role is that much more important. Entry-level workers are expected to hunt and bounce around while they find their footing in the industry but, after a certain point, that behavior starts to look like a character flaw. The narrower job market at the top level also makes it easier for hiring managers to be picky. There aren’t that many openings on the upper end, which gives the company a ton of leverage and might make them more selective than they would otherwise be.”

Getting Canned vs. Getting Laid Off

There’s an important difference between getting laid off and getting fired. Unfortunately, many recruiters and hiring managers still move too quickly through resumes to make the distinction.

“They are missing out on good workers who bet on the wrong horse,” says Chakrabarti. “The average worker can’t control their industry going south or be blamed for mismanagement or poor decisions on behalf of the people directing their company. Unfortunately, they still bear the brunt of issues when it comes time to cut costs.”

The fact that hiring managers and recruiters don’t look closely at resumes on the first pass may sometimes be an advantage. Candidates can frame information in ways that might get them past the initial look and put them in a position to interact with the recruiter and explain the gap.

“There are several ways around a short stint at a job,” Chakrabarti says. “If you have enough experience otherwise, you can consider not listing [the job] in your resume. There’s also the option to play with the numbers. If you were unemployed from April to August of 2017 thanks to a layoff, consider omitting the months from your resume. As I said before, hiring managers aren’t looking that closely. They don’t have the time. And 2016-2017 sure looks like two years, even if it’s only a few months.”

Your grandmother probably told you that a lie of omission is still a lie. While applicants shouldn’t outright lie on their resumes, it’s sometimes okay to omit information to reframe a bad situation that was out of the candidate’s control. Once they’ve reached the interview table, they can disclose the full details.

In this tight job market, candidates must use their best judgement to determine how their specific experience should be framed.

By Jason McDowell