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Why Did You Leave?

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One of the very first things you work on when you start outplacement is how to answer the Exit Question, "Why are you looking? Why did you leave your last job?"

Having a well-rehearsed Exit Statement is a must. We teach job hunters that a good exit statement is short, true, and delivered without any negativity that might be associated with What Happened (e.g. having been fired, downsized, etc).

For example, last year I worked with a Plant Maintenance Operator who had been terminated in a downsizing. Here's what he came up with: "I'm on the market now because the plant where I had been working was shut down. Now I am seeking a new role where I can apply my skills and expertise in plant maintenance."

Neatly done...and positive as well, with the looking-ahead ending.

Sometimes, however, it's not quite so neat. A few years ago, I was asked to help a professional who had been fired due to an incident that had occurred at his former workplace. The incident involved behavior that was thought to be unprofessional. The consensus of opinion was that, even though he had an unblemished record of good performance, and was seen as a very good employee, he needed to go.

Naturally, the individual was beset by very strong feelings about how he had been treated. Losing your job is never easy. When it happens in such a way that you feel betrayed and unjustly treated, it's even worse.

In this case, coming up with an Exit Statement was quite a challenge...not only for him, but for me too as the coach.

To prepare myself for the work with my client, I sought out the advice of several of my most trusted contacts in the Human Resources field. Acting as my "board of advisers," they gave me lots of ideas and things to think about.

In particular they counseled that his exit statement must be brief; it must be free of any negative opinion about his former employer; and it should end with a positive forward-looking component.

With their input, I was able to guide my client through a process to his Exit Statement:

"I really enjoyed my years with [Name of Employer] and feel proud of my accomplishments there. Unfortunately my position was eliminated. It's too bad because I enjoyed the work and had a great track record of good performance. Now I am looking ahead to new opportunities to apply my skills. And that is what attracted me to your organization."

Just as he needed to take the time to formulate how to answer the "Why did you leave your last job?" question, I too needed to take time to prepare how to be an effective and supportive helper.

Note: For more good tips on recovering after a firing:

Posted by Terrence Seamon on Thursday December 12, 2013

Terrence H. Seamon is an organization development consultant who provides leadership and team development services to employers in New Jersey. His book Lead the Way explores the challenges of leadership. Additionally, Terry is a job search and career coach whose book To Your Success provides a motivational guide for anyone in transition. His third book, Change for the Better, provides leaders with a guide to initiating, and navigating through, organizational change. An alumnus of PSG, Terry co-founded and co-moderates the St. Matthias Employment Ministry in Somerset, NJ. He can be reached at and via his website:



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