your next move

‘How Do I Explain That I Was Forced Out of My Job?’

A woman with long black hair wearing a white shirt and a black blazer looks off to her right and rests her fingers on her left temple.
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Getty Images

Dear Kimberly,

Last August I left my job under uncomfortable circumstances. I had a boss who had made discriminatory comments to me, then tried to fire me (without a formal review or even feedback), all with less than six months on the job. While I can understand that sometimes candidates are not a fit, I was considered such a high talent at my last company that they gave me a full scholarship to get my masters over the course of a few years, so I don’t believe it was my work that was the issue.

Additionally, because of some of the comments that had been made, HR gave me an option to exit with a financial cushion and some other incentives. In all honesty I was miserable at the company (discrimination aside) and was relieved to be given an enticing option to exit, even if it wasn’t entirely on my own terms. If you’re wondering whether or not I retained legal counsel, I did, but ultimately just wanted to be able to move on with my life and regain my mental health. Officially my exit was termed as a resignation, which felt like a relief at the time, especially considering the entire experience was pretty traumatic.

Since then I have done a lot of personal reflection and worked with a career coach to identify a different path for myself, as I also took this as an opportunity to reevaluate my career. I now have the goal of leveraging my existing experience in marketing in a different industry, with the long-term goal of working with product designers and product teams in the digital world.

In a shock to no one, I underestimated the amount of time I would be unemployed, which is likely compounded by my desire to change industries and job hunting through the holiday season. While I am committed to being patient for the right role, I am increasingly worried that I will have to start to explain what is quickly becoming a six-month gap (probably longer) in my resume. I have never left a role before without the next job lined up, and am unsure how to explain what looks like an impulsive “great resignation” move when that wasn’t exactly what happened. Is this something I should be concerned about? Is there a best way to handle this?

Before we jump into the logistics of your current job search, I have to acknowledge the ordeal you’ve gone through. Kudos to you for advocating for yourself, obtaining legal counsel, and coordinating a graceful exit from that company. I’m sure that it was very traumatic to move to a new company, experience discriminatory comments, then have your boss attempt to fire you, all within less than six months!

Knowing this, I’m very happy to hear you’ve opted to work with a career coach to help you navigate this career transition. I also hope you’ve sought out a mental-health practitioner to support you, if you feel that would be helpful. Situations like this can wreak havoc on your confidence and cause you to unnecessarily question your own excellence in the workplace. Knowing that your previous employer fully sponsored your graduate-level education is a strong indicator that this situation had much less to do with your performance and more to do with a disgruntled, biased manager.

Most of the research about finding a new job says it can take five to seven months to land a new role. You generally have to tack on an extra month or two during the holiday season since many companies begin to slow hiring after Thanksgiving. And you may have to extend your job-search timeline if you’re making a career transition and having to leverage transferable skills as opposed to direct experience in that industry. It generally takes professionals making larger career transitions an additional month or so to find roles and companies that are open to their transferable experiences.

I recommend that my clients create a short and simple statement to use in the interview process if and when the “gap question” arises. Recruiters and hiring managers may or may not ask about a gap in employment, depending on their own views. Many companies have experienced significant layoffs within the past year, so some people may assume that’s what happened and won’t even ask for clarification. But if someone does ask, the goal is to reply with a brief, confident statement about why you left the company and what you’ve been doing in the interim, if applicable.

Simply tell a brief version of the truth without going into too much detail, then turn the focus back to your skill set and why you’re interested in working for this new company. Here’s a quick script you can tailor to meet your own needs:

I resigned from the company because of organizational changes and decided to refocus my energy on leveraging my existing experience in marketing in a different industry with the long-term goal of working with product designers and product teams in the digital world.

During my break, I’ve been participating in professional-development activities and career-coaching sessions to ensure I remain up to date on best practices in my industry and can identify companies, like yours, that align with my career goals.

Note that this script doesn’t mention anything about your conflicts with your manager, interactions with the legal team, or troubling transition between your two previous jobs. None of those details needs to be shared because too much detail can raise unnecessary questions that can quickly lead down a rabbit hole in your interview. It’s important to answer this question with confidence because if you sound hesitant, unsure, or as if you’re hiding something, you’ll plant doubt about your candidacy in the interviewer’s mind.

Lastly, I don’t generally recommend you address gaps in your résumé or LinkedIn profile. Many career coaches may recommend adding an “experience” to your resume that speaks to exactly why you took time off. But I’ve never been a fan of creating a “fake job” to explain what happened; in the same way hiring managers will ask questions about your past employers, they can also ask about the gap. I don’t think it’s worth giving that gap in your employment more “shine” than needed, especially when it’s still less than a year. You could deflect attention from it by listing only the year, and not the month, of your start and end dates with employers, but you’ll need to share the actual dates with most companies for background verification. So lead with the truth and use some of your time while you’re between jobs to level up your professional skills so you can speak about those experiences in your next interview.

Career and leadership-development expert Kimberly Brown helps readers make sure their next move is the best move. Listen to the Your Next Move podcast here and keep up with Kimberly on her website.

‘How Do I Explain That I Was Forced Out of My Job?’