Interview Advice for Senior Executives in Transition by Valerie El-Jamil, Executive Career Coach


Executive Job Interview Advice for Executives in Career Transition

BlueSteps Member - How do I explain a severance package and employment termination?

I am a high level finance executive with experience with two Blue Chip companies. I have had very successful career promotion and significant recognition and salary progression throughout. After 6 years with a large, multi-industry company there was a change in my direct manager that resulted in a difference of operating style and philosophy which ultimately led to me being offered a severance package.

Now I am between jobs and trying to secure a foothold in a new company and am having difficulty explaining the termination without expressing my difference of opinion with my most recent manager. How should I go about explaining without being negative?

Featured Expert and Answer
Valerie El-Jamil, CPPC - executive job coach


Valerie El-Jamil, CPPC, Career and Executive Coach at Career Services International, discusses how to best answer the interview question "Why are you available?":

Answers to “why are you available?” yield information about your professionalism, attitude, and integrity as well as what happened.

In order to prepare your answer, be clear (preferably in writing) about how HR will explain your departure if contacted by a potential employer. Ask how others in the organization have been coached to handle these inquiries. Realize, however, that even in companies with a “name, rank, and serial number” policy on what can be said about terminations, rumors spread and can travel outside the company – tactful honesty avoids anything coming back to bite you later.

The fact you were with the last company for six years shows your ability to build sustainable collaborations with colleagues. Try to divert questions about the relationship with your last manager by focusing on the change in managerial style and inquiring about the potential employer’s management profile: “I enjoyed a great career with XYZ, but a change in management resulted in a shift in operating style and philosophy that wasn’t a good fit for me. How would you describe your company’s management style and philosophy?”.

If your departure was not on good terms, it’s important to control your emotions and offer an honest, non-bitter response: “There was a parting of philosophies, so I’m exploring other options and opportunities.” Continue to shift the focus off your former executive employment by immediately following with questions about the needs, challenges, and opportunities for business growth the potential employer faces.

If you’re comfortable, ask your former superior for feedback, perhaps inquiring about your greatest strengths to bring the focus onto your positive attributes. Use information from that conversation to formulate an answer highlighting desirable performance characteristics: “There was a change in operating style and philosophy that resulted in my departure. Although my last boss and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye, he acknowledges I offered great ideas and was a dedicated, loyal employee.”

The key is to be positive without sounding Pollyannaish, brief without sounding evasive.

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