Remember that old saying about how you shouldn't judge someone until you've spent a day walking around in their moccasins? If you're a hiring manager, you're probably well aware of how difficult it is to NOT judge a candidate. It's sort of a requirement, isn't it? Nothing is more painful for a hiring manager then the moment when a perfectly good candidate screws up a perfectly good interview. And the candidate may even be completely unaware that they've just shot themselves point blank in their moccasin. Do you tell them? Or do you just ride out the next forty five minutes hoping you don't appear disengaged?
You want to end the interview quickly, it seems less painful for both of you. But you carry on despite the fact that this person hasn't got a ghost of a chance of getting this job. You do this out of respect for their feelings, and so you don't have to explain what they did wrong.
It's not so much that you're judging the candidate as a person, but you wonder whether the candidate had any idea how poor their judgment was in telling you what they did. People shoot themselves in the foot everyday. For the sake of being completely honest, open, no secrets, wide open...and then they leave the interview limping. This happens due to a lack of preparation, being caught off guard by a question that requires a lot of explanation, or worse, an inability to hear themselves talk as they are explaining. And you, as hiring manager, have a responsibility to hire people who have good communication skills, self awareness and the ability to evangelize (internally and externally) your company, brand, product or service from a position of strength, without sounding like they are making excuses.
As a candidate, when you can't hear what you are saying, and how it is being interpreted by the hiring manager across the desk, you're bound to make a few errors in judgment during the interview. For example, when a hiring manager hears that you were one person in a 40% company-wide layoff, the first question they are likely to ask themselves is "why weren't you part of the 60% the company retained?". When you have taken a reduction in overall compensation at each of your last three jobs, you may think this makes you a more financially attractive sales candidate. That seems like the best way to pitch yourself. But when interviewing for a sales position, where success is measured almost completely by numbers, how do you expect you will measure up to your contemporaries during a competitive job interview? Isn't it true that to the victor goes the spoils? So ask yourself a question...does the truth you tell about yourself sell you, or sell you short?
DO NOT MISREPRESENT YOURSELF!!! That's not what I'm saying. You may have been legitimately short listed for layoffs at your company because you were the last one hired. But say THAT instead of saying you were a part of the 40% that lost their jobs in 2010. This answer is likely to be misinterpreted as a lack of performance rather than the common rule of last one hired, first one let go. The bottom line is the truth will set you free...you just need to know how to present the facts WHILE maintaining a position of strength. The best way to do this is to put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager and try to interpret what information is being received from their perspective. Look for inconsistencies in your reason for leaving, potential red flags and undesirable circumstances in your career history that could come across as poor judgment, poor performance or a lack of insight/awareness on your part. Role play with a trusted colleague, someone who is a strong interviewer, and let them tell you what you said AND what they heard. You may want to do this a few times in preparation for the real thing. Understand that every company wants to hire a superstar, and they CAN right now. When in a position of choice due to a poor job market, why should any company hire someone who doesn't present themselves that way?
Consider also that as the job market picks up, all of those gainfully employed high performers will start to look selectively...and they will have a lot of choices. It sounds unfair, but it is the truth. There are many hiring managers who have been somewhat unaffected by the economic crash (with respect to their professional stability) and their goal may be to attract and retain others who show that same resilience. After all, these candidates must have been very strategic or exceptionally talented to have evaded being downsized. Right? Well, maybe...maybe not. The bottom line is you need to set yourself apart and create the best possible presentation in order to advance your candidacy to the next round. Do you know what you're doing wrong in an interview? If not, there are a lot of good resources out there to help you. However, if you want to keep walking around with that revolver in your pocket thinking it's your best line of defense, then stop wearing moccasins. I think I've got a pair of steel-toed boots in your size. Let me know, I'll bring my shoe horn and a mirror.