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No. 149 – Our new CEO made me redundant. How do I explain this in interviews?

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3 April 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: explaining a redundancy, a gem deserving a pay rise and sick day excuses.

A new chief executive started at my company and over a period of several months a number of my executive peers have left the business for a variety of reasons, some clear and others murky. I was also recently made redundant. The reasons for my redundancy are unclear (the replacement role is the same as mine, but with a different title) and the information I was given at the time was that the company was looking for “new thinking”. I am now looking for work, but struggling to know how to explain why I left my last role in a way that is respectful to my former employer but also makes it clear I wasn’t made redundant through lack of positive performance. What do you recommend?

There is good news and bad news. The bad news is unfortunately it is all too common for a new CEO clean out a senior executive team as they change reporting structures and possibly set a new strategy for the business. The good news? Your next employer is probably familiar with this scenario too.

I would let any new employer know the entire executive team was replaced (or whatever is accurate) and you were unfortunately just one of a number of senior leaders caught up in the strategic change in direction by the new CEO. You can then immediately move on to discuss all the achievements you did make while you were employed at the company and how you will be able to bring them to this company too. As hard as it will be, your best approach will be for you to reframe your redundancy as simply a by-product of a new CEO wanting to change direction and not a personal slight on you or your performance.

I have one person reporting to me, who is a gem, both in the professional sense but also more personally – she is well liked and a big contributor to the team’s culture. She is deserving of a promotion and pay rise. I’ve been trying to work on this for a while and the organisation has a remuneration policy, which consists of an annual review with benchmarking, before the management decide on pay rises (endorsed by the board). A business case for her promotion was submitted mid-year as part of this process, but it’s now emerged that there are to be no pay rises this year. I’m concerned about retaining a good worker. How can I advocate for an exception to be made?

If only everyone had a manager prepared to go out on a limb for their valued employees; good for you. One thing to consider is it is always easy to see the people you work closest with as being entitled to something more than those you don’t know. The job of the board and management will be to look at the bigger picture of what would be possible if they made an exception for your valuable employees and no doubt the many others which are put forward by other managers like yourself. I would speak to HR, or whoever you submit your case to, and ask them specifically what they need to see before a review will be considered. If you have evidence your employee is being paid much less than benchmarks, there is a clear gender pay gap from her peers, or she has not had her remuneration reviewed in a long period of time, and you can show the value she adds to the organisation, you may hopefully be in with a chance. Keep fighting for her, she will no doubt be truly grateful regardless of the outcome.

How much detail do I need to provide when I call in sick? Is it enough to say, “I feel unwell and won’t be able to work today”? Or do I need to mention symptoms? My supervisor likes to feel involved in everyone’s lives and I know that she wants more detail. She is also quite gossipy, and I do not want to share any private information with her.

You definitely do not need to tell your gossipy supervisor all the ins and outs of your medical conditions. If you are asked to provide a medical certificate, you will have to do that, but even then, it won’t specify your particular illness. The royal family have reminded us of this already this year – they are entitled to their medical privacy, and you are too!

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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