Talk Jobs: I quit my job and then the pandemic hit

Dear J.T. & Dale: Right before the crisis hit, I quit a job I hated. I wanted to take a rest and then be able to look for work full time. How do I

explain this to future employers? Do you think it will look bad that I quit a good-paying job? Should I lie? — Murphy

DALE: No, never lie, not in an age where you must assume Everybody Knows Everything (or eventually will).

J.T.: In this case, a quick background check or reference check will reveal when you really left your last employer and likely will cost you the new job.

DALE: You need to network your way into meetings with hiring managers, where you'll have rehearsed a sincere and positive explanation. How is it positive? First, know what isn't positive: you hated the job or you wanted a rest. Those explanations leave hiring managers suspicious that you're a hater or you're burned out. Instead, you keep it positive by saying that you left the last job to devote yourself to finding a work environment where you could be part of a true team and work with people striving to succeed together. You may then get asked what was wrong with the old team, and if you do, just say that you don't want to be negative, but that there were people who undermined the team effort.

J.T.: I think that you also need to craft that strong, positive explanation in terms of what this has taught you. I'm sure you look at work and quitting a job entirely differently now. Own what happened by sharing how the experience has made you grow and what you would do differently. Showing your humility and desire to work will show them you are capable of learning from mistakes, even if you didn't know you were making one at the time!

Dear J.T. & Dale: My employer laid me off. I'm collecting unemployment and actually making more money than when I was working. My employer is going to be hiring some of us back soon. What can I do to avoid being selected so I can keep collecting unemployment at the higher rate? — Cindel

J.T.: You have to be VERY careful with this. If you refuse to go back, then you are essentially quitting the job. In some states, quitting a job means you can't collect unemployment benefits.

DALE: I wondered this: Is it good enough to simply say that you'd love to come back but you're worried about your health? No. Here's a quote from the Department of Labor: "As a general matter, you are likely to be eligible for PUA [Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] due to concerns about exposure to the coronavirus only if you have been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine as a result of such concerns. For instance, an individual whose immune system is compromised by virtue of a serious health condition, and who is therefore advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine ..." There's more, but you get the idea.

J.T.: Plus, there are long-term ramifications of turning down a job. When it comes time to ask for a reference, what do you think your former employer will say about your commitment to work? Lastly, don't forget that your employee benefits don't apply when you are on unemployment. If your job offers things like health insurance and vacation time, you'll be losing out on those things. Lastly, if your employer chooses to have you back, think of what that says about you. Picking you over other employees means they value your work. Imagine having to explain to future employers that some people got hired back but you weren't one of them. That tells them you weren't as valuable as your peers and could cost you the future job.

DALE: And one last point. There are plenty of critics of how it worked out that some workers are making more being unemployed than employed. When the current boost to unemployment benefits expires at the end of July, it's likely that it won't be extended.

Jeanine "J.T." Tanner O'Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators' Lab and author of a novel about H.R., "The Weary Optimist." Please visit them at, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803.