Your interview is going really well! You and the recruiter hit it off right away, and you have all the skills they’re looking for. And then you hear the dreaded question, “Why did you leave your last job?”
If you were fired, this may seem like the end of the road. You could be afraid that no one wants to take a risk hiring you, or feel overwhelmed by your emotions. These reactions are perfectly normal, but don’t let them stand between you and your next great job. Take charge of your career future with these strategies.
Before you can begin to plan what you’ll say, you have to think about what happened. While this can be difficult, it is important that you take a step back and look at the situation from different angles. Then consider every layer of each reason you were fired. Dig deeper and deeper until you can go no further. For example:
Consider your situation
Now that you are aware of some of the factors that influenced your termination, it is time to plan how you will address the matter in your interview. Write and practice a script for answering a question about whether and/or why you have been fired. Exactly how you should go about this varies.
Laid off job seekers can simply state that the company was reorganizing, downsizing, etc. This happens often enough that hiring managers are unlikely to be concerned. To be on the safe side, however, try to have someone from the company write you a recommendation. Since your behavior wasn’t the motivating factor behind your termination, there shouldn’t be any reason not to get one of these letters.
If fired for cause, you should spend most of your answer discussing what you learned from the experience. Avoid examining what you did wrong too closely, or debating whether the employer’s reaction was fair.
Wrongful terminations can be touchy subjects for employers concerned about risk and lawsuits. Keep your description of the incident as broad and unbiased as possible, simply stating that you were fired illegally and took steps to settle the matter.
Advice for any circumstance
While each situation above requires a different approach, there are some qualities that every previously fired interviewee’s script should have.
This outline can be applied to any number of circumstances, as shown by Beth Colley’s sample responses and Dawn Rasmussen’s guidelines. Try to focus on the future, something you learned, or a reason why this position is a better fit than the last one was.
Above all, be prepared to show that you are a competent professional excited to get to work. Your preparation for the interview and confidence during it will work to reassure future employers that your past is not necessarily an indication of whether you will benefit their organization.
Alison Green: In a Job Interview, How to Explain You Were Fired