“Why were you let go from your previous position?”
The question is cringe-worthy. It feels like the hiring manager is staring into your soul as beads of sweat begin forming in your tightly clasped hands. However, the reality is, if you were terminated from a past position, you will be asked this question in your interview. No matter what euphemism you elect to use – parted ways, terminated, etc. – you will still have to provide an explanation to your prospective employer. Properly preparing to answer this question is the best way to avoid getting tongue-tied or issuing a slew of ‘um’s,’ which can paint your candidacy in a negative light.
Whether you were fired due to poor performance, corporate-wide layoffs, or an unexpected company merger, this question can still feel extremely intimidating. Regardless of why you were let go, keep the following tips in mind so you can provide an intelligent, confident response during your next interview.
A is for Acceptance
Stop mentally berating yourself for getting fired. Just like the scores of failed Tinder relationships, there are many instances where employers and employees don’t make a great match. And guess what? That’s perfectly normal. What’s more, most interviewers understand that it happens. By taking the necessary time to accept your circumstances, you’ll be able to put things into perspective and ultimately transform the experience into a learning opportunity. You don’t want to schlep any negative feelings you’ve been harboring into the interview with you; you’ll run the risk of accidentally spewing a mouthful of gloom and doom rather than speaking objectively about the situation. It may not feel like it at first, but the experience will help you grow both personally and professionally.
As tempting as it may be, any lie you tell will eventually catch up with you. As a job seeker, you’ll likely do some sleuthing before your interview – scouring the company’s social media pages, Glassdoor reviews, and any noteworthy news stories. Similarly, your potential employer will do their own investigative work before extending an official offer, which includes running a background check and contacting your professional references. Getting caught in a lie will earn your resume a one-way ticket into the trash can. Be concise and honest when answering the question and avoid any long-winded responses that may raise a red flag for the interviewer.
Highlight What You Learned
Being let go is a painful experience. By communicating that you extracted valuable knowledge from an otherwise hurtful situation, you’re demonstrating a level of maturity and strength that hiring managers look for. Whether you learned how to interact with a difficult manager or employee, refined your approach to processing data to detect errors, or discovered the importance of recording important client information, you want to assure your interviewer that you won’t repeat the same mistake. Rather than play the victim, show that you are capable of self-reflection. Be succinct when explaining how you’ve grown as a professional and how you plan to execute on your newfound knowledge as a potential employee of the company.
Never Bad Mouth an Employer
Even if you were personally victimized by Regina George, now's not the time to be placing blame on others.
Your interview is not an appropriate time to take a dig at your previous employer. Set aside your desire to vent – Mr. Whiskers has always been a supreme listener. Bad mouthing a former manager or employee will shatter any credibility you’ve built with the interviewer thus far. Pointing fingers is easy; holding yourself accountable for whatever went astray is not. However, addressing the question with transparency shows you’ve taken ownership of your actions, aren’t afraid to face failure, and have worked to improve yourself professionally.
Planning and practicing for a conversation surrounding why you were fired is essential for painting yourself in a positive light during your interview. Winging it may have worked for your middle school English essay, but it can be a slippery slope during an interview, as you run this risk of letting emotions dictate the direction of your conversation. Yes, you got the boot, but you’re a strong, talented worker and you need to demonstrate (with confidence) why you’re a valuable asset. We are all human; we make mistakes, and a good employer will understand this is only a small glitch in what will be a long and successful career.