Episode 180: November 29, 2012
by Lisa B. Marshall
A few weeks ago I got an email from Andy. He had bought my book, The Public Speaker’s Guide to Ace Your Interview, but had a question that I didn’t address in the book. Unfortunately, Andy’s last job didn’t end well and he wanted to know how to handle the questions he was receiving at interviews about why he left his last job.
When you’ve been fired, landing your dream job becomes a bit more challenging—but not impossible. In this two-part series, I’ll talk about how to get past being fired and still get the job you want.
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I wanted Andy to be sure he was clear on what happened. In situations like this, it’s important to clarify the circumstances. Sometimes people are so emotional when they lose a job, they think they were fired when in reality the paperwork says they were laid off.
It’s important to review what was said when you were let go. If you were given something in writing, read it over more than once. Does it clearly say you’re being fired or terminated for a specific behavior, or are you being laid off due to budget cuts or other factors beyond your control?.
Prepare Your References
Next, as you begin your job search you should get in touch with your references. You’ll need to contact a few people who will testify to your strengths, experiences, and skill sets. Although reference checks don’t typically happen until the end of the interview process, don’t wait until you’ve been asked to give references to start this process.
Particularly when you’ve been fired, it’s even more critical that you contact everyone ahead of time. Reach out to your network of past co-workers and clients to confirm that they will still speak highly of you. Don’t just send an email message. You need to talk to each person and, if necessary, briefly explain your situation and make sure they feel comfortable recommending you. Listen to your gut. If you feel like one of your references is unsure or noncommittal, cross them off your list.
The Screening Process
Today, most companies start the interview process with a screening interview by someone in the Human Resources department. The HR rep most likely reviewed the resume you submitted online, or found your profile on LinkedIn. It’s not likely they know you’ve been fired, but don’t discount that possibility.
At this point in the process, it’s highly probable that you’ll be asked why you left your previous job. My advice is, be brief and don’t lie. You can say something like “I learned a lot in my last position, but it was time to look for new opportunities” or “Because I am very interested in working at an organization like yours...” Then specifically state something that is different from you last job. For example: “I’m interested in working at an organization that is much larger [or smaller, or much more focused on the marketing side of things, or allows for greater travel opportunities]…or whatever makes this new opportunity different from your last position. You definitely don’t want to voluntarily share the specifics of your firing, but you should be prepared to explain a bit more if questioned.
If you make it to the next set of interviews in the process, you’ll likely be interviewed by your potential manager and by several people you will be working with. When you’re meeting with several different people, it’s likely that the question of why you left your last position will come up more than once.
It is important that you are consistent with your response and that you have a positive spin. Again, tell them why you’re excited for the opportunity to move to this particular position. Then simply say it was time to move on from your previous job. Don’t ever lie about what happened, but again, I also don’t recommend voluntary full disclosure either. Keep it positive, keep it objective, and stick to the truth.
You’re Almost There
The final step will be employment verification and reference checks. Your new employer will likely call your previous company to verify your employment. They will check your employment dates and will probably ask about your reason for leaving. It’s common to ask, “Would you hire this person again?” More and more companies offer generic answers to these types of questions. It is possible the company won’t want to risk a lawsuit and may not mention you were terminated. Instead, they may simply say “Yes” when asked if they would hire you again. But, on the other hand, they may respond with a “No” and state that you were fired. In this case, you should be prepared to answer more questions.
Remember, your references will also be called at this point. At this stage, you should call each person again and let them know they’ll be hearing from someone for a job that seems like a perfect fit. Thank them in advance for helping you out, and explain what information you think would be most valuable for them to share. If they know the reason you were fired, let them know that you haven’t discussed it in depth with the new employer, and that you’d appreciate it if they didn’t bring it up. Make sure they know you’re not asking them to lie, but if at all possible, to let you handle that part of the process.
Ultimately, if your reference checker discovers you were fired, you’ll be asked about it. Be straightforward and direct, but you don’t need to provide all the gory details. Refer back to what you said in your interview. “As I mentioned during the interview process, I learned a lot at that company and it was time to move on. It is true that I made a mistake and I learned a valuable lesson from it. I’m excited for this new opportunity, and I can assure you that I don’t make the same mistakes twice.”
That just might be enough to allow you to move forward, but sometimes you’ll need to explain a bit more. In part two of this series, I’ll give your more details on what to say (and not to say) when asked about the details of why you got fired.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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