Episode 181: December 6, 2012
by Lisa B. Marshall
Were you fired from you last job and now you’re not sure how to answer the question, “Why did you leave your last position?” in future interviews? The most sure-fire way to sabotage your job hunt is to lie about being fired. So what exactly do you say?
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In Part 1 of this series, I talked about the different points of the interview process and where questions about why you left your last job might come up. You might want to read that one first. However, in summary, my advice was to keep your answers short and simple, and most importantly, don’t ever lie.
Although I gave you some ideas of what exactly to say last week, today we’re going to dig a little deeper into what exactly to say, how to say it, and perhaps more importantly, what not to say.
Prepare Ahead of Time
“So why did you leave you last job?”
You know this question is going to come up during your interview; especially when you are unemployed. Because of the emotion surrounding this question, it’s particularly important to prepare and practice your answer so that you can deliver it in a confident, concise, and compelling manner. I don’t care how comfortable you are in an interview, this is not the time to wing it.
I suggest you talk it through with a family member, trusted friend, or communication coach (hint, hint). Then write down your answer. From there, you’ll want prepare a short version and a long version of your answer. In addition, you’ll want to practice a calm, cool, confident tone of voice and be sure that your facial expressions and body language are all consistently expressing confidence and calm. No hesitations, no looking away or down, no slumping posture, no rolling eyes, etc.
As I mentioned last week, stick with the short answer if you can: “It was a really interesting job and I enjoyed working there. I learned a lot, but am now ready for a new challenge.”
However, for many reasons, your interviewer may already know that you were fired and ask directly, “I understand you were terminated from your last position, can you explain what happened?”
In this case you can still opt for a short response, something like:
“I really enjoyed my job. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and was let go. I learned a lot from that and won’t make the same mistake twice.”
This may be the end of it, but more likely the interviewer may probe further. So you may want to choose instead to give more information up front.
“I really enjoyed my job and learned a great deal, including [list specific skills you developed in your job]. During my time there, I took a couple of risks and unfortunately, I made a mistake. I was let go as a result, but I learned so much from it, for example [give a brief example of what you learned from making the mistake]. I’m looking forward to applying all of my skills in this industry, and proving that I’m the best person for this job.”
It’s better to stay focused on the positive aspects of the situation, than get into the details of exactly what happened. But still, you may be pressed for more information about the mistake, your answer should sound something like this:
“Specifically what I did was X [keep the description of the mistake a short and neutral as possible]. Although it was embarrassing, I now realize it was a great opportunity for education. What I learned from that was [fill in what you learned]. On the plus side I've grown a great deal from the experience and I'm very excited to start fresh here in an environment that is such a great fit for my skills and experience. I hope you'll give me the opportunity to prove how much value I can add to your organization."
Keep it Positive
The most important part is to simply and matter-of-factly admit the mistake and show that you've grown and moved on from it. No matter what happened at your last job, do not bad-mouth your former employer. Keep your answers positive, objective, and focused on you. Don’t try to blame someone else, and don’t speak negatively of others.
For example, you may have been let go by a boss you didn’t get along with. You may feel that person had it out for you from the beginning. Things were going just fine until he or she came along. But you can’t say that in an interview without sounding bitter, negative, and unwilling to take responsibility. Keep that version of your story between you and your friends at the bar.
I talked to a woman once who had been fired from her customer service job over a minor infraction that many other people had made without consequences. She was sure it was because she’d just announced she was pregnant, but a rule was a rule, and one bad decision cost her the job. It would have been tempting to describe this injustice in her interview. It might have given her some sympathy, but it also might have made her look like she wasn’t trustworthy and couldn’t accept blame. She wanted to be up front about it, so we crafted an answer that looked like this:
“I worked at my last company for more than three years, and I learned a great deal during my time there. I know a lot about handling customer complaints and dealing with different cultures. Unfortunately, I made a mistake I knew was wrong. I logged onto Facebook during work hours to send a message to a friend. I knew the rule, and I paid for breaking it. But I treated my customers well, and always had good service evaluations. I’m looking forward to using my skills to providing top-notch customer service for your clients. And I certainly won’t make the same mistake again.”
Tell the Truth
I think it’s important to reiterate this one more time: Always tell the truth. Many hiring managers will be forgiving of past mistakes if you’ve learned from them. But if you’re caught in a lie, you will not get the job. If it comes up later, your integrity will be in doubt. You can choose just how much of the details you want to divulge, but don’t state anything that’s not true.
Don’t allow being fired to keep you from moving forward. People are let go from jobs every day for many different reasons and most of them aren’t career-ending. Look at your situation as an opportunity to start fresh. Deal with this question quickly and move on. Focus on your experience, skills, and passion for the new job. Prove you are worth the risk. Sometimes, being let go can be just the catalyst you need to try something new and rewarding.
And by the way, Andy, the guy who wrote to me with the initial question about how to handle being fired, wrote me just yesterday. He landed a new position!
This is Lisa B. Marshall, The Public Speaker. Passionate about communication; your success is my business.
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