It's the dreaded question for everyone who has experienced a termination: "Why were you fired?" You know to expect it, and many people allow their fear of this question to throw them off their games. Worrying about this inevitable question can keep you off kilter at an interview, but preparing to address it can give you confidence, allow you to avoid interview mistakes and focus on positive aspects of your candidacy.
Keep the following tips in mind if you've been fired and you'll be ready to ace the interview:
If you were terminated for cause, do not try to pass off your situation as a layoff or other, less inflammatory situation. That said, you are not under any obligation to get into the nitty-gritty details of your past work history. Describe your situation truthfully, but in a way that is as favorable to you as possible.
One of the biggest mistakes many people make in an interview is that they expand their responses to this type of negative question instead of cutting to the chase and moving on. Plan to frame your answer in as few words as possible. There is no need to offer a five-minute monologue. Practice addressing this issue in no more than three to five sentences so you can quickly move on to the positive points you want to make regarding your skills and qualifications.
Do not badmouth your previous employer
When planning your short reply, eliminate any negative reference to your previous employer. One thing that will concern your interviewer, possibly even more than why you were fired, is if you are quick to dish dirt about your previous boss. If you lapse into a negative monologue about your past situation, you can kiss this job goodbye; no one wants to hire someone they fear may be quick to badmouth and gossip about them in the future.
Keep in mind: it does not matter how justified you would be in telling the tale about how wronged you were in your past job. The difficult truth is that you'll need to bite the bullet and take the hit from being fired. You can share the whole, terrible truth with your closest family members, friends and confidants, but keep in mind, anything negative you say about an employer to anyone can come back to hurt you later.
Do not blame anyone else
Once you wrap your head about the fact that you cannot badmouth your previous employer, keep in mind that includes blaming anyone else for your situation. In your short explanation, it's best to take responsibility, even if you skirt the specific details of what happened.
Do not sound bitter
No one wants to hire a bitter employee – or an employee who is quick to sound bitter. Again: it does not matter that you were right and your past employer was wrong. At this point, your job is to minimize the impact and value of being fired. Using language that makes you look like a sore loser will only emphasize the "loser" part of that phrase and will not help you land this new job.
Describe what you learned
Hopefully, you can use part of your description to indicate that you learned something and know how to approach situations different in the future. Be as positive as you can be and you can help turn the question of being fired to an opportunity to showcase one of your assets: you know how to learn from mistakes.
Focus on what you offer
Be quick to segue your reply into a discussion of what you offer as it relates to what the organization needs. If you have the skills needed to solve this company's problems, focus quickly and elaborate on those points in order to keep the interview moving. Explain how you are a valuable employee.
An example of what someone may say in reply to "Why were you fired?"
"I misunderstood my previous employer's goals when I accepted that job. As it turned out, they were moving in a direction that wasn't a good match for my skills and accomplishments, so staying on wasn't a good option for either of us. Luckily, I've learned a lot from this situation, and I'm extremely careful when I apply for positions to be sure they are great matches. For example, before I applied for this job, I met several past and current employees and did a lot of research online. I know you are seeking someone with a background in X, Y and Z, and my work history and accomplishments are well matched to your needs. I'm excited to have this chance to talk to you about how I can help address your issues, such as A, B and C."
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