FIRED? The Interview Solution - PART 1

So you were fired? Now what? How will you explain it when you interview?

There are many questions that plague job seekers. “What salary are you looking for?” is a big one. “Why should we hire you?” is another. And “Why did you leave your last job?” can leave you spluttering and on the defensive if you were fired and don’t know how to answer.

And most people don’t! After they’ve stumbled through a few answers—trying in vain to phrase it in an acceptable way—and are not invited back for a second interview, their fears are confirmed. No one will hire them because they’ve been fired.

Except that’s not what’s really happening. The problem is not that they were fired, but how they answered the question.

We don’t stay at a job our entire lives like most of our grandparents did. Not only is it common to change jobs, some believe it's the best way to leverage salary and career. While most of the changes may be of your own volition, odds are a few will involve being fired or laid-off.

Companies are bought out, merged, and consolidated, which means inevitably there’s a duplication of staff. It can be as simple as the new president wanting to bring in his own team. He probably didn’t even look at your capabilities; he just decided you were …outta there.

These departures aren’t as difficult to explain. You can say:

  • “Our company was bought and the entire department was eliminated.” (It’s not me; a bunch of us were asked to leave.) Safety in numbers.
  • “The new president wanted to bring in his own guy. I lasted about a week.” (It’s not me; the president didn’t even take the time to find out if I was good at what I do.) A prospective company can’t possibly hold something against you that’s so… impersonal.
  • “The company was losing money and downsized.” (It’s not me; if the company had been profitable, I’d still be there!)

The common thread is, “It’s not me.” Therefore, I am not flawed, unwanted, performing poorly, or any other reason you can think up or worry about. But these types of partings, while they seem impersonal, can still have a detrimental effect. We’ll get to that in a minute.

The instances that cause real damage feel very personal, even when they aren’t. You are the only one who was dismissed, and what’s more, you know they’ll replace you. You’re caught off guard, angry, and frightened, too. In an instant, you’re on the defensive, which is usually where people remain. And that’s exactly what causes the problem.

Firing isn’t always about the individual, even though that’s who’s impacted the most. Sometimes it’s about the boss—especially bosses with issues. It might be about poor performance, but that’s not always negative. It could be the result of having different philosophies. For instance, the company may value those who work weekends, nights and holidays. You prefer to balance your life.

Once you’re fired, you can’t change the circumstances. But you can control how you view them. While departmental or company-wide layoffs are easier to explain, they can also cause damage. You wonder, “If I’d been really good, wouldn’t they have found another spot for me?” In addition, you’re in an insecure place that sometimes is difficult to adjust to.

Take time to clear some tears or anger. If you’re tempted to recoil, rehash, threaten revenge or otherwise communicate with your previous employer, don’t. Remember one word: reference! Don’t burn your bridges. Leave the company gracefully.

Most importantly, detach yourself from the event and honestly examine what happened. That’s the only way you’re going to get any insight and begin adjusting your thoughts and perspective.

PART TWO: I’ll tell you how to handle it, so that you can answer the question with grace, rather than fear.

Guest Expert:

Judi Perkins, the How-To Career Coach, was a recruiter for 22 years, consulting with hundreds of hiring authorities throughout the hiring process. She’s seen over 500,000 resumes, knows how hiring authorities think and how they hire. As a result she understands and teaches what other coaches don’t: why the typical strategies in finding a job so often fail, what to do instead, and why. She’s been on PBS’s Frontline, will be in the May issue of Smart Money magazine, and has been quoted frequently in numerous articles for CareerBuilder, MSN Careers, Yahoo Hot Jobs, and the New York Times, among others. She’s also been featured as an expert in numerous career books. Sign up for her free newsletter at!

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