Updated: May 28, 2020
Author: Michael Scaletti
Getting fired sucks. Maybe you deserved it, maybe you didn’t. None of that matters now. The bottom line is that once you’ve been fired you’re going to have to look for a new job, and they’re going to ask you why you left your previous job. Many people’s first instinct is to lie, but that is definitely not the correct approach. It’s perfectly normal to feel frustrated after a firing, but the key is to not let yourself start to feel hopeless. A 10 year study showed that 91% of people fired ended up bouncing back, so it’s worth remembering that getting fired is not the end of the world. The question is, when the “why where you let go” question comes up, how do you answer it.
Know What You Can And Can’t Say
This starts with talking to your former HR department. Find out how they are going to represent the separation, as what you say in an interview will need to match up with how they characterize it.
Also, many companies have explicit policies with regards to how they and former employees characterize their working environment. These policies sometimes have some legal standing behind them, which could lead to the company suing you or clawing back any severance you’ve received, but even if they don’t violating them can get you into hot water with your former employer, which in turn can lead to them undermining you with prospective employers.
Honesty is Key
Being fired is embarrassing, so it’s understandable that it is tempting to misrepresent a firing as either a voluntary leave or as a layoff. Companies are likely to follow up with your references and do a background check, however, and when they do they will find out the truth anyway. While the firing itself is probably not a deal breaker, lying about it will be.
Honesty is the best policy here, but that doesn’t mean you can’t craft your message. Be defensible, but not defensive. Explain what happened in as concise a manner as possible that appears unbiased and sympathetic. Make sure all pertinent information is shared, as leaving important info out can make you dishonest, and you also don’t want to allow an interviewer to simply come to their own opinion about the situation, which could be unfavorable.
Avoid Blame and Negative Speak
At this point you should all know that it’s never a good idea to speak ill of a former employer in an interview. This extends especially after a firing. You want to portray yourself in a sympathetic manner, and blaming everything on a former employer will make you appear as though you are both lacking in self-awareness and unwilling to take responsibility for yourself, traits that will not make you an attractive candidate.
Acknowledging any aspects that you thing contributed to the firing in a broad and evenhanded manner, while also recognizing anything you could have done to improve the situation not only makes you sympathetic, but also shows that you have grown and learned from the firing, a trait that will actually make you a stronger candidate.
Show That What You Learned Makes You a Better Fit
Once you’ve explained the firing and steered the interviewers perception of the situation in a beneficial manner, it’s time to show them how the firing actually improves your fit for their company.
Obviously, being free to look for work is a significant plus, but you can go much further than that. Remind the interviewer that failure, while awkward and uncomfortable, is an opportunity for learning and growth, and that you are committed to taking advantage of this opportunity. Show them that your vision aligns with that of their company, and reiterate a few of the skills you possess that make you a great fit.
As long as you keep your conversation calm, concise, and honest while remembering your own value, you’ll be able to bounce back from a firing stronger than ever.