Q: You’ve been fired: How to explain it in a job interview.
A: Once you’ve gone through the process of analyzing and learning why things didn’t work out in your last job and taken some time to regroup, you are now ready to put your best foot forward in your job search. But even though you may “feel ready” there still may be anxiety, confusion and fear about addressing your dismissal in an interview setting. When asked about the reasons or nature of your departure, be honest. But choose your words and messaging carefully. Your goal is to provide an honest explanation while projecting confidence, a positive attitude and professionalism rather than animosity, insecurity and red flags.
There are many reasons employees are let go—and those reasons fall along a very wide spectrum. So you’ll need to take yours into consideration when formulating the proper response. Below are some sample responses to employers when they ask: “Why did you leave your last position?”
“I really enjoyed the work at my last firm. It provided me with the opportunity to diversify and expand my practice. But over time, the compatibility diminished and it was time to move on. It was an experience where I learned a great deal and I know will allow me to add greater value in my next role.”
“I spent a few years working for Company A and enjoyed the work and the people. But I didn’t feel like it was a place where I could move my career forward. So my employer and I mutually agreed that it was best to move on. This position is really appealing to me because of the diverse responsibilities and management opportunity. I’m very excited to learn more about it.”
“I enjoyed my two years at the company. But recently, a new CEO came on board and the culture dramatically shifted. I respect the direction s/he wants to take the organization, but we’ve both agreed that it’s not the best fit for me anymore. So I’ve moved on and am looking for a company that’s more team-oriented and a bit smaller.
“Working at Company Z was terrific. I really grew and contributed some great things. But the company ultimately needed a much more senior lawyer to perform the function which had morphed into a VP-level role. I left on great terms and would be happy to provide references.”
“I received great experience at the firm as a young associate and the partners were instrumental in my training. But life as a senior associate is a bit different and we all agreed that the best thing for me was a career shift. So after taking a little time off, I’ve decided to pursue in-house opportunities.”
Message #6: (Laid off) **Note: In almost all cases [almost] being laid off is not the same as being fired.
“During my tenure, I learned and contributed a lot to the company. But for several months, my company experienced pressure to trim costs and make personnel changes. So we mutually agreed on my departure. I received a severance package and have taken the last several months off to travel in Asia, which is something I’ve wanted to do since college.”
Messaging #7 (Laid off):
“I had a great experience with Company X, but the company has been struggling. There were several rounds of layoffs, which I was fortunate to avoid. But eventually my position was eliminated and I have moved on.”
Words are powerful tools. And they must be used effectively when explaining a termination. So as you prepare for your job search, you’ve got to get this messaging right. I strongly recommend that you write out word for word your reasons for leaving your last position. Reasons that you will articulate to employers and those in your network. Then, practice it out loud as many times as it takes to communicate it effortlessly. Once you master this, you will gain (and project) greater confidence and enthusiasm and will be more effective in your interviews. You’ll also see the return of your smile and the spring in your step. Remember, life is not over. It’s just beginning.