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Advice / Job Search / Interviewing

Stop Cringing! How to Tell an Interviewer You've Been Fired

Remember that time (four months ago) that you got called into your dictatorial punk of a boss’ office (who, you could swear, had it out for you since day one)—and were asked to kindly pack up your cubicle, log out of the office laptop, and return your cell phone, immediately?

Yeah, that pretty much sucked.

Fortunately, after six weeks of moping around in your rumpled hoodie and yoga pants, followed by two months of informational interviews, job applications, and research, you’ve landed an interview. And the company is amazing.

This is your shot.

But hold the phone. What are you going to do when that dreaded question comes up (as it surely will): “Why, exactly, did you leave your last job?”

You’re going to explain what went down, share what you learned, and then knock their socks off with all of the amazing things you can deliver, that’s what you’re going to do.

I know, I make it sound easy. And it’s not ever simple, especially if you’re still feeling hot emotions over the termination or struggling with diminished “I’m the loser who got canned” self-esteem.

But if you truly want the job, here’s what you’ve got to do when asked the dreaded question at the interview.

1. Come to Terms With Your Emotions Before You Set Foot in the Interview

This must be your first step, before you start pursuing new opportunities or booking interviews.

If you can’t walk into that meeting with a cool head and the ability to speak calmly about your qualifications and your past job experience, spend whatever time it takes on the front end to process what happened and find your peace.

No one hires a hothead. Well, except maybe clubs in search of super-intimidating bouncers or media outlets that pride themselves on being annoyingly polarizing. All other employers will be expecting a level-headed professional to walk through their doors. Be that person.

2. Without Hesitating, Explain Succinctly What Happened

Less is almost always more in this instance. If you rattle on and on about what happened and why and over-explain the whole deal, you look sketchy; like you’re trying to cover something up.

Genuine, honest, and succinct dialogue, à la, “Unfortunately, I was let go,” is going to get you much farther. Remember, you’re talking to a human. All of us humans goof up sometimes; some of us have even been fired from jobs ourselves. Remember that as you speak.

3. Discuss What You Learned, Then Get Back on Topic

Our most significant growth as humans often comes following a major face plant. So, once you’ve outlined what happened, you absolutely must share with the interviewer what you learned from the experience.

Share how you’ve grown and how you approach your job and life now as a result—and then get back to the business of showcasing your strengths as a candidate for that position. If you can position the learning experience as an advantage for this next job, even better.

Here’s an example:

After we lost the huge client account, in no small part due to my error, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the customer experience and how to ensure I keep the customer top-of-mind in everything I do. I believe this will be a tremendous asset in my next role.

4. Never, Ever Bad Mouth Your Boss or Company

No matter how tempted you may be, and no matter how strongly you feel that you were wronged, don’t go there. You’ll just look like sour grapes, and no one wants to work with sour grapes.

5. Recap What You Have to Offer, Making Your Interest Clear

To help ensure that the meeting ends on a positive note, take time to recap the top things you feel you can deliver to that organization, to that interviewer, before you leave the meeting. Make it very clear that you can walk through those doors and deliver what the team needs—and that you are very interested in doing so.

And then walk out of there with your head held high, and fire off an incredible thank you note the moment you get back to your computer. You’ve got this.