Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So You Got Fired… What Do You Say in an Interview?

Happy Holidays!  Today I wanted to touch base on a subject I get asked about a lot.  How to handle your reasons for leaving a job.  This is a really difficult subject that many people get tripped up on.  The truth is that people leave jobs.  It’s a regular part of life like death and taxes.  However, when we are asked about it we start sweating and usually words start spewing from your mouth.  The good news is that you can handle this question easily if you prepare for it.

The first part to how you answer this question is literally how you answer it.  If you are confident in your answer and you own the reason for leaving there is a good chance that the future employer will be comfortable and move on to the next question.  However, if your body language responds negatively and you stammer your way through the answer the employer may feel  that you are trying to hide something and think negatively of you.  Here’s how not to answer it:

Interviewer:  “So, Milton, why did you leave Initech?”

Interviewee:  Before answering the interviewee looks around nervously and begins to answer without making eye contact.  “Well you see… it just didn’t work out”

Interviewer:  “Why?’

Interviewee:  Takes a long pause and a deep breath.  “Well, I, um, I, you see my boss, he took my stapler, it was a Swingline and I um, uhh set the place on fire.”

Burning down the building is probably never a good reason for leaving a job...

Here is how he should have answered it:

Interviewer:  “So, Milton, why did you leave Initech?”

Interviewee:  “Well, Bob.  My boss and I had some confusion about what stapler I should be using.  So I took matters into my own hands and burnt the whole place down.  That’s the kind of take charge guy I am!  Plus I learned that I need to be a little more flexible in the future.”

Obviously this is an extreme reason for leaving – I’m not sure that you could overcome arson in any situation, but you get the picture.  Milton owned his reason for leaving, was confident about it and made it a positive.  One other thing that you want to avoid here is to make sure you don’t minimize it either.  If you make a mistake that is a fireable offense you shouldn’t start by saying it wasn’t a big deal or end the statement with some false laughter.  Just say that you made a mistake, you learned from it and that it made you a better person and employee.

The second part of this is what you actually tell the interviewer.  In most cases I believe that you need to swallow your pride and just tell the truth in an objective manner.  The key word here is objective.  Don’t be angry, don’t be sad, don’t be flippant.  Just say I was fired because this occurred.  I feel bad about the situation and I accept it.  Even if it was total BS that you were fired act this way.  Nobody wants to hear a sob story.  They want to know what you learned from it and that you handled it maturely. 

But in some cases you legally can’t share the truth.  What do you say now?  In this case you need to craft a very specific message and practice it.  It needs to be something that goes like this:

“Company X and I entered into a mutual agreement that resulted in me leaving the organization.  As a part of this I agreed not to divulge anything about the nature of my departure.  What I can tell you is that they are a great place with great people and I’m ready to move on to the next step of my career.”

Most places will understand something like this but be prepared that sometimes they will push you for more.  In this case just share what you can and apologize for not being able to share more.  Some people won’t accept this and it is just a reality you may have to deal with.

The final part is just good interviewing in general.  Think about your answer here and practice it in front of the mirror.  If you do this it will come out smoothly and eloquently and will make it effortless.  This ties in to the first part – you just need to sell it and move on. 

I have one other thought that goes with this.  These tips are equally applicable if you voluntarily left a position for another one or to look for a job as well.  You just need to have a story and stick to it.

That’s all I’ve got for today.  Have a great week and as always please feel free to leave comments below or email me at sthompson@insurance-csg.com.

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