Have you ever been fired from a job? If so, you can appreciate how involuntary dismissal can make interviews awkward. Instead of avoiding the topic, face it head on by planning and preparing for questions about why you lost your job. The trick is to be honest about what happened, while also showing you are a trustworthy person who deserves another chance at employment.
Don’t Lie. Employers check references, so it’s important that you tell the truth when an interviewer asks you why you left a previous job. Even if the hiring manager doesn’t check references, or your previous employer has a policy of not giving references, your boss may have some of your former co-workers as business contacts or may know someone at your prior employer. These folks may be happy to dish on why and how you left. Lying during the job application process can immediately disqualify you from working for a company. If you are hired and your new employer discovers your deception, you may lose yet another job.
Watch Your Body Language. Most hiring managers understand that even good workers get fired. Sometimes it’s just not a good fit. Still, the interviewer needs to develop an understanding of your employment history so he can make the best hiring decision. When the question about your termination comes up, watch your body language. Don’t tense up, cross your arms over your chest, or scowl. Keep your posture open, nod in response to questions, and modulate your voice. Do this even if the interviewer becomes aggressive in his questioning as he may be testing to see how you react under pressure. Incidentally, these rules about body language apply to phone interviews. Your posture and body tensions affect your voice and attitude.
Keep it Simple. Don’t give more information than you have to when answering questions about why you lost your previous job. Your interviewer may probe for details, which is fine, but giving up too much information can make you appear defensive, desperate, or it plant doubts in the interviewer’s mind. Going into a long story about your firing can also cause you to become emotional, which is the last thing that should happen during an interview.
Be Careful with Personal Details. This is a tough one because there are many good people who have lost their jobs due to the pressures of family or medical issues that have affected their performance. If you lost your job because of personal circumstances beyond your control, it’s understandable that you would want to distinguish your situation from that of someone who was fired for absenteeism or incompetence. The trouble is that if you go too far into your personal issues, you can come off as a drama mama or as someone who can’t achieve work-life balance.
When asked about the circumstances that led to your firing, offer a simple explanation along with a statement about how you are now handling the situation. Here are some examples:
I was having difficulty at work because I was under a lot of stress during my divorce. My divorce is final now and my stress level has decreased significantly.
I was unable to focus at work due to a family emergency. My daughter was in a serious car accident and I had to spend several months helping with her rehabilitation. She is doing fine and I can now focus on other responsibilities.
Don’t Badmouth. Negative talk about your former co-workers or supervisor will cause interviewers to wonder if you make a habit of badmouthing and gossiping about others. No matter how bad your conflicts with your supervisor or co-workers were, focus on the reasons for your termination, not the people involved.
Explain What You Learned from the Experience. Your interviewer wants to know if you understand why you lost your job and if you know how to avoid repeating the same mistakes. Look back on your experiences with your previous employer and explain what you did wrong and how you would choose to handle challenges in the future.
If you are still worried about answering questions during your interview, ask for help. Talk to a job coach or friends who have found work after losing their jobs. Try role-playing an interview with someone so that you get comfortable with your answers.
Have you ever been asked why you were fired during a job interview? What did you say?
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