From Fired to Hired: How to Explain Your Termination in an Interview

How to explain your termination in an interview

From Fired to Hired: How to Explain Your Termination in an Interview

Being fired from a job is among the top ten most stressful life events an adult can experience. Besides the obvious financial concerns that come with being dismissed from a positon, it’s a huge blow to your ego and self confidence. No one wants to be told that they are not good enough, but it happens to the best of us. According to Business Insider, some very successful people were let go from their jobs before they went on to become famous. Oprah Winfrey was told by a Baltimore TV producer that she was “unfit for television news,” and the manager of the Grand Ole Opry told Elvis he was better off driving trucks. Whether you’re let go because of cutbacks in a department, restructuring of the company, or for poor performance, it can be problematic to talk about it openly in an interview. How do you convince a hiring manager that despite being let go, you’re still a valuable asset? How can you explain the circumstances of your departure without bad-mouthing your previous employer? Here are a few ways that you can answer those tough questions about termination in an interview and still make a good impression.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Were you laid off or were you fired? This is important. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics revealed that 1.6 million people were laid off or discharged in March of 2017. Even with the job market as strong as it is now, tens of millions of people are fired every year. Employers and hiring managers are aware that sometimes even really good employees can be the victim of circumstance. You will still be expected to answer truthfully, and demonstrate that you can still be a great hire. You have to be honest with others and with yourself about the reason you no longer have your job. Being let go can be the result of a rocky relationship with a supervisor, a lack of productivity or even bad luck and/or timing. You have to recognize the factual circumstances and prepare to talk about them openly and professionally when asked. If you have a concise and polished response prepared about your dismissal, you actually have an opportunity to turn an awkward situation into a time when you really shined in the interview.

Take the High Road

Depending on the context of your termination, you may have a difficult time not holding a grudge against a former employer. This underlying animosity can come through, even when you’re doing your best to disguise it underneath a layer of forced positivity. Be genuine and straightforward. Don’t over explain yourself. When you talk about the circumstances under which you were let go, give the reason and a short sentence about how or why you feel you have improved, how you have learned from the experience, and wat you would do differently. For example, if you were let go due to a difference of opinion or a strained relationship, you might say:

“I was terminated from X company. While I received some very meaningful experience with the company, the culture was not a good fit for me. I felt I performed the best I could under the circumstances. The experience has led me to reflect on my personal career goals, and work on my own communication skills more, which I know will help me in my next position.”

Most importantly, resist the urge to say anything negative about the company or your manager. If you’re interviewing with a competitor, the interviewer may be interested in getting as much dirt or gossip as they can about your previous employer. It can be tempting to feed into this; especially if you are feeling animosity. In the long run, you will maintain your integrity, and make the best impression on an interviewer if you are transparent and have a positive approach.

Show That You’re Wiser

While it is absolutely vital to be prepared to answer questions about a past termination, you shouldn’t let it distract from the time you spend preparing for other aspects of the interview. If this is your first time talking with a potential employer after your termination, you’re bound to feel a little apprehensive about it. Sometimes the thing you dread the most is what you end up fixating on. Your mood and general approach can be affected by this. Don’t let that happen! Focus on preparing well for the interview as you normally would. Demonstrate that you have the skills necessary to do the job, and the personality to match the company and its culture. A good tip from one of our Bradley Staffing recruiters is to secure some references from coworkers at the company from which you were dismissed. If you got along well with your colleagues, odds are they would not mind serving as a reference for you in your next endeavor. Having peers vouch for your work affords potential employers an alternate view of the situation where you are a favorable asset.

Nothing is Forever

It’s easy to get sidelined by a termination. If you care about what you do, and place a lot of weight on your employer’s assessment, being fired can feel like a major defeat. Just remember that you won’t have to continue to answer questions about it forever. Many sources recommend removing any experience from your resume that is 10 years or more in the past. Depending on how extensive your work experience is, you may not even have to talk about it after 5 years. The sooner you are able to demonstrate that the dismissal doesn’t define who you are, and is just something that happened to you in the course of your career journey, you’ll have a better shot of putting some distance between you and the whole unpleasant experience.

Obviously not having a termination on your record is preferred, but it is a reality that many candidates have been fired at some point in their lives. The most important thing to recruiters is that you are honest about your experience and all the circumstances surrounding it. If we know what led to the separation, we can make sure that we do not place you in a similar situation where you could have similar results. Above all, even if you honestly feel that you were wrongfully fired from a job, the interview is not the platform to express those feelings. Your best course of action is to move on, psychologically and literally, and project the skills and attributes that make you a smart hire.

Bradley Staffing Group is a full-service staffing firm based in Wayne, PA. We are committed to matching A-level talent with best-in-class businesses. Our knowledgeable and well-trained staff brings a combined 70+ years of staffing experience to our clients and candidates alike.


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