"Have you ever been fired?"
If you have ever been fired from a job, this is probably the question you dread most of all during an interview. You don't want to ruin your chances at the new job, and you don't want to make it sound as though you are a less-than-desirable employee. Plus, such low points usually bring up feelings of shame or embarrassment.
When you're asked the question, don't lie. There's no point in saying that you left voluntarily or that you weren't challenged in the position. It's so easy for a prospective employer to find out why you left a job, so if you're being asked – assume that they already know.
So, what should you do?
First, before you start interviewing for a new job, you need to come up with a cohesive story that briefly explains what happened. Your story should also include what you learned from the experience without talking bad about a previous employer or co-worker. It sounds like a tough job, but it's actually fairly easy.
First, write down what happened, including all of the little details. Since no one will see this aside from you, feel free to let yourself vent all over the page. Then, take a deep breath and look at the situation from the company's perspective. Notice where your actions made things worse or where you could have done things differently.
Once you've gone over everything, you'll probably see the exact reason that you were fired. Maybe it was because you weren't able to get along with your boss or had been late to work too many times. Whatever the reason, write it down. For example, in my case, I was fired because of poor attendance. The company I worked for had a brutal attendance policy and after three unexcused absences employees were fired. After working for the company for several years, I found myself in the midst of a difficult separation and divorce. My daughter struggled with the changes in our lives and began having panic attacks at school. Often, the school nurse would call me at work, telling me to come pick up my child because she was having trouble breathing. I was overwhelmed and struggling myself and while there was a process to excuse qualifying absences, the process involved a great deal of red tape and sending papers back and forth to a third-party company. Even though I thought that I had sent all the necessary papers, I ended up missing the deadlines on three absences. And I was fired.
The only thing that matters here is poor attendance – the reasons don't matter to a new employer.
Once you have your reason, consider what you've done to improve your skills in order to make sure that you won't have the same issues with a new employer. In my case, since then I have learned to ask for help when I need it and I've learned some effective time management skills.
Now that you have a reason for your termination and what you've learned for it, it's time to write out your answer. The key here is to put a positive spin on the situation and show it as an experience that helped you grow and become a better employee. For example, my answer would be: “I was fired from XYZ company for poor attendance. I went through an extremely difficult time in my personal life and it spilled over into my professional one. Since then, I've learned better time management strategies and have worked to maintain a more effective work-life balance.”
It's short, sweet and tells a prospective employer that I admit to my past mistakes and that I've learned from them. The main thing about crafting your answer is to take as much blame as possible. It's not necessary for me to explain that the absences weren't always my fault or that the company had unrealistic expectations for attendance. In an interview, any sort of negativity only serves to make you look bad – so don't fall into the trap, even though it may be tempting.
By planning your answer before it comes up, you'll be able to talk about the experience professionally and without emotion, which allows the hiring manager to see that you've put it behind you.
How do you answer this questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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