The average person spends a third of their life working, and at some point in their career, there is a chance of being terminated. Whether it be because of something you do or don’t do – 49 out of the 50 US states are considered “at-will” states. From what I have noticed in my 7 years in staffing, people do not know what “at-will employment” means. So, let’s start there.
“At Will Employment”, means, that an employer has the right to terminate an employee’s employment at any time, for any reason, or no reason at all (of course except for illegal reasons – such as discrimination, retaliation, and disability.)
Some people get terminated for reasons such as productivity, insubordination, attitude, and attendance. For others, it can be as simple as a conflict of interest or concern about disclosing trade secrets (depending on your industry). The first interview you go to after being fired, can be intimidating – what to say and not say.
So, how should you go about telling someone in an interview or on a job application that you have been fired? Word of advice that I have coached candidates on for interviews, don’t use the word “fired” when explaining it. Soften the blow, and instead say terminated. Whatever you do, do not lie because somewhere, somehow, someone will find out and now you have falsified information.
You have now told the person interviewing you that you have been terminated… what now? Of course, they are going to dig into the whys… was it something that you could have controlled that should be concerning to them (i.e. attendance); or was it something that just didn’t work out. Be honest, but brief. Some situations like being fired for attendance can be buffered with the why’s – a family member was ill, and you were their caregiver which caused you to miss more work than allotted. Performance? Maybe it was your first sales job and sales aren’t your cup of tea, but you gave it your best shot.
Whatever the truth is, share it, but keep it short and sweet.
Keep it to the facts
Keep your emotions at home – this may be easier said than done since the wound might still be fresh. But it is imperative that you don’t speak negatively about that employer, your manager, your coworker, etc.
Being positive and focusing on the job you’re currently interviewing for, will keep the conversation on track and showcase your professionalism.
How have you grown from the experience
It’s hard to self-reflect and take responsibility for whatever happened. Of course, there are 2 sides to every story, but reflect and focus on what you learned from the feedback when you were terminated. If it was a situation regarding attendance, maybe you could have communicated better, or asked for help from a family member (trust me I’m the golden girl for carrying everything on my shoulders and not asking for help – but asking for help is huge.) We are all perfectly imperfect individuals – the hiring manager you are meeting with will love hearing what you’ve learned from the situation and how you continue to grow to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Don’t dread the question “why were you terminated.” It’s not meant to be a scary or intimidating question. If you aren’t sure how to answer it, practice how you would answer it in the mirror, with a friend, or family member.
We all make mistakes and getting fired could happen to anyone. Be truthful, leave your emotions out of it when you are discussing it, and embrace what you have learned from the situation and you will be on the right track to address the question.