Dreaded Interview Questions - Being Fired

Of dreaded interview questions, being fired and wondering how to answer a question about why you left your last job makes many job candidates nervous.

It doesn't matter whether you were fired from your last job rightfully, or not. It doesn't matter because somehow, you have to find the right way to answer this job interview question: Why did you leave your last job? This question is dreaded by everyone who has ever been laid off or fired. The good news is that there are ways to handle this question - and still look good in the eyes of the prospective employer. Find out how to answer that question so your worst fear (no one will hire me because I've been fired!) doesn't come true. This article has been edited and adapted to our audience's needs. It is provided by guest author Judi Perkins.

There are many interview questions that frighten job seekers. "What is your salary requirement?" is a big one. "Why do you want to work for our company?" is another. Of course, the biggest one, "Why did you leave your last job?" can leave you floundering in your seat if you were fired and don't know how to answer. And, the thing is, most people don't know how to answer that question!

After they've stumbled through a few answers - trying in vain to phrase it in an acceptable way — they find themselves stressed and not providing the right information. No wonder they don't get hired.

The first thing they think (after not getting a call back for a second interview, is that they failed miserably because they were fired from their last job. Except that isn't what's really happening. The problem is not that they were fired, but that they didn't answer that job interview question appropriately.

We don't stay at a job our entire lives like most of our grandparents did. Not only is it common to change jobs, some people believe it is the best way to leverage career opportunities and higher salaries. While most of the changes may be of your own volition, odds are a few will involve being fired or laid-off. Companies are bought out, merge, and consolidate, which means inevitably there's a duplication of staff. It can be as simple as the new president wanting to bring in his own team. He probably didn't even look at your capabilities. He simply decided his team was better.

These departures aren't as difficult to explain. You can say:

  • "Our company was purchased and the entire department was eliminated." (It's not me; a bunch of us were asked to leave.) Safety in numbers.
  • "The new president was brought in from outside the company. He wanted to bring in his own guy. I was given notice." (It's not me; the president didn't even take the time to find out if I was good at what I do.) A prospective company isn't likely to hold something against you that's so prevelent.
  • "The company was losing money and downsized." (It's not me; if the company had been profitable, I'd still be there!)

The common thread is, "It's not me." Therefore, I am not flawed, unwanted, performing poorly, or any other reason you can think up or worry about. Of course, these types of partings, while they seem impersonal, can still have a detrimental effect on YOU.

Firing isn't always about the individual, even though that's who is impacted the most. Sometimes it's about the boss - especially bosses with issues. A firing could be the result of having different philosophies. For instance, the company may value those who work weekends, nights and holidays. You prefer to balance your work and family life.

Unfortunately, that doesn't change the end result. Once you're fired, you can't change the circumstances. But you can control how you respond to them. While departmental or company-wide layoffs are easier to explain, they can also cause damage. You wonder, "If I'd been really good, wouldn't they have found another spot for me?" In addition, you're in an emotionally insecure place which is sometimes difficult to come to terms with.

Most importantly, detach yourself from the event and honestly examine what happened. That's the only way you're going to gain insight and begin adjusting your thoughts and perspective. There are hundreds of reasons for dismissal, so no pat answer will suffice. The unequivocal rule is to tell the truth.

So when you're asked why you left - tell them you were fired. Forthright brevity is best. It's all in how you phrase it. The trick is a shift in perspective (your perspective), which is easier when you've purged the defensiveness and shame.



Don't give a long, rambling story or blame the company, your boss, or anyone else. Were you - even partially - at fault? Take responsibility. Did you learn from the experience? Say so. There are philosophical differences, chemistry problems, tough spots, and bosses who are difficult and self-absorbed. Just be careful how you word things.

The goal is to be honest about why the firing took place and how you are going to handle it. The great thing is that you can move on.

The first step, as trite as it sounds, is to look at it as a blessing. It may take some time to see, but no matter how bad it looks or feels, something good will come of it. Maybe it will be a better job, a chance to grow, or the realization that you hated your career - who knows?

But if you're too busy being angry and defensive, not only will you miss the chance to capitalize on the positive outcome, but you'll also keep experiencing negative consequences. When you're in a victimized frame of mind, you'll miss recognizing an opportunity and continue to perpetuate your unemployment.

Let's examine two answers to the question: "Why did you leave your last job?"

HOLDING-ON: I don't know. I was doing my job. Everyone liked me. They always came to me for advice instead of our boss. When the other manager left, they promoted the assistant. She's maybe about 28. I guess they thought she'd be good just because she'd been there a long time, but she really was a shrew. I think she hated me. She was always talking down to me. One time she took credit for one of my projects. She's the one that should have left! I'm glad to be out of there.

OBJECTIVE: I was fired, actually. The assistant manager was promoted to manager because she had seniority and she was very good at her job. Unfortunately, she was young and perhaps she thought respect was automatically accorded instead of earned, because when everyone else began coming to me instead of her, it didn't seem to sit well with her. Despite that I excelled in my responsibilities and met my goals, she let me go. I'm sorry I had to leave the company. I learned a lot there.

Can you spot the differences in how this job interview question was answered? As the interviewer, what would you think?

You must work out a comfortable response. Rewrite it, rephrase it, and test it. Be able to say it calmly and sincerely. If you notice hesitation or discomfort, your words, your attitude (or possibly both) need adjustment. There is no good or bad. There's only perspective, which is your choice. Firing is considered "bad," but what's bad about being fired when a boss has issues? What's bad about protecting a customer or not compromising your ethics? What's bad about being asked to leave because the position description changed and doesn't fit your job preferences or skills?

When you are comfortable with what happened, you'll be comfortable with your response, and it will be much easier to look someone in the eye while you answer this kind of job interview question.

Judi Perkins has been a search consultant for 25 years in both the contingency and retained market, with a short stint in the temporary and local permanent placement markets. She has owned her own firm and successfully assisted numerous repeat clients in hiring all levels of management. She is a Career Expert and Forum Moderator with http://www.CareerCube.net. To sign up for her newsletter and learn thousands of powerful concepts to find your perfect job go tohttp://www.findtheperfectjob.com.

Additional Job Interview Q&A Info

For even more information about job interview questions and how to answer them, consider the "Job Interview Success System."

One of the 5 key components of this system is a 31-page report entitled "How to Give Job-Winning Answers to Interview Questions." In addition to giving more tips and strategies on general answering techniques, it lists 45 of the easiest, toughest, silliest and most common job interview questions as well as how to respond to them.

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