I have been fired more than once in my life. Little did I know at the time that those experiences would help make me a more understanding, empathetic and wise career consultant in my 5th incarnation.
While on a job interview after my last firing the interviewer knew I had been ‘let go.’ He was a wonderful person, CEO and interviewer. He asked me, “is there anything we should do or should know about so as to prevent a repeat of the occurrence that happened at xyz company?” I was totally blown away. What a gracious and polite way to make an uncomfortable situation manageable!
From a Job Seekers Perspective
Unfortunately, most interviewers are not that tactful and gracious. So what to do? Dr. Jack Muskat is a Toronto based organizational psychologist who suggests that candidates who have been fired for such things as misconduct, mental health flair ups or poor management /communication skills, must be non defensive and open in this interview.
Know your short comings. Know what you excel at and be prepared to blow your horn, but also know your limitations. If you can only manage certain people, let it be known. If you are not a detail person, more of a visionary, be solution focused and suggest, “Pair me with a detailed person in a team and we will exceed expectations.”
When asked why you were fired explain the situation, but don’t over explain. Put a positive spin on it by explaining what you learned from the situation and how you would handle a similar situation going forward. Have an answer for everything Dr. Muskat advises.
If employment gaps or time lines are the issue you may need to explain why you were only at a company for a short period of time. Write out and practice your reply. Outline the problems you encountered and the obstacles to getting them solved. Don’t make excuses for yourself, just talk about the situation and how in a perfect world you would fix things.
You need a company that will support your fears and is a healthy work environment that allows you to excel and flourish. Know what those factors are so you can define them and speak to them. Be careful not to get caught up in needing a job and ignore red flags of toxic or inappropriate work environments where you will repeat what you just left. Tell the interviewer the type of boss you work best under and what motivates and inspires you to succeed. You are looking for colleagues who are complimentary to your style, personality and skills.
Be prepared to speak to everything on your resume with strong stories to validate your skills and knowledge.
From the Employer’s Perspective
Whether a candidate is asked the question or not, an interviewer wants to know why someone was fired? Was it poor fit, low numbers, mistreated staff, sloppy work, unprofessional, what is the real reason?
Employers need to know weaknesses so they can ascertain if they can live with and manage these shortcomings so you don’t fail again. They know everyone is flawed and that no one is perfect so expecting perfection would be a mistake on their part, yet commonly assumed.
Dr. Muskat tells us that good interviewers will probe carefully to understand what risks the interviewee might present and what gotta have’s both parties need for the relationship to work.
A hiring manager might want to know what you look like when you are angry and how your show you are pleased. When someone enters your office when you are really busy, how might they expect you to react? If you are asked about failures be sure to have one, professional or personal. Don’t dwell on the explanation but be sure to highlight the learnings you gleaned from the mistake or failure.
Questions could include the whereabouts of the staff who reported to you or who you worked with over the years. Are they promoted? What would they say about you?
At the end of the day, the employer needs to see that you are truly remorseful for any wrong doings, that you have learned from your mistakes and are you willing to change.
Will an employer hire someone who has been fired? Dr. Muskat says it depends on what brought them down and what an employer is prepared to do to keep them on the straight and narrow.
Colleen Clarke, Your Resumé Pro