Explaining a Termination in a Job Interview
If you have been fired or otherwise terminated from employment, one of the toughest interview questions to answer is why you were terminated. It’s difficult enough to talk about losing your job with family and friends. It’s even harder when you’re talking to someone you’d like to offer you a job.
What’s the best way to respond? How can you frame your departure from work in the best possible light? What should—and shouldn’t—you say about your tenure with your last employer ended? It can be a challenge to come up with good answers to questions regarding termination from a prior job. You don't want to jeopardize your chances of getting a new position because of how you answered questions about how your last job ended.
That said, because employers check references and your previous employer may disclose the reason you were terminated, it's important to be honest. If possible, talk to your previous employer so you're sure that the reason you give and the reason the company gives match up.
Options for Answering Questions
Respond and move on. The simplest approach for responding to questions about why you were terminated is to answer the inquiry directly and briefly so you can move on to other topics.
Bring it up before the interviewer does. Another option is to bring up the issue before you're asked about it. Mentioning that you were terminated prior to being asked can be a way to explain your departure on your terms and move on to the rest of the interview.
Keep it simple. Don't go into lengthy explanations and don't point blame. It's not a good idea to disparage your former company or boss. Don't blame yourself either. In fact, try your best to keep it positive by focusing on the fact that it was the job that wasn't a good fit. Don't give the interviewer any indication that you won't be a good employee if you're hired.
Avoid Answers That Disqualify You
Whenever possible, focus on issues which won't imply that you're not qualified for the job for which you are being considered. Avoid mentioning the word "fired"—you can avoid some of the stigma surrounding being fired if you don't come right out and say it. Terms like "let go," "the job wasn't the best fit" and even "termination" sound better than fired.
Mentioning a personal shortcoming which is not specifically related to the job you're interviewing for, while also referencing things you were successful at doing at your previous job, can be an effective way to respond to interview questions about why you lost your job.
For example, you might have been terminated because of limitations with your ability to create computer programs for a technology platform. However, perhaps you excelled at resolving client problems and teaching others to use the software. If you are now exploring training, technical support, or sales positions the company might still maintain an interest in you as a candidate despite your termination.
Sometimes an employee is terminated because of a skill deficiency which can be addressed through coursework or seminars. For example, you may have been cut loose because you were unable to create complex Excel macros, but have subsequently taken a course where you have mastered Excel and can document your current competency. You can mention how you addressed the issue during the interviews.
Downsizing and Restructuring
In some cases, a termination might be at least partially attributed to downsizing or the de-emphasis of a product or service by a previous employer which was related to the candidate's job function. Sometimes an organization loses ground to competitors and needs to eliminate staff while its product line is restructured. In this case, if you think you could excel at a function like sales support, or marketing with a more viable product line, for example, you might be able to pursue similar jobs with other more competitive employers in your industry.
Overcoming Termination for Cause
One of the hardest employment situations to handle, and to discuss in job interviews, is being terminated for cause. Do keep in mind that termination for cause should be a learning experience whereby you either reassess your strengths and weaknesses in order to move in a different job direction or to devise a plan to work on problem areas if you decide to stay the course in your current career field.
Once you get your next job, you'll have the opportunity to rebuild your career reputation and it will be much easier to job search next time around.