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Fired? How to Address Your Situation in a Job Interview

Getting fired isn’t just a momentarily painful experience. While the actual moment itself can be traumatizing and awkward, the emotional and professional fallout from one difficult day can haunt job seekers for years to come….But it doesn’t have to.

First, bear in mind that this event may feel isolating, but firings are far more common than most job seekers realize. So you aren’t alone. And second, the right attitude and a few savvy job search moves can keep this event from holding you back. In fact, this rough patch may help you move your career forward by giving you an opportunity to demonstrate resilience, positivity, and the ability to learn from your experiences. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you start looking for new positions and scheduling interviews.

1. If you’re asked why you left your last position, answer with one word, but choose that word carefully. Don’t launch into a response that begins like this: “Well, it’s a long story, one that begins with a manager who started working for my old company in 2007. From day one, the two of us had our differences…” Instead, try “I was laid-off”, “I was fired”, “I was dismissed”, etc. Choose the word you use carefully, since words have meaning and power. But keep your answer short.

2. If asked to provide detail, briefly discuss the hard facts surrounding what went wrong. As in “my product roll-out didn’t meet expectations”, or “I had creative disagreements with my manager.” But after this brief explanation, focus on what you learned from the experience and how it helped you grow as a professional and as a person.

3. By all means, avoid language that suggests reluctance to take responsibility for your mistakes. Don’t say anything that sounds like you’re blaming your former boss, a cranky client, the company, the weather, your parents, or anything else. Take full ownership, and leave no room for error on that point.

4. As the interview moves on from this incident, make sure all the final notes of the discussion are positive. Feel the vibe in the room carefully, and if the feeling isn’t positive, stay on the subject until it is. Even simple, nonverbal gestures can lift the mood, like a relaxed, forward leaning posture (instead of a tense, apologetic, guilty, or angry expression).

5. Forgive yourself. Process the incident on your own, or with your friends and family, as well as you can before you step into your interview. Employers don’t like baggage. And neither should you. Check your bags at the door– or better yet, work through them, get rid of them altogether, and move on.

For more on how to address a firing and move past it before it begins to undermine your confidence or damage your long term career, reach out to the staffing and employment experts at PSU.