A: There are only two ways to go with this: Tell the truth or try to talk your way around a direct answer. Neither is a perfect solution, but career experts agree: You'll want to take the high road and tell the recruiter or prospective employer the truth, albeit without too much detail unless you are pressed to disclose more information than basic facts.
Of course, part of telling the truth is based on principle, but also, from a practical standpoint, it is the safest way to go, says Julie Goldberg Preng, managing director of Korn/Ferry International's Legal Center of Expertise. "No one believes in this economy that anyone would leave a job because they just didn't like it," she says, adding that she would be suspect of such a person. If you make up a story, it raises all kinds of questions, and the need for you to lie would grow exponentially.
While it might seem difficult to tell the truth, doing so could pay big dividends in the long run, says Ms. Goldberg Preng, especially if you follow it up with a brief explanation and a firm statement that it will never happen again. "Any employer would have a lot more respect for that," she says.
What employers and recruiters wouldn't have any respect for is finding out later, from a reference or someone else, that you didn't tell the truth. You'd be branded a "liar" and someone they could "never trust," says Ms. Goldberg Preng. Your opportunity to work with that company or recruiting firm would be lost for good.
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Internet misuse is not as uncommon a reason for firing as you might think; 26% of organizations have terminated an employee for it this year, and another 26% for email policy violations, according to the 2009 Electronic Business Communication Policies & Procedures Survey, co-sponsored by the American Management Association and the ePolicy Institute.
Once you are ready to explain what happened, you should practice your answer repeatedly, says Frances Bolles Haynes, co-author of "The 101 Toughest Interview Questions...and Answers That Win the Job!" This is especially important if you plan to share what you have learned from the experience. "The only way you can possibly be ready for this kind of answer is to work out what you will say ahead of time and practice it over and over again so you don't get stuck and start to ramble, saying things you will regret," says Ms. Bolles Haynes. "Practice and practice and practice."
In addition, you'll want to be prepared to answer follow-up questions from the recruiter or prospective employer will most likely have. These could include anything from "Why did you think it was OK to use company time for personal reasons?" to "How do I know you won't do this to me if I hire you?" says Ms. Bolles Haynes. In addition, there is a good chance you'll be pressed for some details on what happened.
In your question, you don't specify what happened. So, it is difficult to guide you on particular answers for the questions you might be asked. If your use included surfing pornography sites on company time, this could be an example of something you'd rather not disclose. If that is the case, you can say something along the lines of: "I'd rather not discuss it. It's not a happy time in my life," says Ms. Goldberg Preng. But this is best left as a last resort -- and only if you are pressed for details.
What's done is done. It's important to make sure that you're ready to move on, says Davia Temin, president and chief executive of Temin & Co., a New York marketing firm. "Do you understand what you did wrong and can you modify your behavior to never do it again?" she asks. "Make sure you're not addicted in some way – if you are, get help – and that you have fully internalized the lesson. If not, the situation will only repeat itself, and that could be a career killer."