Q: I was fired from my last job. How do I explain this in a job interview without losing my chance at the job?
A: First, let's talk about what you mean when you say, "I got fired." In today's struggling economy, your company may decide to terminate you because of a merger, or due to cost cuts – both these situations are beyond your control, and have little to do with your job performance. Recruiters are aware of the current job market horrors, and will rarely hold a layoff against you. In fact, many of your interviewers probably have found themselves in the same position.
A genuine firing, on the other hand, occurs when an individual has done something illegal or unethical, is clearly falling below a job's requirements or can't get along with colleagues, especially those in management. While explaining your termination under these circumstances can be awkward, it's still possible to do so in a way that won't hurt your chances in a job interview.
Unless you've done something truly awful, chances are your former employer will want to facilitate your moving quickly into a new position. To make this easier, try to work with HR to come up with a mutually agreeable reason for your leaving. This will help you get on with your life and your job search, since you won't have to worry about getting a poor recommendation. Plus, if an interviewer asks you why you left your last job, this way you'll have a good answer ready to go.
Whatever you say, however, try to keep it short and move on to the next subject. A long, excruciating explanation will focus your interviewer's attention on a subject you don't want to emphasize. If you're struggling to find the right way to explain a firing, try using some of following reasons – all sound truthful, and won't make you look defensive:
- "I left XYZ company as part of a company-wide downsizing which eliminated my department."
- "My division was acquired and the new CEO wanted to bring in his own team."
- "My position was realigned. Both my manager and I realized my job no longer matched my skills or interests."
- "I had done what I set out to and was ready for a new challenge."
A word of warning: never make disparaging remarks about your former company or management. It's only human for a potential boss to identify more with them than you. Even during hard times, no one likes a complainer.