Explain Why You Were Fired and Still Get the Job

“If you accomplished so much there, why did you leave your previous job?”

If you don’t have an answer, this article is for you. All of us end up being let go at some point in our lives. Don’t feel shame about it. Instead, craft a diplomatic narrative-and be smart about what you disclose!

The truth may be that you were a victim of corporate restructuring, office politics, or incompetent leadership. All of those things fall outside of your control, but only one of them is a kosher interview answer.

And make no mistake: being fired will come up in your interview, so prepare your response with our guide. Take it from the New York recruiting firm.

Do Not Blame Anyone

Blaming anyone else for your termination is counter-productive. You will come off as bitter no matter how you phrase it. The best strategy is to avoid blame altogether-even the insinuation of it will send negative signals to the interviewer, immediately tainting your relationship with doubt.

It doesn’t matter if your boss was incompetent, if your coworkers took credit for your work, or if somebody backstabbed you. Do not mention one whiff of it. Being the best software engineer or legal counselor in town will not make up for the damage this inflicts on your image.

It’s an exercise in diplomacy and professional detachment. Interviewers want positive people who will champion their cultures and take full responsibility for their actions, so blaming anyone else for your termination tells people that you don’t take responsibility. The cold hard truth doesn’t factor into the equation here because the scenario calls for projecting a professional image.

Pointing out other people’s failures frames you as someone who shifts blame. That’s how blame truly undercuts your chances to land a job, so make this your guiding principle: do not blame anyone.

Besides, rising above blame to focus on the positive aspects of your professional transition will help the interviewer associate you with positive thoughts instead of negative ones. At the very least he or she will appreciate your great attitude-and that’s what employers want to see.

Highlight Changing Circumstances

Companies change all the time, and everyone has become familiar with the phrase “corporate restructuring.” These elements are beyond your control-and employers recognize that. Play up these unavoidable circumstances, and, if possible, even empathize with the leadership’s decisions to do so. You should consider empathizing with the decision on the surface because it shows that you not only understood the company deeply, but that you can control your emotional response to bad news. Who wouldn’t want an employee like that?

It’s as strategic as it is diplomatic: refusing to say anything bad about your past employers also builds trust with the interviewer by demonstrating your commitment to discretion. They won’t hire you if they expect to be bad-mouthed when you move on.

Draw the interviewer into your narrative further by ending this on a positive note. Mention that you valued your time there as well as how much you learned, even if that place had severe cultural or operational problems in reality.

Mention Others Let Go Too

Citing other examples of termination makes your case seem impersonal, which should be the goal. Mention specific names and roles that the company terminated alongside you-even if it’s just “Mike the Janitor.” This instantly removes any personal undertones from your narrative.

Name people who worked in your department whenever possible. If not, you might be able to say, “one or two people were cut from each department or team, and I just happened to be one of them.”

If you were the only one let go, reframe it as a departmental or budget issue. Always focus on divorcing your termination from performance issues. Cultural shifts happen with new leadership and hires, so you can also say that a new leader wanted to create a new legal counsel team from scratch. There are several directions to take.

Leaving on Good Terms

Say something nice about your past employers, even if you resent your old boss or team. Doing so demonstrates your ability to champion a positive professional culture. This makes your termination seem like an amicable split with no regrets-simply one of life’s unavoidable turns.

But what if you didn’t leave on good terms? There are several plays to make:

  • Use a friendly coworker for a reference
  • Label your departure as a cultural difference with new leadership or values
  • Say that the team’s circumstances changed and it was no longer a good fit

At the end of the day you need to bring together everything into a single positive narrative. That’s the key. Withhold all blame, focus on factors outside of your control, reframe everything as a positive experience, and roll onto the next part of the interview with your head held high.

Need help crafting your positive termination story? Get in touch with us at The Career Path Group to craft your positive narrative and find a company that deserves you in New York and the D.C. Metro area.

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