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This is a toughy! If you’ve ever been fired from a job, you know that during job interviews you will be asked exactly why you are no longer with such and such company. If you are not prepared with an answer, explaining that you were terminated and why you were fired can be tricky at best and could even cost you the job if you fumble. This is a question that we are frequently asked by clients of our resume writing firm. In fact, just last week it came up again, prompting me to do some research to make certain I was providing up-to-date advice.
Of course, as I’ve always told the clients of our resume writing firm, never, never, never mention your firing in your resume or cover letters. Resumes are marketing documents, and as such, should focus on the positives. Trying to explain in a resume or cover letter why you were terminated at a company, even if you have a good explanation, will simply leave the impression that you are being defensive and will have the effect of calling attention to negatives, eliminating your chances of even getting a foot in the door for an interview.
But that leaves the interview. How can you explain in an interview why you were fired?
Some of the best advice I have read is from Allison Green, who wrote in a US News & World Report blog post about the importance of looking at the termination objectively, taking responsibility for your role in the firing, and then identifying what you learned from the situation. From this, you will formulate your answer to the inevitable interview question about why you were fired.
Joyce Lain Kennedy goes a step further and actually provides some sample answers to the “Why were you fired?” interview question.
Both articles stress the importance of formulating and practicing, practicing, practicing your answer before the big day. It is really important that you are comfortable with the answer you are providing, that you sound genuine and absolutely credible (and you will if you follow the other advice–to always be honest!), and that you sound completely natural and calm as you discuss the situation–not angry or bitter.
Finally, it may also be wise to consider hiring a reference checking firm like Allison & Taylor. A firm like this will actually call your references and then report back to you on what your references are saying about you. This report will have obvious value as you prepare for interviews, as you’ll go armed with knowledge about what your former employers will say about you when asked. You can also use the reference checking firm to check your other references. Especially if you are dealing with a termination, you’ll want other references–for example, former colleagues, customers, and employees–who will give you a positive reference that will counter any negative impressions.