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How to Explain Being Fired (on an interview)

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Getting fired can happen to anyone. People are fired due to performance issues and failure to meet their manager’s expectations (reasonable or unreasonable).

However, in many cases, being terminated has nothing to do with you and your work. In today’s business world, layoffs and “job reductions” are standard operating procedure. You can lose your job due to downsizing, restructuring, a merger or acquisition, or any of a long list of corporate changes that are not related to your performance.

Whatever the reason for your termination, rest assured that you CAN bounce back from being fired. You may even be able to look back on your firing as a learning experience someday.

However, even in the heat of the moment after hearing “You’re fired!” (or “You’re laid off!”), you must try to put your emotions aside and think about the practical steps to take to ensure a smooth transition to your next position.

Negotiate Severance Package

Before you sign any paperwork, review it with your financial advisor, accountant, or even an attorney. A severance package doesn’t only concern money. Benefits and perks are on the line as well. Medical and dental coverage is negotiable.

Standard COBRA medical coverage, which allows you to stay on your former employer’s health plan while you pay the premium, is available for a maximum of eighteen months for most people.

Depending on the circumstances of your dismissal, you may be able to negotiate for your employer to pay a portion of your medical and dental coverage for a certain period of time. Other potential negotiating points may include the vesting of your 401k, pension plan, or stock options.

Confirm that you will be paid for any unused vacation and personal days, and don’t forget to inquire about any outstanding bonuses and commissions, if applicable.

Unemployment Insurance

If you lost your job through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for unemployment insurance benefits. Visit your state’s Department of Labor website for more information about how to apply for and collect unemployment while you’re looking for your next job.

Job Search

You may want to take a few days to yourself before beginning your job search. It’s natural to feel emotional after losing your job. If you were fired unfairly, you’re likely to feel angry, hurt, and confused. However, even if you weren’t crazy about your previous job and are somewhat relieved about moving on, emotions are part of any major life transition.

In any case, you probably need at least a few days to process the end of the previous chapter in you career and develop a strategy for moving forward. Now is the time to vent to a few select friends or family members and get all of that trash talking out of your system before you start interviewing.

Now is also a good time to remind yourself of your skills, strengths, and accomplishments — especially if your ego took a beating when you were let go. Start work on updating your resume by making an inventory of all of your top strengths and career achievements. This process will also remind you of your capabilities and successes and help you rebuild your confidence.

Think about how you want to focus your job search. Will you seek a position similar to the one you just left or is it time to explore new options? To get a sense of who’s hiring and what type of jobs are available, talk to some recruiters and spend some time researching with job search engines like Indeed.com and SimplyHired.com, as well as job boards like Monster.com, CareerBuilder.com, Dice.com, and LinkedIn.com.

Once you have a shiny, updated resume and a clear sense of your ideal next job, it’s time to reach out to your broader network (former co-workers, clients, friends, and family) and let them know that you are seeking employment and how they can help. You’ll find most will be eager to pass along job leads and make introductions if they know what you’re looking for.

Explaining Why You Left Your Last Position

You WILL be asked why you left your previous position during your job interviews. If you were fired from your last job, it’s important for you to take the time to craft an honest but positive response to this question.

Don’t fall into the trap of criticizing your previous employer. Even if the company was at fault, saying so will make you look disloyal and negative. Keep your response brief and to the point. You don’t need to provide all of the ugly details. Remember that your interviewer is looking for red flags — they will be paying close attention to any information that portrays you as unprofessional, unmotivated, or dishonest.

If you were let go for reasons unrelated to performance, make that very clear. These days, most candidates have survived a layoff or two. Interviewers won’t look down on you for being let go as a result of downsizing or reorganization — especially if you weren’t the only one affected.

If you were fired for performance reasons, mention any extenuating circumstances without placing the blame on others. For example, tell them if the job requirements or expectations changed after you were hired — perhaps due to new management, budget cut-backs, or a shift in company or department strategy.

Whatever the reason for your departure, find a way to highlight lessons learned from the experience. If you were fired, take every opportunity to assure the interviewer that it was an isolated incident and that you would not be a risky hire.

It will feel awkward to talk about these issues in a job interview. That’s why it’s critical to prepare and practice in advance. Otherwise, you can come across as defensive and nervous even if you have nothing to be embarrassed about.

Follow these steps and it will be much easier to put the ugliness of “You’re fired” behind you and find a new opportunity that will make better use of your skills and experience. Focus on the future and don’t look back!

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Written by

Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

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