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After Being Fired, Answer the Job Interview Question: Why Did You Leave Your Job?

By Beth Colley

Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief for Vogue Magazine, is quoted in Alastair Campbell’s book, Winners: And How They Succeed stating,

"Everyone should get fired at least once in their career."

Surprisingly,being fired or terminated from a job is not unusual for many of us.

Being Fired Is Not Uncommon

In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Labor JOLTS report, an average of 55,318 people were laid off or fired each day, in 2014, including weekends and holidays. The total for the year was 20,191,070.

Since most of us (but not all of us) in the USA are employees "at will," we can be fired for any reason -- or no reason at all -- by our employers.

So, if you’ve been terminated or fired, you’re in good company. But that doesn’t make answering the question, "Why did you leave your last job?" any easier.

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How to Answer the Job Interview Question When You've Been Fired

It’s best to talk about the situation positively as a learning experience.

Show That You Learned from the Experience

If your departure was somewhat amicable due to the position not being a good fit, a lack of communication over job responsibilities, or failure to recognize warning signs during the interview process, it’s best to talk about it from a "sadder but wiser" perspective.

"Sadder but wiser" is also a good approach when the departure wasn't particularly amicable.

When possible, sandwich your response between two positive statements. Don't dwell on the experience. Answer the question, briefly and positively (examples below), and move on.

Examples of Answers to the Question

A few answers that you can provide for specific situations include:

(1) Philosophical difference or bad fit.

(Positive) "When I was originally hired as the [job title], the description and expectations of the job were very different from the job that I actually ended up doing. It was apparent from the start that there were some communication problems and philosophical differences, and I struggled early on.

(Negative) "My supervisor and I realized that it wasn’t the right fit for either one of us, and fortunately it was a cordial departure.

(Positive) "Since then, I’ve done some volunteer work, clarified my own professional goals and expectations, and worked on improving my communication skills."

(2) Disorganized work environment

(Positive) "I’m able to work independently with little supervision, and I work best in an environment when I understand what the expectations are. Even if the routine changes, if you tell me what I need to do differently, I’m happy to oblige.

(Negative) "The nature of the work I was doing in my last position didn’t suit my strengths. There was little direction from the supervisor, tasks were not thoroughly explained, and it seemed like the place was in a constant state of flux, so things didn’t go well.

(Positive) "What I’ve learned from that experience is to try to ask more questions, clarify the expectations, make sure things are in writing, and try to make sure that I have the information I need in order to do a good job."

(3) Hostile work environment

(Positive) "I work best in a team environment, and am accustomed to being in an environment where everyone supports and encourages one another."

(Negative) "I realized very quickly after I started working for my last employer that there was a significant amount of internal conflict within the organization and a high percentage of turnovers.

(Positive) "I performed the best that I possibly could in that situation, and many of the employees complimented me on my work ethic and organizational skills, but in the end, it was just too difficult of an environment to overcome."

(4) Commission sales role

(Positive) "I wanted to give sales a try because I feel that it really suits my personality. I’m an outgoing person who can easily start conversations, make connections with people, and I have never meet a stranger.

(Negative) "This is a highly competitive industry and the employer and I underestimated the amount of support I would need. It took me a little longer than anticipated to build momentum and generate leads, and I just wasn’t able to make up the deficit of getting off to such a slow start.

(Positive) "I received some great sales training and advice, learned a lot of good strategies, and am thankful for that experience. However, my boss and I both realized that I would be able to perform better in a different kind of sales or business development structure."

Stay Positive

As you prepare for your interview after you’ve been terminated, do your best to stay positive. Remember all the good things you have accomplished in your career and life.

Don’t beat yourself up or adopt the mind-set of nobody-will-hire-me because you’ve been fired.

Keep in mind, that most everyone you talk to has likely been terminated at least once in his/her career, or if he/she hasn’t been terminated, they know several good people who have been terminated. Being fired is a "speed bump" in your career that has happened to literally millions of people who have gone on to have great careers.

The main thing to remember is no matter how bad the situation was, don’t say anything blatantly negative about the employer. No trash talk in a job interview or networking situation.

Chalk your termination up to it being a learning experience, and take pride in the fact that you persevered through a challenging situation and did your best for as long as you possibly could.

More on the Transition from Fired-to-Hired:

For more about handling behavioral interviews, panel interviews, and telephone interviews, as well as preparing for job interviews, see the article list on the right.


About the author...

Beth Colley CEO/owner of Chesapeake Career Management Services has guided over 1,200 job seekers to career success since joining the careers industry in January of 2000. She is a Certified Master Resume Writer, a Certified Career Management Coach, and a Certified Brain Based Success Coach and an active member of Career Directors International, The National Resume Writers Association, and Career Thought Leaders.


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