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How Employers View You Being Fired

By Harry Urschel

So... you were fired from your last job. Terminated for cause. Maybe it was your first time, or maybe not. It doesn't need to be a "terminal" situation that will prevent you from ever getting another job?

How does a potential employer view a termination and how can you best overcome any adverse impressions that might make?

If you're not sure whether you were fired/terminated or laid off/redundant, read Laid Off or Fired? for more information.

Here are some perspectives and strategies...

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The impact varies from one person to another.

There are certainly no viewpoints that are held universally on this. It's a very subjective matter.

There are some employers who will never consider someone who has been fired from a previous job. There are others where it has no negative impact at all. And there is every degree of perspective between those extremes. There are, however, things that you can consider and present that can improve your chances of overcoming any objections. 

Responses vary between these two extremes:

  • "You MUST be a bad apple."
    One perception an employer may have is that "good people never get fired." In today's world, that is certainly not the case. However, it is up to you to make the case of why your termination is an aberration and not the norm for you.
  • "Everyone has at least one bad experience in their career."
    Many employers understand that a bad set of circumstances is not necessarily an indication of future performance. In some fields, like radio hosts, it's an exception rather than the rule for someone to NOT have been fired. So, this kind of employer has the perspective of a termination as only a small piece of their entire evaluation process.

The reason you were fired matters!

Certainly the reason for the termination has bearing on the situation.

  • If someone was terminated for embezzlement, sexual harassment, violence, or other severe reasons, it will be hard to overcome.
  • If the termination was for under-performance, personality clashes, or some kind of disagreement, it is much easier to address.

Address the situation effectively.

Whether potential employers view a termination as a serious problem or not, they will certainly want to know whether it's likely to be different the next time around. They will want to know what has changed in your approach in case there is a next time.

If it can be shown that it was a unique set of circumstances, something you've learned from, or something else that has changed that would prevent the same outcome, the incident becomes less important in the overall selection process.

Your own attitude and perspective matter.

A potential employers' perception of your termination will largely depend on yours, and how you present it.

You will create a very negative impression and will likely not be considered further if:

  • You show bitterness.
  • You don't take appropriate responsibility.
  • You don't appear to have learned anything from the experience.
  • You “bash” your previous employer.

If, however, you acknowledge your role in the circumstances, you view it as a learning experience, and you can articulate how you would do things differently the next time, it can become a non-issue and perhaps even enhance their opinion of you.

Personal responsibility is attractive.

Certainly many people end up being terminated from a position due to little or no fault of their own. Things happen and, at times, someone really is a victim.

However, presenting your termination as something that was not your fault, even if true, will be received with skepticism.

Someone who takes appropriate ownership of their fate, will always be more highly regarded than someone who tries to point fingers elsewhere. Unfortunately, taking personal responsibility is relatively rare, so when someone does take ownership, it's noteworthy and attractive.

Self-Improvement is appealing and important.

People make mistakes. Learning from mistakes is key.

Employers don't expect to hire people that have never made mistakes. They do expect a potential employee to have learned from their mistakes and make different decisions the next time.

Someone who can articulate the lessons they learned - with insight into how they have grown in the process - is a potentially great employee.

Brevity is a virtue.

Although all of this could make for a long dissertation in an interview, it is far better to keep the explanation short and direct.

The longer you talk, the more questions it raises, and the greater the likelihood that you will say something that will raise red flags.

Knowing that the subject will arise, it's critical that you create your answer in advance, and practice it until it flows easily and sounds natural. While key points are important, including a great deal of detail will likely do more harm than good.

Hone your explanation to only give the necessary information without providing too much detail.

What does a brief, but effective, explanation look like?

As an example, for someone who may have been terminated for underperformance, an effective answer to the question of why they were terminated might be...

I was let go for not meeting the expectations of someone in my position. I had struggled with completing the requirements of the role. I realize I should have gotten help - and the additional training I needed - sooner.

It was a mistake I made that I certainly learned from and won't make again.

Since the position ended, I have enrolled in continuing education courses to gain the extra skills I'll need to be as successful as I can in my next role.

I also understand how important it is to communicate effectively with my manager and be up front about what I'm doing well and where I struggle.

While it's not pleasant to have been let go, it was something that helped me reevaluate how I handled my work and will make me a better performer in the future.

Can you tell me what you would look for in the first 90 days to determine if someone is successful in the role, or not?

The answer takes less than a minute to articulate, without going into too much detail. In these examples, the job seekers takes appropriate responsibility without any bitterness or deflecting blame, accomplishing 3 things:

  1. It shows that they've learned from the incident and are doing something so that it doesn't happen again.
  2. It looks forward to the future.
  3. It asks a question to move the conversation in a different direction.

Bottom Line

Taking an employers' perspective into account when pursuing a position after being fired can help you overcome the circumstances and come out on top!

More on the Transition from Fired-to-Hired:


About the author...

Harry Urschel has over 25 years experience as an independent recruiter in Minnesota. He currently operates as e-Executives, writes a blog for Job Seekers called The Wise Job Search, and can be found on Twitter as @eExecutives and on Google +. He can be contacted by email at: harry@eexecutives.net