Many of us fondly remember the humorous “You about to lose your job” video that went viral last year. When actually hit with a job loss, the reality isn’t quite as funny when it times to pack that cardboard box and hit the door. While a lay off or a firing can hit hard, it is a scenario that a whopping 40% of Americans face at least once in their lives. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Black unemployment rate of 7.9 % is nearly double that of the White unemployment rate of 4.2%, highlighting disparities faced by Black professionals. When one door closes, another opens as they say, so gearing up to strategize your redirection with optimism is needed to reach your goals.
The dreaded inquiry about past employment during a job interview can be anxiety ridden for those who were fired from their last position. While this can be an uncomfortable question to answer, you can do so in a way that will demonstrate your professionalism and integrity. Evaluating different types of responses can help you prepare one that best fits your situation.
Framing your response surrounding the five below principles will give you the foundation to be prepared for any interview question.
- Be honest.
- Keep it simple.
- Remain positive.
- Demonstrate personal growth.
- Promote your skills and experience.
1. Be honest
Always be honest about why you were terminated from a previous position. Because people are let go for a variety of different reasons, you should try to give the potential employer the most objective explanation that you can. Calmly explain the circumstances for why you were fired to demonstrate maturity.
2. Keep it simple
While an employer wants to understand the circumstances behind your termination, it’s important to present the basic facts and keep your explanation as simple and brief as possible. Don’t feel obligated to give details about what led to being fired unless necessary.
3. Remain positive
It’s important to remain calm and positive and avoid saying anything negative about your previous employer. Because the hiring manager is evaluating whether you will be a positive addition to the team, be mindful of how you start and end the conversation.
4. Demonstrate personal growth
Once you have explained the basic circumstances behind your termination, use them to demonstrate what you have learned, both about your career and who you are as a person. Explain to the potential employer what you would have done differently, given the opportunity to revisit that moment. Accept responsibility for any mistakes you made. Describe any steps you’ve taken to prevent it from happening again.
5. Promote your skills and experience
Practice gracefully changing the topic of discussion to the value you have to offer a company. This helps you keep the conversation about your termination as brief as possible, and lets you transition to discussing your skills, experience and the open position.
Why Were you Fired? Sample Questions
“Unfortunately, my skills just weren’t a good match for my previous employer’s needs. When I was originally hired, they thought that they needed someone with my skill set. However, after being hired, we realized they needed someone with a background in that specific industry. I just didn’t have the background they needed to successfully do the job. After a year, we decided it was best to part ways.”
This is a great response because it emphasizes that the candidate wasn’t so much fired but the termination was more of a mutual agreement that it wasn’t a great fit. This answer acknowledges the problem but avoids placing blame on anyone. It highlights the candidate’s own professionalism and maturity.
Laid off due to company restructure
“My job was actually outsourced to another country. While my supervisor was happy with the work that I did for the company, they ultimately decided it was more cost-effective for the company to move the work overseas.”
This is a great response because while the candidate was laid off, they made it clear that it had nothing to do with their own performance.
Job wasn’t a good fit
“I was really in need of a job and took the position but after really evaluating the position it wasn’t the best fit for me. After about a month, it was apparent that the manager and I had completely different styles. I also like to ask questions about the responsibilities and management style to expect. When I researched your company, I noticed that you promote a collaborative work environment, which I think I would thrive in.”
An employer will understand that a candidate took a job and discovered that it wasn’t the right fit. What’s great about this response is that it shows the candidate learned what they want from a working environment and what type of management style they prefer. They also transition the interview into a discussion about the work environment, making this response especially effective.