How to tell an interviewer you were fired

Not everyone leaves a job with a giant novelty card and a gift voucher, and if you depart under a cloud the question of how to explain it to future job interviewers is a thorny one.

But whether it was a simple personality clash with a superior or something more serious like misconduct, the only way to deal with it is head on, according to career and interview coach Leah Lambart from Relaunch Me.

“People need to be upfront when handling that situation,” she says. “It’s very easy for employers and recruiters to research your past, so it’s much better to be upfront and let them know what occurred, and it’s really important to show them that you’ve learned from that experience.”

While Leah says admitting to misconduct will be a red flag for some employers, it’s still the best option.

Career and interview coach Leah Lambart.

“It’s a very tricky thing to negotiate and I’m sure some employers would then blacklist the candidate but you’re better off being upfront rather than it being uncovered down the track, That’s much worse,” she says.

“Lots of people would say ‘say nothing’, but at the end of the day, who wants to live their life looking over their shoulder, worrying about whether they’re going to bump into someone at a barbecue who knows what happened.”

She advises job candidates to prepare a brief explanation and rehearse saying it.

“If you have been fired or left for reasons you feel uncomfortable about I would have a leaving statement – practice explaining why you left that role over and over again so you feel comfortable and confident,” she says.

Don’t dwell on the gory details, and try to avoid blunt language like ‘I was fired’ or ‘terminated’. Instead try and choose more neutral terms. For example, “we decided the role or company wasn’t a right fit for me” or “unfortunately the role didn’t work out because we had different expectations”.

And don’t be tempted to bad-mouth a previous employer, Leah says.

In some instances, it’s even possible to spin a difficult situation into a positive one.

“If you’ve left a company where the culture is toxic, you should focus on what you need from a culture,” Leah says.

“I’m looking for a culture that’s collaborative and innovative. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case at my previous job and I’ve applied here because I’ve heard great things’.”

Most recruiters will ask a candidate why they left a previous job. But if they don’t, and there isn’t an appropriate time to bring up information that’s difficult to share, Leah suggests contacting the interviewer shortly afterwards to explain the circumstances privately.

While being fired for misconduct is obviously the trickiest situation to explain, there are many other reasons a person might be fired that is not their fault.

Leah says if someone is let go during their probationary period for not having the right skills, that’s a failure in the recruitment process, and not necessarily the fault of the candidate.

Other issues candidates worry about telling an interviewer include having a lot of short-lived jobs on their resume.

“Things have changed a bit there. The younger generation do move jobs more often, but it is definitely a red flag if you have multiple jobs under six months.

“If that is the case you’d probably want to write on your resume the reasons you have left. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, but you need to put a reason for leaving, such as if it’s due to a company restructuring or a company winding down,” Leah says.

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