Being fired or “let go” from a job is not necessarily something you bring up in discussion with people or want to talk about, especially if your next employer is the one asking the question. However, you’re going to have to face the facts that during the interview process you’ll be asked about the gap or break in your employment history on your resume.
Keep in mind, then, that your best bet isn’t to avoid the question or be surprised when it comes up. Go in being prepared. National workplace expert Lynn Taylor, who wrote Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, says employers ask this question to sift through the mounds of applicants quickly and more efficiently.
“Have you ever been fired?” becomes a filter prospective employers use to determine four things about you.
- Will They Take a Risk Hiring You?
Most hiring managers will assume your answer to the question of whether you’ve been fired is no, but this may not be the case. And for the employer, it is important to understand the cause and reasoning behind any terminations on your employment record, if you have any.
They’re hoping to determine whether or not there is a pattern in any terminations that suggests taking you on would be risky. They want to know if it will be a deal breaker for the possible hire.
- Are You Able to Handle Adversity?
The interviewer wants to know how you perform under pressure. This question emits a knee-jerk response from you, where you either panic with your answer, or square your shoulders and move through it. It can help the employer determine how you respond to adverse situations in the workplace.
- Do You Fold Under Pressure?
Again, how you perform under pressure in a real-time situation will say a lot to your interviewer about how you will actually perform on the job. Are you calm and collected, or panicked and defensive? You want to make sure you are prepared to be poised in this situation. Go in knowing this question will be asked.
- Are You Honest?
Honesty is always the best policy. You need to go into your interview assuming your prospective employer will know about any previous terminations, especially if you are interviewing for upper management. Prepare a professional answer that explains why.
For example, if you’ve been chronically late at your previous employment, have a ready solution for your interviewer that illustrates how you’ve improved, such as embracing a new productivity system to help.
Still a little unsure how to approach the question? Now that you know why employers ask this question, let’s equip you with the best method to prepare for your next interview.
Always, Always Be Honest
As we mentioned above, honesty is always better, and with the connectivity of professional and social networks, you need to assume they will know details about you. Don’t be afraid of it. At some point in every person’s career there is some kind of termination, be it firing, restructuring, downsizing, outsourcing, etc.
Being forthcoming about your employment history will say a lot about your character and integrity, which is what a majority of companies are looking for in employees, including billionaire Warren Buffett’s holdings.
Keep It Straight and to the Point
The question isn’t meant to make you re-live this unflattering part of your career, so don’t be offended or take the hiring manager’s question as an attack. If you’re prepared with your answer, you’ll be able to keep it short, sweet and to the point in a way that thoroughly explains the situation.
For example, highlight what you have learned from the situation, not what actually happened. If you focus on the positive, you will also illustrate to your employer you are a resilient individual. Failure is actually more useful than success. Make sure you emphasize that point, and if you still aren’t convinced, just check out these 30 powerful quotes about failure that are sure to change your mind.
Take Responsibility, Stay Positive, and Don’t Point Fingers
One of the quickest ways to a phony integrity is shifting the blame of a past mistake onto someone else. Don’t speak negatively of your former employer, even if it is the truth. You want to show the hiring manager you are made of strong stuff and accept responsibility for your actions.
In other words, be prepared to point out the differences in a positive light. For example, you could discuss that professionally your objectives did not match up with your previous employer, but you still learned a great deal in the process that was valuable to your career development.
You’ll be able to answer the hiring manager — who generally will identify with the employer, not you — honestly without offending or leaving a negative impression.
Don’t Sound Rehearsed
Yes, the idea is to be prepared when going into your interview, but you don’t want to sound like a child’s toy with a talk button that spews off automated words when pressed. Take time to go over what you plan to say, but also make sure you grasp it well enough to talk about it organically and naturally.
Consider enlisting help from friends or family to have a mock interview, where you can answer the question and evaluate from their perspective how it was received. In this way, you can adjust where necessary, and you’ll go into your interview prepared to wow.