On your resume, you only need to indicate the time frame you worked at a job. But often, those horribly redundant paper applications that even senior professionals have to fill out ask if you’ve ever been terminated from a job, so if you’ve been fired, it will probably come up during your interview. It’s tempting to sweep it under the rug, but your potential employer may contact previous employers to get the story, so it behooves you to be honest.
Fired vs. Being Laid Off
If your separation was due to a layoff, you shouldn’t be afraid of saying so. That’s just how the industry goes, and your interviewer probably understands. However, refrain from saying too much about the circumstances. You don’t want to appear as if you’re divulging sensitive or confidential information or look like you’re badmouthing your former bosses.
If, however, you were fired from a former job, it gets trickier. The good news is that you can still tell the truth in a way that keeps you in the running. Below are a few ways you might answer the question.
If you were fired because your work wasn’t meeting expectations:
“I really feel like I let my employer down. They have a reputation for producing terrific, innovative work, and I guess I didn’t understand exactly how high their standards were. I understand how important it is for a company like that to keep exceeding their clients’ expectations, and since being let go, I’ve taken steps to improve my own work, such as enrolling in a portfolio class and investing in online workshops.”
If you were fired for insubordination or because you were seen as a “problem child”:
“One of the many great things about working for the company was that they encouraged their employees to speak up and take ownership of their work. I’m the type of person who puts a lot of thought, effort and research into my opinions and positions, and I think it’s important to be able to articulate why you believe or support something. Unfortunately, I took it a little too far. I never meant to come across as being insubordinate or hard to work with, as I know how important it is to maintain good working relationships.”
If you were fired for not showing up, being drunk or under the influence, or other personal problems:
“I loved working at that company, but unfortunately, I was having some major challenges in my personal life. I let my issues get in the way of my performance and my professional life. Since being let go, I’ve been able to take a breather, seek professional help, and I’m in a much better place.”
If you were fired because you just couldn’t get along with key people, or a VP just didn’t like you (hey, it happens more than you might think):
“My former company was such a dynamic workplace, and they placed a premium on maintaining that company culture. Even though I work hard and it’s important to me to do my job to the best of my abilities, they thought I just didn’t fit the culture. I appreciate how important it is to fit in and be seen as team player, and this just wasn’t a good match.”
Rehearse it ahead of time and put it in your own words
The above are just examples of ways you might be able to address a firing, but they’re not the only ways to approach the answer. No matter how you decide to approach it, make sure your answer hits the right points: you’re sorry, you can accept responsibility for your situation, and you learned from the experience.
But once you figure out your answer, don’t waste any more energy worrying about it. Instead, spend time getting your portfolio in shape, preparing to engage and build a rapport with your interviewer, cementing a great first impression, and presenting the best version of your true self so an employer will realize that you’d be a great addition to both their workforce and their culture. Remember, interviewing can be unpleasant even in the best of situations, but the more you do it, the better you get. And before long, you won’t need to do it again!
Lisa is a Creative Circle candidate and seasoned advertising copywriter who lives in Los Angeles. Her background includes both in-house and agency work on Fortune 500 and global accounts in the consumer and healthcare/pharmaceutical fields. She excels at words, fashion, and cats. If you want to work with Lisa, contact Creative Circle Los Angeles.