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Fired? How to Explain it to a Prospective Employer

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If you were fired from your last job, you might feel as if you’ve got a big red “X” written across your forehead. How will you ever find work again? Relax. Even top talent can be fired, especially in an employment-at-will state like Texas. It’s not necessarily the kiss of death for future employment, but you do need to prepare how you’ll address it in interviews.

Consider the following tips from our recruiters:

  1. Don’t lie. There are many ways for a potential employer to discover the truth about how the job ended, so don’t pretend you quit or that you were laid off for reasons outside your control (if that’s not the case). A simple background or reference check—or a keen review of your resume—can easily set your little white lie into a tailspin.
  2. Take responsibility. Own up to your role in what happened, but frame the circumstances in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your future career. If you missed work too often, for instance, admit something like, “I let personal circumstances interfere with my attendance at work. My situation is stable now and attendance won’t be a problem.”
  3. Don’t badmouth your former employer or colleagues. Every employer is looking for candidates who are loyal, well-functioning team players. Bashing the boss who fired you or blaming co-workers for what happened sends a clear message that you don’t hold those key virtues. Admitting that you weren’t aligned with the company culture or that your new manager had expectations and priorities that put your role into question are other ways to explain what happened.
  4. Find the lessons learned. Being fired isn’t the end of the road for future employment, but not learning from the mistake is. Point out what you learned from the situation: maybe you learned to manage your time or communicate with your team better. Perhaps you realized that you didn’t have the right skill sets or certifications so you took measures to acquire them. It might take some soul searching, but figure out how the experience caused you to “fail forward” and decide how you might highlight those lessons.
  5. Be brief. While you owe your interviewer the truth, you don’t owe them a lengthy, drawn-out explanation (that’s likely not what they want, either). Prepare your answer using a similar explanation to what we’ve offered above. And show confidence by maintaining eye contact and conversational body language.
  6. Get on the same page. If you’re on talking terms with your former employer, discuss it with them and come to an agreement on how you’ll both explain the situation if asked. After all, they may be contacted as a reference whether you list them or not. If the termination was based on a misalignment or on a behavior or missing skillset that you’ve since remedied, they may be more than happy to frame the departure as a more mutual parting of ways. If you didn’t leave on good terms and are afraid of what your previous employer might say, you could work with a recruiter to determine how to proceed.

Having a blemish on your resume isn’t the end of the world. How you handle it if it comes up in interviews, however, can make or break your next career move. Take some time to prepare your answer and practice it with a friend or recruiter and you might be surprised how easily it can become a non-issue for the right employer.