Like teenagers who have committed misdemeanors that have been expunged from their records, being a job seeker who has been fired can leave a bit of a blotch in your psyche. When filling out forms for a new gig, you’ll hesitate over the “Have you ever been arrested?” or “Reason for leaving?” questions. Technically they’ll probably never know the truth, and even still you’ve probably learned your lesson and/or changed so much that the stemming issue isn’t an issue anymore, but still — what do you when you’re asked point blank in an interview about it?
Career Counselor Kristin Johnson over at Profession Direction says the interviewer’s job in this situation is “to get you to reveal errors in judgment or performance – things they can use to weed you out so they can move on to the next candidate. Will you be ‘totally honest?’ Show negativity or resentment? Be so nervous that you look like you’re hiding something?”
I think Johnson goes a little bit overboard in terms of being prepared for getting this question. I mean, you know your career, right? So you shouldn’t get caught off-guard by it. You’ll know it’s coming because people will want to ask about your experience, and part of your experience is moving on from a place you used to work. It’s part of life. She recommends talking to your references to see what they’d advise, but if they don’t bring it up or ask, you don’t need to volunteer what happened.
What Johnson recommends, which I also do, is to script your answer a bit. Here’s an example she gives:
“I really enjoyed my work at the ABC Company and gained valuable experience from working there. I was able to improve sales and customer service. I developed a great team through my new hiring initiatives. It’s unfortunate that things didn’t work out because I enjoyed the work. But, I learned that to really be successful, I have to delegate more to my team. So, I took an online course on personality type so that I can better analyze what others’ preferences might be. I know I’ll put that to use. That is what attracted me to your company, you value…”
Anyway, you can read more over here, and remember: More startups are planning to hire this year, and don’t be so hard on yourself. We all make mistakes. Move on and learn from it.
David Wolinsky is a freelance writer and a lifelong Chicagoan. In addition to currently serving as an interviewer-writer for Adult Swim, he's also a comedy-writing instructor for Second City. He was the Chicago city editor for The Onion A.V. Club where he provided in-depth daily coverage of this city's bustling arts/entertainment scene for half a decade. When not playing video games for work he's thinking of dashing out to Chicago Diner, Pizano's, or Yummy Yummy. His first career aspirations were to be a game-show host.