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Previously Terminated? How to Discuss the Elephant in the Room with your Interviewer

It’s not a situation anyone ever expects to be in, but it happens: You’ve been fired from a job and are now back on the market, going through interviews.

Be kind to yourself — these things happen. But when you’re sitting across the table, or on the other side of a screen, from a hiring manager, they might want to know what happened for your position to be terminated at a previous employer, whether it was your last job or if there’s a gap on your resume from years ago.

Take a deep breath and consider these options for discussing the situation.

Know what can be discussed and what can’t.

Before your interview, call the Human Resources department at your previous company. Depending on the kind of work you did there, or the kind of industry you’re in, there may be limits on what you can and cannot discuss, and the last thing you want to do is hurt your future chances with a new company by getting yourself into trouble with a prior one. You don’t need to tell the HR rep where you’re interviewing, just say that you want to make sure you’re not inadvertently crossing any lines while pursuing new avenues. If there are no restrictions, so much the better, but don’t take that as a green light to talk trash about your former company either.

Be honest and direct without embellishing.

People are let go from jobs for a number of reasons, some of which are out of your control. If you were laid off due to downsizing, that’s worth your potential new employer knowing — you didn’t do anything wrong. But if you were terminated for cause, as they say, be straightforward and matter-of-fact about it. Use this as an opportunity to talk about what you learned from the experience, both during the time you worked at the company and what you’ve learned from losing that job. Find the silver lining and polish it up. The worst thing you could do here is lie about what happened.

Resist the urge to paint your former employer in a negative light.

We’re all adults here. We know there are multiple sides to every story and that sometimes our bosses aren’t the best people and we were let go because they didn’t like us. An interview with a new company is not the time to air those grievances. It’s best to be civil and amicable about your previous employer and talk about what skills you were able to use and develop in that position, what you liked about the job and why you’re grateful for having that opportunity, even if it didn’t work out in the long run. This is a sign of maturity and respect, for yourself and your potential new employer, because it shows you’re ready to move on to something new.

Bring it back to you and the future.

While not spending a lot of time on your abrupt departure from a previous job, make a point of bringing the story back to where you are and why you’re there. Yes, you were let go from a previous employer, but you were able to appreciate the opportunity and learn something from it, and you’re eager to move forward with this job as a smarter, wiser, more aware employee. How are you a good fit for this particular job with this particular company? Talk up your strengths, skills and your future goals and explain how this company fits into that vision.


Looking for a fresh start? Sterling Personnel can help you find a great new job!

Being fired stinks. It can wound the ego a little and make you feel a little uneasy and uncertain. But preparing for interview questions that ask about sensitive subjects puts you in a position of preparation and strength. You can do this!

When you’re looking to rebound from a bad experience, consider Sterling Personnel. Whether you’re looking for a full-time permanent job or something temporary to get some stability, Sterling Personnel can help. Give us a call today and let’s get started.