How To Answer Interview Questions If You’ve Been Fired

Need to know how to answer interview questions if you've been fired? Without a doubt, today's job market is the most difficult Americans have faced in decades. Employers are in a position to be more demanding in setting standards for the type of employee likely to be hired, and even landing an interview can be a challenge.  It can be even more of a challenge if you have negative information on your resume such as getting fired from your previous job, and knowing how to answer interview questions can be a potential minefield.  Keep in mind that you're not the first person to be fired, and chances are good that the experience isn't going to keep you out of the job market forever. Knowing how to answer interview questions if you've been fired is key to your future success.

  1. Honesty is key.  It is important to demonstrate through your answers to interview questions that you are willing to be candid and straightforward about even difficult subjects. Interviewers often design interview questions with built-in traps, and knowing how to answer interview questions without casting yourself in a negative light is an art all its own. Some interviewers will be aggressive about the topic, asking point-blank why you were fired from your last position. Others will disguise the topic in a more subtle form, asking interview questions like "When did you encounter a situation in which you experienced conflict in the workplace, and what did you learn from that?" No matter how the subject is presented, it is important to answer directly without making either yourself or your former employer look bad. Keep your answer truthful, do not provide more detail than necessary, and do not give the interviewer a chance to dwell on the topic.
  2. Don't avoid the subject.  If you're not asked during an interview why you were fired at your last position, don't think you're off the hook. Don't assume that because it hasn't been mentioned through interview questions, the detail hasn't been uncovered. Even if your interviewer has not taken the time to check you out before the interview, he certainly will after a successful interview, or even after an offer has been extended. In either scenario, not mentioning it will be seen as dishonest, and your future employer will assume you've something to hide. Proactively mention the firing, and move on.
  3. Always be positive.  No matter how badly you feel that you've been fired, never say anything negative. Loyalty, strength of character, and the ability to remain graceful under stressful conditions are personality attributes that land jobs. Even if you are asked to answer interview questions that are leading, providing the perfect opportunity to vent about your former boss, don't take the bait. Employers are more likely to hire a person that demonstrates character than one with a perfect, blemish-free resume.
  4. Place emphasis on the silver lining.  In some cases, your interviewer will want more details on why you were fired.  Interview questions are designed to get to the heart of issues. Whenever possible, explain it wasn't your fault, without placing blame on another party. If it was your fault, it's important to admit to your mistakes without giving too many details about the situation. The best course of action is to admit to your previous failing, and explain how that mistake has helped you to learn and grow. Always end every unpleasant discussion on an optimistic note.
  5. Be consistent.  Interview questions, especially if your prospective employer knows you've been fired in the past, can be designed to trip you up and elicit the truth about a situation. Don't assume that because you've already addressed your previous termination, it won't be mentioned again.   Put together a strategy regarding how to answer interview questions without contradicting yourself. The more a story doesn't seem to add up, the less likely you are to receive a future offer.

It can seem like a daunting task to not let the past dictate the future. There's not a person in this world who has never encountered obstacles along the road of life; what's important is letting your future employers know that you've become a better, stronger person as a result of the adversity.

Source: "What Color Is Your Parachute", Richard Bolles, Sept. 2009

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