In an interview, how should you answer Why did you leave your last job?” or “I see on your application you were let go. Can you explain?”
What does the interviewer want to know? Beyond seeing if you were fired for something like stealing or conducting an affair with a coworker in the janitor closet, a potential employer wants to see how you handle adversity, have personal insight, and take responsibility.
Career counselors and employers usually agree on the following. When asked why you’ve been fired,
Be honest. Keep it short and to the point. Don’t play the blame game. End on a happy note.
Your situation is unique. You’ll have to figure out the right answer. Here are 5 examples:
Scenario 1: The job wasn’t working out. My boss and I agreed it was time for me to move on to a position that would show a better return for us both. Here I am, ready to work.
This shows communication skills, partnership. It’s honest and to the point.
Scenario 2: At my last position, I just saw dollar signs and took the job without researching the products or company. It wasn’t a good fit but was a great learning experience. I won’t make that same mistake. I’ve now researched and am excited to use my relationship and sales skills to successfully partner with a company that cares for customers and produces great products.
This shows you understand and have learned from past mistakes, have researched, and feel you are a good match.
Scenario 2: My last job started as customer-focused, and I received high marks for providing top service. Much became automated. I am much better at direct face-to-face and telephone contact. Leaving was a blessing as I can again work to brighten days.
This shows excitement, care, prior success, and success in an area you’ll be needed.
Scenario 3: I commuted 30 miles, gave myself extra driving time and was normally at least 30 minutes early. With inevitable traffic problems, there were days this wasn’t the case. Since I live 2 miles from here, I could even use my snowshoes or skis during a big Minnesota blizzard to be on time!
This shows problems out of your control that wouldn’t be an issue, a little humor, energy.
In general (although I hate generalizing), job seekers I’ve worked with seem to be a little less nervous if they are making a career change. A past corporate manager vying for a job at a nonprofit can focus on how they are more geared to work in the new environment. However, some hesitate to try for a similar or exact same type of job from which they’ve been fired. But remember, environment is even more important than job responsibilities in terms of job success. Past failures may have nothing to do with future successes. A financial wizard could be fired for a CPA position if they worked for an ill-fitting company. And some of the best have.
Before your interview, come to terms with all past emotions. I learned this the hard way. Many years ago, I was recruited for a new position and left a great job for “greener pastures”. The new job sucked. I left after 3 months, moped around the house for 2 months, the bills stacked up and I started applying. At my first interview, the interviewer asked why I left my last job. To my shock and chagrin, I burst into tears and barely got through the interview. I hadn’t even known my negative thoughts and emotions were that strong. Needless to say I didn’t get the job.
Ensure you can calmly speak of your past. No one wants to hire an emotional wreck. Even if you were fired under false circumstances, don’t rip on others. Say it was a wrong fit. If you have integrity and past employers don’t, it WAS a wrong fit. Keep everything positive and looking to the future. Life is full of problems. Leaders understand them, admit them, face them, and use them as learning opportunities.
Good luck job searching,
Elizabeth Husom, GCDF