You were fired. If you do not learn how to properly answer the question, “why did you leave your last position (or the one before that, or the one 5 years ago)” you will not be rehired. First, let’s review what does not work.
Hemming and hawing does not work. Yelling “I was fired” is likely preferable to stammering, stalling, hemming and hawing. You have to expect this question, and the interviewer expects an answer.
Blaming your employer/your crazy former boss does not work. Very few people who are fired think it is anything but the other person’s fault. Very few people who relay their belief that their firing was the result of someone else’s wrongdoing are rehired. It doesn’t matter who is really to blame – it’s just one of the three sides to the story, and is best left out of the interview altogether.
Mistaking the interview for a bonding time in which complete sharing is appropriate. Most often, when we ask a rejected candidate why he said “I was fired” during his interview, we are told “because we were really bonding. I could tell she understood me. I decided on full disclosure.” It is the interviewer’s job to find out how much you will tell her if she puts you at ease. It’s not a first date – it’s an interview.
Preparation is key. Expect the question and prepare an answer. Here are 5 better ways to say “I was fired”, when that is the truth.
(1) Simply state, (if true), “my position was eliminated.” If true, please say this. If the layoff coincides with a widely known economic downturn (market segment, geographic region, etc.) this is particularly wise. If your position was eliminated due to financial reasons, say it loud, and say it proud, irrespective of how horrible it felt for you at the time.
(2) Never Volunteer. Fired because you exploded at work after a particularly stressful 6-month period? Just succinctly say that you parted ways after ___ (describe the time; was it “after 8 successful product launches in 3 weeks”?
(3) Keep it short. Less is More. “We parted ways” may work if you’re nailing the interview and have a good resume otherwise.
(4) If it’s ancient history: fess up. If it was 3 or more positions ago, just say it, “I was fired”. Admit a learning lesson (always in hindsight), state your personal growth. Keep it simple, and to the point. If your most recent positions have shown career progression, longevity, (your) stability, etc., best to just come clean and move on.
(5) Discuss it with the person who fired you. Let’s say hypothetically you’ve had one really relevant position, and you’ll need that reference. There’s no way around it – you’ve been fired. Discuss it with the person who fired you. Call her. Buy her coffee. Ask her how you may word the termination. Remember that being fired holds you back when it comes to future employment. So, while we’re not suggesting that this person and you will become friends, you’d be surprised how far a simple conversation can go toward eliciting an agreeable response to “so, why did you leave that position, anyway?”.