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How to Answer for Being Terminated During an Interview

by Lisa McQuerrey

Explaining the reason for a termination is often one of the most challenging and stressful aspects of a job interview. A forthright approach to describing the circumstances can help you mitigate the damage. Once the issue is addressed, strive to maintain a positive attitude throughout the remainder of the interview, focusing on career highlights and positive aspects of your previous work experience.

Downsizing

A layoff or downsizing is one of the easier termination scenarios to explain to a potential employer. Simply note the details of the company's decision to shore up its staff and reduce its overhead expenses. For example, you might say, “A change in the economy led to a significant reduction in business, and my employer was faced with laying off half the staff or risking the future of the company. Unfortunately, I was terminated during that process, but in retrospect, I know it was a hard decision for my boss to make, and I hold no ill will.”

Poor Performance

While a history of poor work performance can be difficult to overcome, frame your response to this termination scenario with an explanation of what you learned during the process. Emphasize that you are no longer the person who was fired -- and that you have a new respect and understanding for professional obligations and responsibilities. You might say, “Five years ago, I was fresh out of college and working at my first job. I'm afraid I was still in a college mindset and I was frequently late for work and didn't perform up to expectations. I learned a hard lesson and reevaluated my priorities. Today, my main objective is providing for my family and being a reliable, dedicated and contributing employee.”

Illegal Activity

If you were fired because you committed a crime, such as sexual harassment or embezzlement, you're going to have a tougher road to haul with your explanation. Don’t defend your action, but rather, explain why the employer should now trust you. For example, you could say, “I was dealing with a gambling addiction and I had the poor judgment to steal money from my company to pay my debt. I’ve been in counseling for my problem and have repaid every penny, and now I’m looking for an opportunity at a fresh start.”

Don't Speak Ill

Even If you were terminated because your boss was a tyrant and you continually butted heads, resist the urge to talk poorly about your previous supervisor. Whether or not he warrants the criticism, negative comments are not likely to sit well with a prospective employer, as he then might see you as a potential problem employee. Even in the worst of circumstances, be vague and offer an explanation such as, “I'm afraid we didn't see eye-to-eye on several key performance issues, which is what ultimately led to my termination.”

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