Every job seeker dreads being asked, "Have you ever been fired?" At some point, however, you must put the experience behind you, and take ownership of your situation. An employer generally cares less about the reasons for your dismissal than what you can do for him. In this situation, your best bet is to devise a brief, unemotional response that doesn't offer more details than necessary, yet demonstrates what you've learned from the situation.
Check Your Emotions
Before going into any interview, check your emotions at the door. Bitter, sarcastic responses or unchecked rants only confirm an interviewer's gut feeling that you were the problem, says former corporate recruiter Don Georgevich, founder of the Job Interview Tools website. Although it's natural to feel angry, depressed or guilty after your experience, letting those emotions slip will work against you. Controlling your emotions reduces the chance that you'll badmouth former bosses or co-workers, which is equally ill-advised.
Craft Your Response
How you answer an interviewer's question depends on why you were let go. If you lost your job through a consolidation, downsizing or merger, it's best to explain the facts without alluding to your own role, search consultant Judi Perkins advises on the Best Interview Strategy website. An interviewer won't hold it against you if the company lost money, or a new president wanted to bring in his own team. Show that the situation had nothing to do with you personally, or any performance-related issues.
Explain What You've Learned
If your firing occurred for reasons besides a layoff, your task gets harder -- but only if you make it so, asserts "CBS Moneywatch" columnist Amy Levin-Epstein. Explain what the experience taught you, whether you were in the wrong position, or with the wrong company. Stick to a forthright, yet brief explanation that shows you're ready to move on with a new employer. Firings happen for all sorts of reasons, so taking some responsibility may count in your favor.
Practice Your Material
No matter what explanation you offer, your response must be as well written as you can make it. Read the wording aloud to yourself, or a trusted friend. If you hear any awkward phrasing, don't be afraid to rewrite it, Perkins suggests. You get only one chance to make a good impression. If you still feel hesitant, or unsure of what you're saying, keep rehearsing until you sound comfortable with the end result. The more confident you seem, the less likely an interviewer will probe into your firing.
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images