If you have been fired from your job and are interviewing for new positions, it is natural to be concerned about how a prospective employer will perceive your departure. It is important to prepare a reasonable and well-articulated explanation to help your interviews go smoothly.
First, it is important to avoid making negative comments about your former employer. You do not want to give prospective employers the impression that, if you are hired and things don’t go as well as planned, you might soon be airing sordid stories about them, too. And no matter how valid your complaints about your previous employer, an outsider might wonder if you yourself didn’t contribute to or even create the problem. Even worse, if a negative impression about your abilities is planted in the interviewer’s mind, any related situation that later arises will be filtered through that perception.
Additionally, complaints about a former employer can be viewed as excuses rather than facts. Your employer may indeed have been unfair, unreasonable or even a jerk, but saying so in an interview sounds biased and self-serving. Such comments could even be construed as indicative of your inability to get along with any employer.
With all this in mind, prepare for your interviews by evaluating the positive aspects of your previous employment—what you learned, what responsibilities you were given, what successes you had and what expertise you developed. Make a note of select quotes from positive performance reviews. This will give you the ability to promote yourself while speaking about your former employment—as difficult as it is for some people to do, you need to be your own cheerleader.
Moreover, it is important to keep in mind that what you tell your interviewer about your departure depends largely on what you believe your references will say when contacted. If your former employer has agreed not to inform callers that you were fired, you could tell your interviewer that you felt it was time to look for a new position because you wanted the ability to expand your expertise, your work focus, your income or your community involvement: this is a positive, forward-thinking, career-oriented posture.
If you are concerned that your former employer might say something disparaging about you, it is best to avoid giving his or her name as a reference. Instead, give the name of any former colleague (the more recent and relevant, the better) who worked on a matter of substance with you and is familiar with the quality of your work. If asked why you did not give your former supervisor’s name, simply say that your supervisor is not your best reference—without adding anything negative.
Alternatively—and only if you are certain your references won’t disparage you—you might simply inform the interviewer that your performance evaluations were good (if true), that you worked successfully with your former employer (for however many years) and that you were let go without being given a reason. You must be prepared to counter any questions about problems with positive examples.
© 2012 by Hindi Greenberg, J.D./Lawyers in Transition. No reproduction in any format, other than on www.vault.com, without express written permission. Hindi Greenberg, J.D., is the president of Lawyers in Transition. She consults with individual lawyers nationwide on career satisfaction and options in and out of law and with law firms on outplacing their attorneys. She may be reached at (530) 274-7955 or www.lawyersintransition.com.