“The best way to gain self-confidence is to do what you are afraid to do.”
I’ve prepared hundreds of applicants for job interviews over the years and I’ve noticed that
they tend to be most fearful of the questions that call them out on their faults. Surprisingly,
many people walk into interviews prepared to talk about all their good qualities, and hope the
interviewer will not bring up the fact that a resume might show a year gap in employment or
quick turnover from one employer to another. The thought of being asked about a past failure
and being forced to revisit a difficult time can be so excruciatingly dreadful for some, that they
avoid thinking about it altogether.
If you want to have a successful interview, you have no choice. You must face your past and
prepare to explain yourself. However, rather than taking a defensive stance and blaming others
for setbacks, consider these areas of your life as your chance to tell a story that will leave your
interviewer feeling good about your character. Through all my years of recruiting, I have found
that honesty always wins out in the end. We’re all human after all, and we all make mistakes!
When preparing how to answer these questions, clarity is key. Make them understand. Don’t
make them guess.
Lastly, think about the interviewer’s point of view and what would make you sound like a whiny
kid full of excuses versus a mature, likable professional. The key is to show what you have
learned from those experiences and how much smarter, wiser, more adaptable and more resilient
you have become since then.
Here is the first of five of the most common objections in the job interview:
1) “Why did you leave your last job?”
I’ve heard some applicants start to answer this question by saying right off the bat, “Well, I was
fired.” In this case, that immediately throws up red flags for the interviewer. It’s difficult to win
someone over after such a blunt statement.
First, make sure you are using the correct terms. If you were laid off, this is not the same thing
as being fired. Layoffs are nothing new, so feel free to briefly explain the company’s economic
hardships that led to the layoffs. If you managed to stay onboard at your previous company
through three different layoffs, for example, include that important detail. If you were the last
person standing in your department, include that detail. It shows that your employer held onto
you for as long as possible.
If you were terminated, tread very carefully here. Ease into it. The artful interviewee can engage
the interviewer from the beginning of the story and walk that person through the story of how
the termination happened. Start with something positive and then transition into the termination.
Here’s an example:
Initially, they promoted me to supervisor because they noticed how well-respected I was among
my co-workers. In fact, my boss told me executive management had hoped I could help motivate
the junior team members to improve customer service and increase sales in our branch. In the
first three months, I led my team up to No. 1 from among the lowest producing branches in
our region. But soon after, I realized that upper management felt threatened by the self-driven
empowering, mentoring style I incorporated. Unfortunately, they wanted me to be a dictator and
use disciplinary methods I didn’t agree with. When it become clear our management styles were
too different, they decided to let me go. I have listed a number of several references that would
attest to my engaging style of management and the success that it brought. Is this the style of
management style that your organization embraces?
Notice how much easier it is to relate to this person when the details are framed just right. In the
example above, the interviewee takes the spotlight off of being fired and succeeds in showing
more attributes. Before explaining that you were terminated, try to show why the previous
company hired you and what you accomplished while you were there.
Stories about mismanagement are common, but don’t go on and on about your previous
company’s horrible management style and how poorly you were treated. If you were truly
at fault, be honest. Tell the story about how your firing served as a wakeup call for you to
communicate more clearly, to learn how to relate to your coworkers more effectively, or to
search for a company that shared your values.
Differentiate the “real you” from the termination. For example:
To be honest with you, I feel so bad about what happened. In hindsight, I believe the repetitive
nature of the job led me to go on autopilot. I didn’t perform to the level that I should have, but
I’ve learned so much since then.
Great managers have most likely experienced personal setbacks early in their careers and will
understand. When you interview with a manager that has had a similar experience, that person
will be able to quickly identify with your situation and may become an advocate for you.
I want to reinforce my point that we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes,
getting fired can actually be good for you. As a fun side note, I discovered an article
on BusinessInsider.com that lists seventeen people who were fired before they become
rich and famous. Here are several of my favorite examples: Walt Disney, J.K.
Rowling, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Mayor Bloomberg, Bill Belichick