It’s one of the interview questions many job seekers dread: Why did you leave your last job? The question becomes especially intimidating in a situation where you were fired. No one likes to talk about being fired in the first place, and what worse place to be forced to talk about it than in a job interview?
While it would be better to be able to say you left your job to go back to school or to write a book, it’s entirely possible for a job seeker to come out of this interview question looking okay and even looking good. Here's a structure to help you do it.
1. Talk about cultural fit. When you’re first asked why you left your last job in an interview (and there’s never a good reason to bring it up yourself), the best strategy is one of deflection. A good, honest way to do this in almost every case is to let your interviewer know that your last job wasn’t a good fit, or that your department or boss had different work styles. The two things to remember here are one: Don’t say anything untrue. And two: Regardless of your personal feelings, never say anything negative about your old company, boss or coworkers. It’s too easy for a hiring manager to assume you will also badmouth him/her in the future if you’re hired.
2. Answer simply and directly. If the interviewer presses you for more information, the next step is to own up to being fired. The critical piece here is to be honest but not to embellish. There’s rarely a good reason to launch into a long drawn out story about how you were fired unfairly, and it’s unlikely to make a good impression if you do.
3. Add a positive spin. Since you (hopefully) started out by stating that a bad company cultural fit was to blame, you can now turn that around into a reason you’d be a good and valuable cultural fit at the new company. If, for instance, your old company placed too much focus on the quantity of sales and not enough on the quality of service, you could discuss your dedication to client relationships (but be careful not to look down on quantity of sales too much as all companies like sales!). Turn your firing into the very reason this new company should hire you!
4. Tell a well-constructed interview story. Now that you’ve shifted the focus of the conversation to one of your strengths, take advantage of this opportunity to recount an anecdote from your past experience that demonstrates how great you really are (and would be) at, for example, client service.
5. Keep things moving. In general, one of the most important things to do is keep the conversation moving away from you being fired and toward all the positive things that make you an excellent job candidate. Don’t get mired down in the dirty details. Answer the question and don’t let it shake your composure. Then forget about it and return to your sales job as the number one promoter of you.