Getting fired can be a soul-crushing experience that may cause you to question yourself on many levels, but it will only be a minor setback if you know how to handle the situation properly. People are fired all the time for a variety of reasons – personalities clash, the company’s needs change, and sometimes it’s just clear that the position isn’t a good fit. Whatever the reason, you can take solace in the fact that you’re free from a job that wasn’t right for you and now have an opportunity to find something even better. However, you will need to be careful how you address the issue of getting fired in an interview. You will inevitably be asked why you left your previous position, but blatantly announcing, “I got fired!” is not the best idea, especially if it happens at the beginning of your interview. Even though it’s a common situation, you don’t want the hiring manager spending the interview wondering why you got fired instead of focusing on all your great answers to his other questions.
Instead, we recommend that you gloss over this portion of the interview, focusing more on what’s to come than what happened in the past. You “left” your previous employer (this isn’t a lie), and that’s really all that matters at this point. Briefly state that your last job wasn’t a good fit, and explain why you feel that the position you’re applying for is more in line with your interests. For example, if you were fired from a reality TV desk and are trying to break into scripted, you would simply say, “I left because it wasn’t a good fit for me, as I am more passionate about scripted television.” Even if you are applying for another similar job, you can still use this tactic – just find some type of difference between the two companies, and focus on what the new company has that the old one is missing. In the reality TV situation, maybe you like the new company’s shows better or have heard things about the company culture that seem more appealing than your previous office environment. If you were fired, something clearly wasn’t working out, so figure out what that was and pivot away from it.
Seems simple enough, right? But you’re probably still worried that the employer is going to find out that you were fired and think you were lying. Again, you aren’t lying by saying you “left” (just don’t say that you “quit” when you were actually asked to leave). But, unless they knew that you were fired before the interview (maybe a friend passed your resume along and explained the situation), they’re probably not going to find out unless they have a friend at the previous company that they call for a reference. You can get ahead of this by providing a list of references of people who know you well and can vouch for you as an employee. The fact that you were fired may or may not come up during a reference check, but if you’re listing the right reference, they’ll describe the situation in a way that presents you in a positive light, suggesting that your previous firing was a fluke or isn’t relevant to the new position. Or they might not mention it at all. Once you have an offer, you’re home free. Even if it comes up during a background check, you can’t have an offer revoked because you told the new employer that you “left.” So remember, all hope is not lost if you get fired. Don’t get too discouraged, and definitely don’t give up on your goals – the right position is just around the corner!
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan