How to interview for a job after being fired

A CareerBeacon reader wrote in for some advice on her career dilemma. She was recently fired from her job, and she is afraid the situation will prevent her from landing future employment. Here’s a summary of her question.

“I worked at my last job for almost a year before being terminated. The project I was hired to manage failed to deliver results and lost a great deal of money for the company. The period of employment is too long to leave off my resume, so how do I explain being fired to future employers?”

The answer is, answer it honestly. Most of us have encountered setbacks in our careers. Companies alter their plans, close departments, or restructure all the time. Often these changes involve job losses. There’s no shame in having lost a job.

List the position on your resume along with the skills you used or acquired on the job as well as any relevant accomplishments along the way. Your resume is a marketing document – so it should point out the positive.

However, when employers see the ten or eleven-month stint in your recent work history, they are almost certainly going to ask what happened or why you left. You’ll have to answer that honestly as well.

Lying isn’t an option. Potential employers will contact your previous company – and anyone they know who may have worked with you. Even if you get away with it at the hiring stage, if the truth comes out later you could be terminated for dishonesty. (Then you’d have two firings to explain in future interviews.)

Fortunately, our reader wasn’t fired for fraud or theft or any workplace activity like that which could seriously derail her career prospects. She was hired for a project that had the company backing and budget behind it. It didn’t work out.

Explain the experience. What the project was, and what when wrong. Most importantly, explain what you learned from it. Most practical, strategic learnings come through trial and error.

In my own career I have run online and social media campaigns that often had much time and resources invested in them. Some failed to engage the target market at the time. But even those that weren’t successful taught me and my teams how to better read audience reactions, evaluate user behaviour, and course-correct our approach in subsequent campaigns.

Those learnings are invaluable to the success of future projects, and trial and error was the only way to gain them.

Everyone experiences setbacks. Setbacks can make you better at what you do. Just be professional and honest about what happened and what you learned. Those behaviours should also help with your professional reputation. Use this to counter-balance the recent job loss. Have a list of solid references from previous jobs who can speak positively about your attitude and abilities.

(And whatever you do, don’t be bitter about the job loss or badmouth your previous boss or company. Job interviewers hate that.)

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