My supervisor fired me last Friday for “not smiling enough.” Who thinks that’s a reason to fire someone? Well, apparently my former idiot supervisor. So, what do I say when I interview for a job? I conducted an informal poll among my friends and the top vote-getter was “It was b.s. I got fired.” That makes sense to me — what do you think? And do I have to say I’m fired? Or can I say, “It was a mutual decision,” because I sure wouldn’t want to still be working there.
You don’t have to say “fired.” You can say your job ended, or you were let go. Then quickly add, “When I started my job search, your ad was the first one that caught my eye.” Hopefully, this positive statement leads the interviewer to ask, “What about our ad appealed to you?”
If the interviewer probes for the reasons your former employer let you go, answer briefly and without marinating your words in sarcasm. When you called me for help, your tone of voice and eyeroll made me think, “Her bitterness will turn off every interviewer.”
It may help you to realize why an interviewer wants to learn the underlying reasons another employer blessed you out the door. They want to know what mistakes you’ve made, and if you’ll repeat them. They want to make sure you have the right skill set and your resume correctly reflects what you can and will do. They want to know if you’ll fit into their team and be a good employee.
Whatever you answer, make sure it’s honest, as most employers conduct reference checks. Some fired individuals attempt the easily discovered “It was a mutual decision” dodge. This ends the applicant’s chances of landing a job because it signals they’ve not only been fired but won’t admit it.
Whatever you do, shed your attitude. When you let your bitterness show by badmouthing or blaming your former supervisor or employer, you label yourself a problem hire. Instead, make positive comments about the employer’s job listing to explain why you feel you’re a perfect fit for the new job and company. Here’s an example of redirection I wrote for one of my clients when she lost a new position on a sales team: “I was hired because the references on my former jobs described me as highly personable, however my new coworkers all had years of sales experience, and I didn’t meet the sales quota set for me. My sales skills grew every week, but not quickly enough. Still, I learned a lot about how to sell and how to stay positive all day despite the rejection that comes in a sales environment. I think that will help me in the customer service position you’ve posted.”
You need to understand why your employer decided you needed to leave. Did your lack of a smile mean you reacted sullenly to assignments or improvement-oriented feedback? Did your coworkers consider you an energy vampire? You can often learn the underlying reasons, as well as what your former employer may say on reference calls, if you call your former company’s HR manager.
By gaining clarity concerning your part of the situation, you’ll prevent it from happening again. Many of us rationalize our problem behavior with statements such as “It wasn’t my fault. I blew up because I had the worst day” or “Anyone would have reacted the way I did.” If you want strategies for how to “own” your part of problem situations, check out Chapter 14 of “Navigating Conflict.”
Finally, you may need to wait a few days before your first interview. Your anger singed the phones lines when you called me, and I’d hate for you to lose your chance to get hired by a non-idiot supervisor because you haven’t cooled down.