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Addressing that Pink Slip in an Interview

It’s always unfortunate to be let go from a position, but possibly the hardest part of job searching afterward is addressing that experience in an interview.  There are a variety of ways to answer “Why did you leave your last position,” but when the departure wasn’t your decision, it can be tough to formulate an impressive answer and buff the tarnish of “terminated” from your name. But it is possible, so how do you go about this?

Your answer will depend largely on your unique situation—a major mistake on the job, corporate downsizing, unjust termination—but whatever the case, you have to move on from it in order to get your career moving again. In your next interview, be sure to…

Be honest.

Start by being honest about what happened. On a rare occasion, you may be able to squeeze by with a lie, but if the truth is unveiled one way or another during your time at that company you can possibly be fired for it. In many cases, you won’t even get this far—any company serious about hiring a valuable employee will usually perform reference checks and will, most likely, refuse to hire you if they catch you in a lie. If you want to be proactive about this, bring up the termination and the (honest!) reasons for it before you are asked—the sooner you get it out of the way, the less time you’ll have it hanging over you in your interview, and the more likely you are to impress the hiring manager with your tact.

Explain what you’ve learned.

If you plan your explanation out in advance, it can be the difference between an offer and a rejection letter. What happened is now in the past, but what did you learn from it? How can you use that experience to not only prevent the same outcome but improve your performance in your next position? If you can answer these questions without being prompted to, it will show that you’ve learned from your experience and put thought into preventing it from being a problem again in the future.

Keep it short.

Surely there’s more to your termination than can fit into a sentence or two, but try to be as concise as possible. Rambling on can make it seem like you have something to hide; at the very least, it will make it seem as if you aren’t comfortable with the situation. And if you aren’t comfortable with it, how can the interviewer—or any potential employer—be?

Stay positive.

One of the worst things you can do in an interview is trash-talk your former employer or colleagues. Regardless of the circumstances, and even if you believe you were wrongfully terminated, it can raise some major red flags if you spend even a second of your interview blaming someone else or commenting negatively about the situation. The best thing you can do is show maturity, and the easiest way to do so is to show that you’ve accepted the situation, learned from it, and moved on. No employer wants to sit in an interview and wonder whether or not you’d be saying the same about them in the future.

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