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You’ve been fired (or maybe just laid off.)  It happens.  Maybe it was your fault and maybe it wasn’t .  Maybe there were extenuating circumstances involved.  Perhaps it happened all of a sudden without warning or perhaps you were counseled out of your position over a matter of weeks or months, and you could see the writing on the wall.

In any case, it doesn’t feel good and the emotions surrounding the termination can impact your performance when interviewing with prospective new employers, especially when it comes to that dreaded question, “why did you leave your last employer/position?”

Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the situation, it’s not the end of the world, and you can get through any upcoming job interview with tact and composure while turning a negative into a positive with the right mental preparation.

First and foremost, take time to prepare your answer thoughtfully in advance so you are not caught off guard in the interview.  The last thing you want is to have a great conversation with your interviewer only to be blindsided and fumbling for words to describe the situation.

The first step in approaching how to respond is to be honest.  Don’t hide the fact that you were fired.  If your future employer does find out that you lied in the interview process, you can be taken out of the running for the job or worse, face yet another termination should you land the position.

And don’t whine, make excuses, or go into elaborate detail about how it was not your fault.  This can be a red flag to a future employer that you don’t take responsibility and can be difficult to work with.  Approach the situation objectively and put together a brief answer addressing the conditions of your departure.

For example, pending your particular situation, you might state that new management had been brought in, and your position was eliminated to make room for members of their old team or that your position was restructured and it was no longer the right fit for your skill sets.

If multiple terminations were made at the same time your position was eliminated, state that you were a part of downsizing or company-wide lay-offs, which in today’s market is a very understandable reason–although be ready to justify their reason in letting you go versus keeping you, perhaps you were the newest member on the team or the highest paid.

If the fault did lie in your area, you could position your defense from the employer’s point of view.  You might try to explain how you had been struggling in the role for some time trying to make the clash between expectations after you were hired and the original skills you were hired for work.  And then go on to express how the opportunity with your prospective employer is a much better fit for your skills and experience.

Talking about your separation can be difficult.  It’s important to practice what you’re going to say and stick to one response that you are comfortable with and also to learn to let go of any negativity that surrounds the experience.  No matter what is expressed between you and the interviewer, resist any urges you may have to bad mouth your previous employer.

Any form of negativity that you express or that you still harbor towards the situation can latch on to your entire interview and bring it down–don’t let a past experience you can’t change affect your chances of securing a fresh start.  It’s time to let go and move on to bigger and better things and that should be a part of your attitude in the interview.

When developing your response, do some additional damage control by addressing what you learned from the situation.  This will go a long way with the interviewer in showing that you have grown from the experience (and it might surprise you as well, in what you discover and how you approach your next position moving forward.)

Finally, spin the experience as a positive for the opportunity in front of you.  Address how the prior role was a learning experience and by taking what you learned you will be able to excel in the position you’re interviewing for.  Discuss how you’ve thought about the mistakes you’ve made and will apply your new knowledge in the future.

Try to focus on how being fired may have been a blessing as you now have the opportunity to explore roles that are a better fit for your experience and more in line with your career progression or how the prospective company’s culture differs from that of your previous employer’s and is a better fit for your work style.

While rehashing your termination is not the easiest thing to do, practicing your approach will help ease the pain when it’s brought up in your next interview.  And the more you can focus on the positive and the opportunities ahead, the less it will hold you back from landing that next great opportunity.

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