How to Deal With Being Fired

Author: Dick Bolles

A reader writes: "I'm 42, and have lots of great references from my previous work experiences. But last month for the first time in my life I got fired, and without warning, after being at my new job for just five months. Now, of course, I'm job-hunting, and at one of the interviews last week this prospective employer absolutely grilled me about why I left my previous employment. It was very uncomfortable for me. I'd appreciate some guidance about how to deal with this in future job interviews, what to say, and more importantly what not to say."

In this day and age, one is very lucky indeed if one can get to the age of 42 without having been fired. In a typical group of people, you may find as many as two thirds have been fired at sometime in their lives. Fired, or "laid off," or "terminated," or "made redundant" or any of the other lovely euphemisms our culture has invented. Sometimes, of course, it is "for cause," but more often than not you are simply caught up in the inevitable turmoil of the so-called job-market: companies growing, companies contracting, good management, mismanagement, companies undergoing life pains, companies undergoing death pains. 

Of course, dealing with this in the next job interviews is not always easy, but here are some guidelines that may help.

  1. Begin with yourself.

    Informal surveys reveal that about 82.5 percent of those who are fired are angry about it (the rest are just relieved). But if you walk into your next job interview with that cloud of anger hanging over you, most employers will detect it. It's as obvious as stale cigarette smoke clinging to a suit. So, before going out on a job interview you must put that anger to bed. The only rule is: get rid of it through words, not through actions. Talking out the events and your feelings in great detail with your partner, a good friend, or a career counselor, can often work wonders. So, get it all out of your system. Then, set your face resolutely toward the future, rather than toward the past.

  2. Turn to others who have been fired.

    Often your friends and acquaintances are an untapped gold mine of helpful ideas about how to deal with this in a job interview. Search among your Links on LinkedIn, or your friends on Facebook.  Also email any other friends you have.  Just gently tell them you've been fired, and wonder if they know of anyone who has been.  (You're really hoping they will volunteer that they have been.  Surprise! You'll be amazed at what you don't know about some of your friends. When you find a friend who has been through this, who then successfully found another job thereafter, ask them how they dealt with their firing in their subsequent job interviews. To guard against one person's kooky advice, get the advice of at least three such friends, before you formulate your own strategy.

  3. Remember "first impressions are lasting."

    Don't let the first thing you blurt out in a job-interview be: "I was fired at my last job," If you thought that was the most important thing about you, then so will the employer. No, the first thing you should blurt out are your skills, your experience, and your enthusiasm for this company where you are interviewing. (It helps, more than a little, if you have done some research on that company, at the library, on the Internet, among your friends, before walking in there.) Save discussion of your previous job, and the manner in which you left it, for later in the interview, after the employer has shown some interest in actually hiring you. (Until then, your previous job history is absolutely irrelevant.)

  4. On the other hand, don't let the interview end without volunteering that you were "let go" at this previous job if it wasn't part of a general downsizing

    If the employer has demonstrated a keen interest in hiring you, then (and only then) volunteer this kind of information: "I think you should know that I was let go at my previous job. There's not much to say about it. I usually get along extremely well with my bosses; but in this case, we just didn't. Human chemistry, I suppose. I'm sadder and wiser for the experience." Say no more. Let it go at that.

  5. Remember, at every job interview the employer is on trial as much as you are.

    The purpose of a job interview is twofold: the employer decides if they want you, you decide if you want them. If an employer is obsessed with the subject of your firing, you're probably won't find this a comfortable place for you to do your best. Go on with your search. You can find a place where the job interviewer treats you with respect in the interview, and thinks the most important thing about you is your future, not your past.