If you’ve ever been fired from a job, you may be anxious about whether being fired will affect your ability to land new employment. I queried hiring managers and career experts for their advice about how to land a new job after being fired. Here are their responses:
“When you are job hunting after being fired, don’t mention you’ve been fired unless you’re asked. Employers can’t tell from your resume if you’ve been fired or not so don’t give them any reason to suspect it. I’ve seen applicants mention it in their cover letter and it’s a huge mistake that can get their application skipped over right off the bat.
If this issue is brought up during one of your interviews, it’s important to come prepared with a convincing explanation for why it isn’t indicative of who you are as an employee. If your explanation is reasonable enough, many employers are willing to brush this issue aside and focus on your skills and other credentials.
Throughout the years I’ve hired many employees who were fired from a previous job. Oftentimes employees are fired because of creative differences or team chemistry issues which aren’t indicative of their actual work performance. Part of being a savvy hiring manager is being able to identify, through the hiring process, which candidates may have been underappreciated in the past and worth more than their work history might initially lead you to believe. Having been both a hiring manager and business owner who’s had to make these type of decisions, I’ve always made sure to look at each firing or layoff on a case-by-case basis and withhold any judgment until I’ve understood all the details.”
Steve Wang, Associate at Goldman Sachs, Serial Entrepreneur and Founder of Mock Interview and JazzHR, Blogger at Resume and Career Tips
“As the owner of a national recruiting agency, I tell my candidates to get positive references from employees or former employees of the company that fired you. Try to get 2 or 3 references including a supervisor or senior level employees that will say great things about you. Never use the word “fired.” If they ask why you left your position, tell them you were let go, but that you have great references that you can give them.”
Natalie Ozgunay, President, SmartHire Inc.
“Recruiters and hiring managers are trained to avoid selection biases during the interview process. However, when they become aware that a candidate was fired from their previous job, it is human nature to wonder why. Did this candidate do something catastrophic to get fired? Are they a poor performer? Am I putting my current workforce at risk?
It is easy for a recruiter to fall back on the decision of the candidate’s previous employer and assume that if this candidate was a good performer, then they would still be with that employer. This could be a mistake and your company may miss out on adding a talented individual. It is possible that the individual did not fit into the company culture, but that does not mean they won’t fit into yours. Some of the most talented individuals would have a hard time fitting into a hierarchical structure or reporting to a tyrannical boss. Your company may have a better structure or culture that would allow that talent to blossom.
I know it may be tough to consider but think of your significant other and all the men or women that may have broken up with them in the past. If you relied on their decision, you wouldn’t be married to the love of your life now!
If I had to give advice to a candidate who was fired and is worried about what to say in an interview, I would tell them to be honest about their previous work experience if asked but be careful not to sound like they are criticizing their previous employer. Explain what happened in a positive frame that highlights why they would be a better fit for the prospective organization. Talk about lessons learned from the experience. Most importantly, clarify that they did not fail but simply needed the experience to be more successful in their future endeavors.”
Matt Campana, HR Manager at Shift Recycling
“I have hired several people over the years who have been fired from previous jobs. I feel honesty is always the best policy. When a job candidate is open about the fact that they’ve been fired, we can have an open conversation about what occurred and the circumstances surrounding the firing. People get fired for many reasons, not only poor performance — sometimes the reason they were fired was out of their control, such as missing excessive work because of an emergency.
Don’t try to hide your firing from hiring managers. It is very likely we’ll find out when we’re calling previous employers to verify employment history. The best approach is to be honest from the start and have an open dialogue about your experience. If someone shares with me that they made a mistake, and said they learned from it, I would ask them to explain what steps they’ve taken since then to ensure they don’t make the same mistake again. Everyone makes mistakes, but learning from them is how we grow from our experiences.”
Marielle Smith, VP of People at GoodHire
“As a management and HR professional, I have hired many people who have been fired. There was a time when being fired meant that a candidate was nearly untouchable. However, in decades past, employers were much more reluctant to fire employees with substandard performance and behavior until it became unbearable! That meant that they were fired for some pretty significant reasons. Once employers understood how to reduce their legal risk or were facing workforce reductions, they had a much easier time putting people in the terminated category. Now, many good employees are included in this employment demographic.
First and foremost, candidates need to be forthcoming about why they were fired. If the infraction was significant, they should be prepared to explain what they learned and how they are approaching work differently since this career misstep. If a candidate lost his/her job due to a layoff, he/she may want to offer up the reason like company acquisition, relocation of position, etc.
I also strongly recommend the terminated candidate describe how he/she productively utilized the time after losing the job. Taking credit/non-credit classes, volunteering, picking up part-time work, etc. can all positively contribute to painting the picture of a resilient person who chose to utilize their “found time” rather than wallowing in their circumstance. No one wants to hire someone who sat on the couch waiting for the last dollar of unemployment to run out.”
Susan Hosage, MS, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Sr. Consultant/Educator/Executive Coach
“I’ve hired many of people at multiple companies that have been let go from previous roles, both at smaller retailers and large international technology companies. More often than not, those that we’ve brought on the team have been some of our best performers and incredibly valuable leaders.
My decision to hire someone that has previously been let go comes down to authenticity, humbleness, and grace. We’ve all had times when we’ve not performed at our best and sometimes completely messed up a project, and some people have done unquestionably fireable offenses. There are also situations where toxic leadership may have contributed to the person being terminated.
My advice to a candidate is to be upfront about the situation, open to us talking to others that they worked with in the past, and take ownership for your part in the previous situation. I personally believe that we are called to have grace in situations like these, and when the candidate can help me understand their background, it makes it easier.”
Kurt Uhlir, Entrepreneur and Inventor
“Someone can be fired for something as simple as not fitting in with office culture, and someone can be fired for something as egregious as assaulting a coworker. It all depends on the offense.
In the instances in which I’ve hired people who have been previously fired, the first thing I take into consideration is the nature of the offense. Even if the firing was performance related, that doesn’t necessarily disqualify an otherwise compelling candidate if they can demonstrate that they have taken steps to get past the previous issue.
My advice to any jobseeker who has been fired is to be extremely forthcoming about all the facts. If you were fired for missing time at work due to an arrest, withholding that information can cost you down the line.
Remember that everybody makes mistakes, and the wisest entrepreneurs I know are not averse to hiring the right person, even if it means giving someone a second chance. However, nobody likes being lied to. So be up front, introspective, and enthusiastic from the outset.”
Jan Bednar, CEO of ShipMonk
“I agree with most career coaches that job candidates who have been fired or terminated from a previous position should not openly volunteer this information in an interview. However, if a candidate is asked this question directly, I feel that rather than merely sitting there being forthright, non-defensive, neutral and limiting in one’s speech, a well-crafted response is a golden opportunity to shine. Don’t pass it up. No, I’m not advocating that one openly criticize one’s former supervisor or the company. Instead, use this opportunity to put forth a special ‘spin’on one’s accomplishments. Allow me to explain by example…
Recently, I met a former IT Director of a food distribution/brokerage firm who had been fired from his position by his supervisor, the CFO. The CFO was a much older individual who was not technology literate, had no appreciation for technology and did not really want to spend much money on technology deployment (as it was described to me by the Director). When the IT Director joined the firm, he noticed wide gaps in missing, basic technology. For instance, the firm did not have an email system, their customer relationship management (CRM) system was a pencil and paper-based approach, store inventories were manually done and handed in on a paper tablet, and there was no company network. He proposed a drastic technology upgrade to make the firm more competitive (they were losing business to more technically advanced food brokers). The CFO said the IT Director was too much of a “loose cannon,” the firm would never be a technology centric firm, and the IT Director was terminated for his proposal to spend money to upgrade the company’s technology.
Actually, the Director’s approach was strategic technology planning. He wasn’t looking to just spend money. He wanted to position the firm as a premier distributor/food broker. I coached the Director, if ever asked in an interview if he had been terminated, to volunteer a “yes” answer, but then to immediately position why he was fired….his due diligence approach in seeing the technology gaps in the organization, why it was important to address them in a proactive approach, his desire to make the firm more competitive, and the CFO’s opinion that technology was not important (notice I did not suggest he call the CFO an idiot or a fool). Just state the facts here. The CFO did not want to spend any money on technology. Let the interviewer draw their own opinion of the situation and the CFO. Just help guide them towards a more positive understanding of the firing.
The point here is not to just say “I was fired, and I learned my lesson.” Explain what you were trying to accomplish, show merit in your actions, get the interviewer on your side rather than leaving them as a sideline observer to your statement that you were fired from your last position. The end result is that the stigma of being fired was diminished, while one’s proposed actions are lauded. This allows the interviewer to conclude the firing, while maybe justified in the eyes of the CFO, was really a big mistake and should not be held against the IT Director. It worked for the IT Director. He got the position as a VP of Technology.”
Stephen C. Rood, Chief Information Officer, Strategic Technology, Inc.
If you have been fired from a job and you want to practice what you will say in job interviews, contact me about booking a phone or webcam-based interview practice session.
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