Were you fired? (Interview Question)

Memories of being fired tend to be traumatic. “Were you fired from that job?” or “Have you ever been fired?” may be the last questions we want to be asked in a job interview.

What’s the best way to answer?

First of all, realize that having been fired is probably more of a big deal to you than it is to the prospective employer.

Make your answer short and sweet: brief and emotionally neutral.

Here are good examples:

  • I was a valued member of the team for five years. Then a new manager came in (or there was a reorganization, or the company was bought) and many people were let go, including me. The new manager then filled the team with people he had worked with at a past company. It’s a blessing in disguise for me, because now I’m here interviewing for this exciting opportunity.
  • Looking back, I’ve realized the job and I weren’t really a good fit. I was successful with (aspects that are similar to the job you’re interviewing for), but not as strong on (the parts that are different). I’m much better suited to a position like the one we’re talking about today.
  • Although I did accomplish many milestones in that role, I realize I also made some mistakes. It’s been a big learning experience for me. I know now that… (describe what you learned). With that new wisdom, together with the skills I already had, I’m confident I’ll succeed in this role.

Emphasize the positive.

Notice how these answers begin and end with something positive, with the negative sandwiched in between. You can use this “sandwich” technique whenever you need to address something negative in an interview.

Whatever you say, it is important that you say it without radiating anger, fear or shame. Work on your state of mind if you need to, whether through self-help books, affirmations, meditation or counseling.

Put the firing in perspective in your own mind.

“Good people get fired every day,” according to Tim Sackett, who runs a staffing agency. “They get fired for making bad decisions. They get fired for pissing off the wrong person. They get fired because they didn’t fit your culture. They get fired because of bad job fit.”

Many of the most successful people in the world have been fired. Steve Jobs was fired from Apple, then returned years later. Oprah Winfrey, Walt Disney, Lee Iacocca, J.K. Rowling and Thomas Edison all got the boot. Look up “successful people who have been fired” online. You’ll see that the list goes on and on. You’re in fine company.

Do what you can to rebuild the bridge, work hard on your interview preparation, and look forward to moving quickly past this bump in the road. The more time goes by, the less it will matter.

This post is a sneak preview from my upcoming book, Get that Job! The Quick and Complete Guide to a Winning Job Interview (January 2017). One way to be reminded when it comes out is to subscribe to this blog!

Your Interview Questions List – How to Use This Powerful Tool!

Interview Questions List: A Powerful ToolIf you’re looking for a new job, one “must-have” tool is a long list of interview questions – and the right techniques for using that list to prepare.

First, compile a really good list.

Anticipate any likely questions that may be prompted by your resume, your LinkedIn profile or other materials the interviewer may have seen.

Expect to be asked why you left each position (especially any job that was short-term), what you were doing during any periods of employment, why you majored in paleontology, and so on. Create a document (in your computer, not handwritten) starting with these questions.

Add questions you remember from past interviews.

Then do a several online searches, including “job interview questions (your occupation)” as well as more general searches like “job interview questions,” “behavioral interview questions” and “tough interview questions.”

Copy and paste questions into your master list until you have  at least 100 questions, and maybe 200 or so.

Now, here’s how to work with your list:

1. Prioritize.

Highlight the toughest and the most important questions, and start with those. Hint: “Tell me about yourself” is one of the most important.

2. Analyze.

Read each question and ask yourself:

  • “What is the interviewer looking for here? What are they really trying to find out?” For example, questions about the best or worst manager you’ve ever had are really questions about your own attitude and adaptability.
  • “How is this question a great opportunity to direct the interviewer’s attention to my skills and strengths?” Even a question about failures, weaknesses or gaps in employment can demonstrate strengths.
  • “What examples or stories could I use to illustrate my answer to this?” A story creates pictures in the interviewer’s mind, and a picture is worth a thousand words.

3. List key talking points.

Based on the steps 1-3, for each question type in a very minimal key-word outline of your answer. Use only enough words to jog your memory – maybe 5-10 words per question. Do not script your answers in full; that method usually results in a robotic presentation that sounds insincere and/or dull.

4. Practice well in advance.

Practice answering the questions aloud, with your key-word outline if necessary at first, then without it. Combine this with visualization, seeing and hearing your confident answers and the interviewer’s positive response. Do mock interviews with friends, family and/or an interview coach. Insist on feedback for improvement.

Know that in practicing with this list, you are not only developing answers to these specific questions, but also building skills you can use to field totally unexpected questions that will come up in the interview!

5. Use it for last-minute review on the big day.

You may find it helpful to skim your notes in a coffee shop or in your parked car, right before going into the interview, to focus your thoughts.

6. Be natural.

Are you “over-preparing”? This is a common concern. In my opinion, it’s unlikely that analyzing questions and planning key points to address them will have any down side. On the other hand, it is possible to over-rehearse what you will actually say.

Ask your practice partner(s) whether your answers sound natural and conversational, or stiff and rehearsed. If the answer is “It’s like you’re reciting,” it’s possible that it’s time to stop rehearsing. Or it may simply be that you need to use more “plain English” and less business jargon, or be a bit less formal.

7. Think of it as a win-win.

Remember that your preparation will not only help you get the job, but it benefits the interviewer as well by communicating your qualifications more clearly. Help them understand how you’re a great fit for that job!

Work-Arounds for Impossible Interview Questions

Work-Arounds for Impossible Interview QuestionsWhat do you do when you can’t exactly answer the question that’s been asked you in an interview?

Sometimes you need to reframe the question, to look at it in a less obvious way.

In other words, you come up with an effective work-around – like those clever ones that get you past various roadblocks in your day-to-day work!

Let’s say an interviewer asks you this:

Tell me about a time when you had to work with someone you really disliked, or who disliked you.”

Maybe that’s never happened to you. If you’re like Will Rogers (“I never met a man I didn’t like!”) – or you just haven’t worked with very many people! – then I guess it’s possible you have no answer to this.

Or maybe you just don’t feel it’s wise to admit to disliking or being disliked. Your hunch is probably right on that!

You might say something like this:

“Well, I had a co-worker who was difficult to work with, because he would take up a lot of my time with lengthy chit-chat. I don’t know if I exactly disliked him, but I had to manage my time without alienating him. The way I dealt with it was…”

This is fine. You’ve addressed the employer’s concern – whether you deal effectively with difficult behaviors – while presenting yourself as someone who likes people.

Here’s another example. In a mock interview session with a client recently, I asked (in the role of interviewer):

What are three areas in which your past employer wanted you to improve your work?”

My client could only remember two, because it had been several months since he left the job.

I suggested that he name the two areas his employer had identified – and how he had addressed them – plus one area he had identified for himself and successfully improved upon. This would address the interviewer’s real concern, which in this case is not whether the candidate can happen to remember three items, but whether he effectively accepts and uses feedback.

Of course, if you’re needing to reframe every question you come across, there’s probably a deeper problem. You may be seriously under-prepared. You may need to come up with a list of stories to tell in answering interview questions. You could probably benefit from interview coaching (as most job seekers can, in my admittedly biased opinion).

Your intention is crucial. If you’re intent is to dodge the question you are likely to be perceived as evasive. But if your aim is to authentically address the interviewer’s underlying interests and concerns you will project common sense and good judgment.

Used sparingly, reframing can enable you to proceed smoothly instead of being stumped. It also demonstrates creative-problem-solving and communication skills that are highly relevant to most jobs.

Address the interviewer’s interests, reframe as needed and proceed with confidence!