I was recently asked a question by someone trying to help a job seeker that had been terminated from his last position. They wanted to give some helpful advice. Here’s the conversation (edited for privacy)…
I am trying to help a gentleman who was let go from “ABC Company” last month. My first impression was that he was laid off, but when I asked him some questions about the change he said he was terminated. Obviously I wasn’t there, but this person was at “ABC Company” for 20 years, had very successful performance reviews and then got a new manager (and from what it sounds like) this manager just really wanted someone different in his role and instead of laying him off, terminated him through progressive discipline and said he wasn’t meeting the requirements of the job. He won his unemployment case, but he’s having difficulty talking about this when he interviews. This person is very smart, focused and it’s hard to imagine him being terminated.
How should he best deal with this in job interviews?
There’s no question this can be a difficult situation, however, a 2-step strategy may be appropriate:
If, in an interview, he’s asked about the circumstances of leaving his last job, his initial response can be somewhat light-hearted, simply saying something like:
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people losing jobs these days.”
The interviewer might just leave it at that and move on. If they do ask for more specifics, however, it’s important he gives a brief, well worded answer that ends on a positive note, then ask a question that moves the conversation in a different direction. Too often people dwell on too many details that only serve to raise more questions and make the situation worse. When you’re in a hole… stop digging! He might say something like:
“I had been at “ABC Company” for 20 years with consistently positive performance reviews. Last year though, through some transitions in the organization, I ended up with a new manager. It’s not uncommon for a new leader to come in to a group and want to make changes. Unfortunately, I was one of those changes and ended up being separated from the company. In many ways, I’m looking forward to the opportunity this gives me to continue developing my career in a new environment! Can you give me a more detailed idea of what the expectations would be of me in this role in the first 3 to 6 months?”
He’s got to use words that are true, and comfortable for him to say. However, since this is something he knows is likely to come up in most of his interviews, it’s very important that he hone his words, and memorize them. If he “wings” his answer, he’s likely to ramble and dig a deeper hole.
Effectively discussing a termination is always difficult in a job interview. However, if you have a plan and are well prepared you can move past it and make the case why you are the best candidate for the job!