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How Employers View You Being Fired

So… you were fired from your last job. Terminated for cause. Maybe it was your first time, or maybe not. Is it a “terminal” situation that will prevent you from ever getting another job? How does a potential employer view a termination and how can you best overcome any adverse impressions that might make?

Here are some perspectives and strategies…

It’s subjective from one person to another. There are certainly no viewpoints that are held universally on this. It’s a very subjective matter. There are some employers that will never consider someone that’s been fired from a previous job. There are others where it has no negative impact at all. And there is every degree of perspective between those extremes. There are, however, things that you can consider and present that can improve your chances of overcoming any objections.

“You MUST be a bad apple.” One perception an employer may have is that ‘good people never get fired’. In today’s world, that is certainly not the case, however, it’s up to you to make the case of why your termination is an aberration and not the norm for you.

“Everyone has at least one bad experience in their career.” Many employers understand that a bad set of circumstances is not necessarily an indication of future performance. In some fields, like radio hosts, it’s an exception rather than the rule for someone to NOT have been fired. Their perspective of a termination is as only a small piece of their entire evaluation process.

The reason matters! Certainly the reason for the termination has bearing on the situation. If someone was terminated for embezzlement, sexual harassment, violence, or other severe reasons, it will be much harder to overcome. If the termination was for underperformance, personality clashes, or some kind of disagreement it is much easier to address.

“So what’s changed?” Whether they view a termination as a serious problem or not, they will certainly want to know whether it’s likely to be different the next time around. If it can be shown that it was a unique set of circumstances, something you’ve learned from, or something else that’s changed that would prevent the same outcome, the incident becomes more minor in the overall selection process.

Your own attitude and perspective matter. A potential employers’ perception of your termination will largely depend on yours, and how you present it. If you have a sense of bitterness, if you don’t take appropriate responsibility, if you don’t appear to have learned anything from the experience, or if you “bash” your previous employer, it will create a very negative impression and will likely keep you from being considered further. If, however, you acknowledge your role in the circumstances, you view it as a learning experience, and you can articulate how you would do things differently the next time, it can become a non-issue and perhaps even enhance their opinion of you.

Personal responsibility is attractive. Certainly many people end up being terminated from a position due to little or no fault of their own. Things happen where at times, someone really is a victim. However, presenting your termination that way, even if true, will be received with skepticism. Someone that takes appropriate ownership of their fate, will always be more highly regarded than someone that tries to point fingers elsewhere. Unfortunately, taking personal responsibility is relatively rare, so when someone does take ownership, it’s noteworthy and attractive.

Self-Improvement is attractive. People make mistakes. Learning from mistakes is key. Employers don’t expect to hire people that have never made mistakes. They do expect a potential employee to have learned from their mistakes and make different decisions the next time. Someone that can articulate the lessons they learned and have insight into how they have grown in the process, is a potentially great employee.

Brevity is a virtue. Although all of this could make for a long dissertation in an interview, it is far better to keep the explanation short and direct. The longer you talk, the more questions it raises, and the greater the likelihood that you will say something that will raise red flags. Knowing that the subject will arise, it’s critical that you create your answer in advance, and practice it until it flows easily and sounds natural. While key points are important, including a great deal of detail will likely do more harm than good. Hone your explanation to only give the necessary information without providing too much detail.

What does it look like? As an example, for someone that may have been terminated for underperformance, an effective answer to the question of why they were terminated might be…

I was let go for not meeting expectations in my position. I had struggled with completing the requirements of the role. I realized I should have gotten help and additional training I needed sooner. It was a mistake I made that I certainly learned from and won’t make again. Since the position ended, I enrolled in continuing education courses to gain extra skills I’ll need to be as successful as I can in my next role. I also understand how important it is to communicate effectively with my manager and be up front about what I’m doing well, and where I struggle. While it’s not pleasant to have been let go, it was something that helped me reevaluate how I handled my work and will make me a better performer in the future. Can you tell me what you would look for in the first 90 days to determine if someone is successful in the role, or not?

The answer takes less than a minute to articulate, without going into too much detail. It takes appropriate responsibility without any bitterness or deflecting blame. It shows that they’ve learned from the incident and are doing something so that it doesn’t happen again. It looks forward to the future and then asks a question to move the conversation in a different direction.

Taking an employers’ perspective into account when pursuing a position after being fired can help you overcome the circumstances and come out on top!


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The Art of an Informational Interview

testSo… you've been networking, getting names of people at companies you're interested in pursuing in your job search, and you were able to arrange an informational interview with some of them. That's great news!

Now you start thinking… NOW WHAT? What do I actually do at these things? I want a job! But I set up the meetings on the premise I only want to learn more about the company.

Job seekers often hear that they should be striving to get informational interviews in their search. However, few people ever talk about what those are supposed to look like and how to do them well.

Here are some considerations and ideas…

It's your responsibility to lead! Often, job seekers set up a meeting, and then expect the networking contact to drive the agenda. The contact is generally unprepared. So the conversation begins awkwardly, and often never improves. The opportunity to make an assertive, positive impression is lost and the chances of the meeting turning into further referrals or job leads.

When you set a meeting, it's your responsibility to lead the agenda. Have a purpose for the meeting, prepare several questions, and prepare some discussion points. When you show that you have things you are trying to accomplish rather than simply taking their time to chat aimlessly, you create an impression and give them the confidence to refer you on to others. They will know you will be professional and considerate to the person they refer you to and will have less hesitation to do so.

Preparation is key! In order to carry an effective conversation and convey a purpose, you have to prepare. Know something about the person you are meeting, check their LinkedIn profile and ask questions of others that may know them. Look for things you may have in common, such as having gone to the same college, worked for the same company or industry in the past, having some connections in common on LinkedIn, or anything else you can find. Look at the companies they've worked at in the past and perhaps consider asking them for leads or contacts at those organizations as well, if those companies are also targets for you. They are likely to still know people that work there. Learn some things about their company. Read their website, Google the company for news or other venues where they appear. Ask questions of others that may know. Have an idea of the type of appropriate jobs the company may have. Search for others on LinkedIn that work at the company and scan the titles and responsibilities they have. Based on the information you find in advance, you can create a great number of topics to discuss and questions to ask.

Balance the talking and the listening! While it's important to give them a sense of your strengths, abilities, and types of positions you are seeking… it's critical to ask questions and listen carefully. Often, job seekers are so focused on telling about themselves, and show little or no sincere interest in their contact or the company. The old adage of "People don't care what you know until they know you care" is true. Beyond courtesy and striving for more contacts though, it behooves you to better understand how they have been successful, the culture and direction of the company, and how they recommend you to proceed.

So what kinds of questions should you prepare to ask? It will vary based on individual circumstances, however, you could ask questions like:

  • How did you get your position at XYZ Corporation?

  • How has your career progressed, and what made you successful?

  • How would you describe the culture?

  • What kind of personality tends to be most successful here?

  • What do you appreciate most about the organization and your role here?

  • Based on what you know of my background, what are some additional areas of the organization you might recommend I explore?

  • Who else in the organization could you recommend I connect to as well?

  • Is there any way I could be of help to you somehow?

Respect their time! If you originally asked for 15 minutes of their time, or however long… be sure to be conscious of it and be prepared to wrap things up as the time approaches. They will feel respected, and more likely to refer you on to others when they see that you don't let things drag on endlessly. As the time approaches, say something like… "You graciously agreed to meet for 15 minutes, and I want to respect your schedule, I appreciate the time you've given me, is there some way I could be of help to you at all?" They may say they can stay and chat longer, however, give them the option of making that call rather than just continuing to talk. It will make a very positive impression.

Informational interviews can be a great way to build relationships, gain some exposure at companies you are targeting, and potentially gain additional key contacts. However, be prepared to handle them well so that you are seen as a professional, and not simply wasting time.


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One size does NOT fit all!

When it comes to creating a resume, many job seekers rely on templates in their word-processing software, ones they find online, or reusing someone else's resume format they think looks nice. While it's certainly helpful to get ideas from other resumes you see, it's generally a bad idea to use a "standard" template or design.

No two careers are exactly alike, and therefore each resume should reflect those differences as well. When it comes to resumes… there's no such thing as "One size fits all"!



Different circumstances call for different styles…

  • Someone that has worked at one company for the past 20 years should have a very different style and format than someone that's changed jobs every few years.

  • Someone that is looking for a new position in the same field and industry as their last role should have a very different resume than someone that's changing careers.

  • Someone that's had a steady growth and progression in their career should use a different format than someone that's been in the same job for the last several years.

  • Someone that is looking for a position in Graphic Design or Advertising should have a different style than someone seeing a position in Accounting, Engineering, or Sales.

  • Someone seeking strategic or leadership roles should have a different style than someone seeking staff level positions.

Everyone has something unique in their career history and should figure out a format, structure, and wording that presents their skills, experience, strengths and accomplishments in the best light.

So how do you do that?

First… Know yourself! In order to present yourself as well as you can, you first have to know what makes you unique and what is most marketable. Before you can articulate your greatest strengths and accomplishments well in a resume, you have to clearly understand what they are. Take tests, ask others, and do some self-assessment to best understand what you have to offer then you can begin creating the document to show it. You can get additional help by reading "Know Yourself!"

Highlight your most marketable assets. It's imperative that you emphasize the things that make you stand out from the crowd. Some that might have 15 years of work experience may generally put their Education section toward the end of their resume. However, if your education is exceptional compared to your competition… perhaps you have a Harvard MBA, or graduated from some other elite Ivy League school, it may make sense to put that near the top. Similarly, If you have had impressive titles at relatively unknown companies, you may want to bold-face your title. However, if you had average titles from highly respected companies, it may be better to bold-face the company name instead of your title.

Functional or Chronological? Given your individual circumstances, decide whether a more functionally oriented resume, or straight chronological resume makes the most sense for you. If you are seeking a career change, or have had gaps in your employment, a functional resume may be more expedient. However, be aware that they are often looked at as more suspect, and it should never exclude your chronological work history entirely. You can get more help and insight by reading "Functional or Dysfunctional?"

One page, or Five? While there are a variety opinions out there about the appropriate length for a resume, there are some general principles that most everyone would agree with… An entry-level candidate should certainly not have a 3 or more page resume. They haven't had enough experience to justify that length and a one page resume is best in the vast majority of their cases. Someone senior in their career can certainly justify having more than one page. You can get further help by reading "Too Long, or Too Short?"

In addition to the factors listed here, there are many other considerations and possibilities as well. Using Google, you can search for other sample resumes in your field. Looking at many examples can give you ideas of what might be good to incorporate into yours and what would not. Don't use someone else's template or format, however, use concepts to apply to your unique experience and circumstances to present yourself most effectively. Scrap the templates and create a tailored document for you!


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