This is one of the most difficult questions that recruiters are asked on a regular basis. Below is a guideline for any job seeker who finds themselves in this predicament:
SELF-REFLECTION IS KEY:
The largest roadblock people face after being terminated is denial. It is common for people to rationalize, blame others and avoid the reality of the situation; this type of reaction will complicate your response in future interviews. If you are not at peace with what happened, it will be more difficult to put your interviewer at ease.
With a clear understanding of what went wrong, you will be well-positioned to search for a role that better suits you. In addition, if you have addressed and confronted the issues that contributed to your departure, your response will come across in a more sincere, confident and reassuring manner.
KEEP IT SHORT AND SIMPLE!
When it comes to explaining a job change, it is best to cut to the chase. Give a brief and logical answer and move on. If your response is more than two sentences, it’s probably too long.
WHAT TO FOCUS ON
When interviewers ask why you left a job, what they are looking for is a reassurance that any issues in the past are not likely to reoccur. Consider how this job compares to the prior one and make sure your response clearly articulates why they could expect a better outcome. Try being as forthcoming as circumstances allow, as hiring managers typically feel a sense of relief and appreciate the candor.
WHAT IF YOU CAN’T SAY WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENED?
It’s still best to acknowledge a weakness and accept your share of personal responsibility, even if you need to leave out the details. For example, you shouldn’t say, “I was let go because the company didn’t feel I was working hard enough.” An alternative could be: “I was no longer happy with the role, the company took notice that my work product had declined and determined it was best for us to part ways. I believe this role is a better fit for me because of (blank) and learned a valuable lesson in the importance of being more proactive with communicating any issues that come up.
IS IT OK TO PLACE BLAME ON YOUR FORMER EMPLOYER?
Oftentimes, the employer does play a role in why things don’t work out. As long as it is handled tactfully, pointing this out can give the interviewer a clearer picture. It is critical not to be overly negative, avoiding personal attacks and taking your share of personal responsibility, but if you are not the only one at fault it’s ok to say so.
Employers are realistic enough to know that nobody is perfect. When job seekers take ownership of their shortcomings and state how they learned from them, hiring managers tend to be extremely forgiving. It is important to resist the temptation to mask all of our errors and rather focus on the professional and personal growth that comes with making some mistakes along the way.