The other day a dental hygienist asked what to do if during an interview a potential employer asks why she left her previous job, when in fact she was terminated from it.
Her particular situation was that she had been with the office for about six years when she was promptly let go for refusing to work additional hours.
First of all, my heart goes out to those that get let go for these kinds of reasons. That office threw away six years of history with them and probably damaged some office moral in the process. Without knowing all the details, it also sounds borderline unethical – but that’s a topic for a different day.
The question is how to explain getting fired from a job in a job interview. So here’s three points:
Avoid Label “Fired”
The word itself is quite pointed and conjures up an immediate emotion of there being a huge problem and you were to blame.
Everyone these days thinks of Donald Trump’s show The Apprentice and all the drama associated with those scenes of him arguing back and forth with someone, culminating in that famous buck-stops-here statement, “You’re fired!”
Whether that’s the case or not, when talking about it, choose a different word such as “dismissed” or “let go” as they help diminish the visual of it.
Consider Keeping it Private
There’s no rule or crime for not including a job on your resume. If you’ve been working for lots of years and even continued working at a different office part-time then I would just not even include it.
Identify the cause and be honest about it.
The hygienist above, in my mind, was not really fired in the negative sense and so it’s rather easy to explain. Circumstances around the job itself changed – she was doing her job, in fact, she was doing it well as they invited her to work more hours. She simply couldn’t take them up on it.
However, when it’s a performance or personality issue it can be much harder to explain. If it’s an issue where you were wrong and you know you were wrong then choose one of those issues, own up to it, talk about how you learned from it and even given an example or two of how things would be handled differently now. You could even share a quote from someone famous who made lots of mistakes and learned from them.
If it’s an issue where you feel your situation was not handled properly, distance yourself from it a little bit by taking the emotion out of it. And I would even mention something you liked about your former and include that in your summary. For example, “I really enjoyed the way he handled older patients and he was generally kind to me – we just had a difference of opinion about how strong we needed to up-sell our patients on products.”
The point is to take the high road and never bad-mouth. It may make you feel better or vindicated but it seldom helps your chances in getting a new job – even if you were 100 correct in your assessment.
Finally, if you have references from that employer that are on paper or from patients and co-workers, I would use those to demonstrate you were otherwise a great employee. Sometimes employers you are fired from will actually provide you a letter of reference. Take it – you may not use it but it may come in handy.