If you have had more than one job, there’s no doubt you have encountered this question during an interview. As simple and straight-forward as the question is, it strikes fear in the hearts of many candidates during the interview process. This is a very common interview question that most candidates expect to be asked at some point in the selection process.
So why do so many career opportunity searchers dread it? Are you one of many people who dread this question? I would venture to say that it is because many of you who do dread it do so because you may have left your last job under less than favorable circumstances. If you are one of those people, you likely fall into one of the following circumstances: You didn’t quit, but were terminated involuntarily. You were laid off and are experiencing feelings of fear, rejection and shame about the situation, so you are still very emotional about it. You quit in lieu of termination and don’t know how to explain the situation in a manner that does not cause potential employers to develop a negative perception of you. You may have gotten bored, burnt-out, or just sick and tired on your last job and needed to take break, so you quit, but don’t want to appear unreliable or impulsive. You may not have gotten along well with the person to whom you reported, but don’t want to appear difficult to get along with. You may have felt that your last employer discriminated against you or that the work environment was unethical; however, you don’t want to speak negatively about another employer or take that emotional baggage to another employer.
There could be any number of reasons why you are no longer with, or trying to leave, your most-recent employer. Whatever the reason, rest assured that it does not have to be the end of your career. Understand that it is okay to stumble and fall, but the key to success is to not stay down. This post will help you to answer this question with dignity and grace. Remember, that potential employers are assessing how you handle difficult work-related situations and could decide to not hire you on how you respond to this question, alone. So, here are some recommendations on how to turn a negative situation into a positive:
• Do not speak negatively of a past employer
o It is terrible interview etiquette to speak negatively about them.
o If you quit because you hated working there, you can explain to the interviewer that you reached a level of knowledge and skill with your last employer that the position was no longer a challenge, so you are now in search of an opportunity that offers growth and increased responsibility.
o If you quit your last employer in order to avoid being terminated, explain to the interviewer that you and your manager mutually agreed that the employment relationship was not working out well for the organization or you, so you resigned before you lost the option to resign.
• Accept responsibility for any part that you played in the situation.
o Example – “I made an honest mistake and management understood; however, it impacted the company financially, so the decision was made to let me go.”
o Example – “I had a sick family member whom I had to care for. I exhausted my FMLA entitlement, but my family member was still sick, so I missed a lot of work and was terminated. My family member passed away a couple of months ago, so I am now ready to re-enter the workforce.“
o Example – I had a personal issue that I was dealing with and it began to affect my work performance. That matter has now been resolved, so it will not affect my work life in the future.
• Don’t make excuses
o Doing so will make you appear petty and unwilling to accept responsibility for your actions. Even if something was not your fault, you are better off presenting a positive take than expending the energy trying to explain why something was not your fault.
• Be honest
o If you were down-sized/laid off or your position was outsourced, say it. Also advise if you chose to not relocate if the company moved operations outside of your local commuting area.
o If you were terminated involuntarily, say so. The professional world is very small, so you don’t want to end up losing a new job because someone found out that you were dishonest during the selection process.
o If you were arrested and it was the reason for your getting fired, say so, explain that the behavior was totally out of character for you, will not happen again, and advise of the disposition of the charges. Tell the interviewer that it has been a tough road putting it behind you, but that you believe in being honest because you don’t want to have to come to work every day wondering when/if your new employer will find out about the situation. You need to also check into getting the charges expunged from your record.
o Do not give more details than you need to. Remember that it is still an interview and you want the employer to give you the chance to prove yourself with them. Move on to the next topic as soon as is reasonably possible.
o If you made a bad choice by accepting an offer of employment from your former employer, explain that you were desperate for work and the relationship ended up not being the best fit. Now you’re in search of a career opportunity that values your work ethic, enthusiasm, thirst for a challenge, and unique skill set.
• Show how you learned from the situation
o Explain how you would handle a similar situation differently in the future in order to achieve a better outcome. That way the interviewer can gauge how you might handle a challenging situation as one of their team members.
It would be impossible to address every possible circumstance that led to a candidate’s separation from their most-recent employer. With the examples presented, you can tweak the responses to fit your particular circumstances. Once you decide on the best way to answer the question, it is very important that you practice, preferably in front of a friend or family member who will be able to tell you if they sense nervousness in your response. This will allow you time to make the necessary adjustments to your response and take measures to minimize nervous energy. You don’t want to be in front of the interviewer offering your explanation for the first time. Practicing will increase your comfort level and help you to feel confident going to your next interview because you have prepared well.
For more useful resources on responding to difficult interview questions, visit the following links:
o https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/outside-voices-careers/articles/2016-01-19/how-to-land-the-job-when-you-have-a-criminal-record, and
Image compliments of www.pixabay.com.