There’s no doubt about it, being fired is up there on the leader board of life’s lowest moments. And yet, although getting the sack is often associated with shame and inadequacy, it’s extremely common.
Whether you understand why your employer gave you the chop or you spend your evenings angrily sticking pins in the eyes of a voodoo doll, you may be wondering whether the reason you left your old company could stand in the way of future employment.
Here’s how to break the news and use it to your advantage.
The best people have been fired
First thing’s first: Being fired is extremely unlikely to render you unemployable. You will find a new job and you’ll go on to do amazing things.
In fact, some of the best people in the world have been fired. J.K Rowling was fired for writing short stories on the company computer; Walt Disney was sacked for ‘not being creative enough’; and Thomas Edison was given his P45 for spilling sulphuric acid on the floor. The acid leaked through the floorboards and onto his boss’ desk on the floor below.
If an interviewer likes you, you have the skills required to do the job, and you don’t spend the entire interview slagging off your old boss, it’s extremely unlikely you’ll be rejected simply because you were fired. And if you are rejected, you’re destined for something else.
Being honest can paint you in a much better light than you imagine
In my opinion, if an interviewer asks why you left your previous job, you should tell them the truth.
You don’t have to go into extensive detail about why you were let go. After all, the whole point of a job interview is to show off your skills and emphasise how amazing you are. If there’s a long list of things you did wrong in your last job, you can keep most of them to yourself.
Pick one thing you did wrong and find a way to turn it into a positive. This is a great opportunity to show you’re just as willing to reflect on your failures as you are to celebrate your successes. A willingness to learn from your mistakes is an incredibly valuable quality. Employers should embrace it.
How to turn being fired into a learning experience
Let’s imagine you were let go because your performance was deemed unsatisfactory. It’s wise to prepare a couple of key takeaways ahead of the interview.
Perhaps you could say something like: “I was fired because of difficulties managing my workload. There were certain issues that were outside of my control, but I’ve learned a lot from the experience. Since being let go I’ve practised working to tighter deadlines, I’ve experimented with online organisation tools to track the progress of different projects, and I’ve taken an online course to improve my skills so that I can complete each job more efficiently.”
The above won’t be as relevant if you’ve landed an interview within days of being let go, but you can still plan a little speech that highlights actionable steps you’re in the process of taking to improve.
In this case you could say something like: “I was let go because we lost a key client and I made an error that contributed towards their decision to leave. I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how I can avoid this in future and I believe this will be an invaluable asset in my next role.“
When preparing for the interview, refer back to the job ad and try to weave elements of the ad into your explanation in a positive light.
Were you and the job simply incompatible?
In the same way that you can be incompatible with a romantic partner, you can be incompatible with a job too.
For example, back in 2015, I landed a job in a technical digital marketing role despite all my previous jobs being creative. I found that job incredibly difficult and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get the hang of it. When I quit a few months later without another job to go to, my incompatibility with the role was one of the reasons.
If this sounds familiar and you’re applying for a job that’s completely different to the one you were fired from, you could say: “On reflection, I wasn’t the best fit for the role and that’s why I’m here sitting in front of you today. I feel like I’m better suited to this position because my strengths lie in X, X and X.”
When an employee is fired, they’re rarely the only person to blame
Although there’s a lot to be said for taking responsibility for your own shortcomings when you’ve been fired, sometimes it really isn’t your fault.
When an employer sacks someone, they’ll sometimes place 100% of the blame on the person they’ve just fired. However, unless the employee is guilty of something seriously immoral or illegal (think sexual harassment, theft, blackmail), most of the time, there’s usually more than one person to blame.
For example, an employer may claim that an employee didn’t have the experience needed for the role – and that’s why they fired them. Personally, I think this is more of a recruitment failure than the fired employee’s fault. Unless the employee lied on their CV or bullshitted their way through the interview, their inexperience should have been recognised before they were offered a role.
This is important for two reasons.
- In order for you to have a successful job interview after being fired, you need to let go of the shame and guilt you may be feeling. If you go into the interview room feeling like you’re 100% at fault and you’ve got something to hide, you’ll struggle to paint yourself in the best possible light
- Employers know that people sometimes get fired for reasons outside of their control. In fact, there’s a chance they’ve even been fired themselves
No matter the reason you’ve been fired, I promise that if you take this opportunity to reflect on the situation, learn from the experience, and sing about your strengths, you’ll go on to do amazing things.