career, interviewing, job search

“So, why did you leave your last position?” If your answer is “I was terminated”…

…You have work to do.

In the last post, we touched on whether to list a position from which you have been terminated on your resume. Now, let’s focus on how to talk about that position in an interview.

At one point in my past, I was phone screening a candidate. Per my typical phone screen process we were reviewing their job history. The resume didn’t indicate this (red flag), but the candidate stated they had recently left their employer.

I asked, “Can you share with me why you left?” Answer: “I was terminated.”

Suspicion confirmed. My follow up: “Would you mind sharing the reason for your termination?”

The candidate’s response: “Well, the position was over two hours away from where I was living, and…y’know.”

I know what, exactly? That you might have been terminated for attendance issues? Or something else? Needless to say, the phone screen wasn’t a long one.

Being terminated from a position is often a wrenching experience. It ranks #8 on the Holmes and Rahe life stress scale, but for most people it’s more likely to occur than inprisonment so I’d move it up to #7 of ‘likely stressors’.

It can be tough to own up to the fact that due to a choice you made or action you took (or didn’t take), you were fired. But before you start looking for your next job, you must do exactly that.

The concept of opportunity cost is an integral part of recruiting and hiring. Opportunity cost is defined as the cost of any activity measured in terms of the value of the next best alternative not chosen. In short: If I hire you, I can’t hire anyone else for the same position. Simple, right? Opportunity cost gives hiring managers fits, though. What if they choose Candidate A and not Candidate B, but Candidate A turns out to be horribly unreliable/a terrible worker/etc?

All of the evaluation that occurs in the hiring process–multiple rounds of interviews, background checks, reference checks, assessments–all are designed to mitigate the risk as much as possible. Because the costs of a bad hire can be significant;  it could mean missed product ship dates, lost customers, revenue, and shareholder value, or–even worse–injury or death.

You must prepare to speak very clearly and concisely about what happened–without reluctance, shame, or anger. “I don’t want to discuss it” is only going to cause a recruiter’s suspicion/anxiety about you as a candidate to go through the roof–and almost guarantee you will be passed over for that position. You need a brief explanation that covers 1) the circumstances, 2) why you were terminated, 3) what you’ve learned/will do differently going forward.

A great sample answer: “I was terminated from that position due to tardiness. The company had a very strict zero tolerance policy where employees could not be more than 10 minutes late 2 or more times a quarter. Unfortunately my commute was highly unpredictable and caused me to exceed that threshold by one instance. I’ve since narrowed my search to positions much closer to my residence and have modified my schedule to ensure I can be on time every day.”



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