You know it’s coming: the question you have been dreading. “Why did you leave your last position?” Are you worried that it’s going to send up red flags because you were fired? With a little preparation, this doesn’t have to be a scary question. Instead, it can be an opportunity. Let’s look at why interviewer’s ask this questions and what the best ways to answer.
What is the purpose of the question?
Understanding what information a potential employer is hoping to gain will help you give the right answer. Of course, there are many reasons that a person would leave or be let go from a previous job. The interviewer is less interested in the specific reason and more interested in the circumstances surrounding why you left. This is an opportunity to share what you learned and to prove that contribute value to the company.
Having a positive response to this question is important. This will clue potential employers into your mindset. If the reason you were laid off was not performance related, that is easy to explain. You can just be honest about the company’s position that lead to you being laid off. You can highlight your accomplishments in your time there and move forward with the interview. If you were fired due to poor performance, you need to be careful with your wording.
Everyone makes mistakes. But, if you can’t learn from your mistakes, then you won’t be worth the company’s time. Your answer will reveal how you deal with conflict, mistakes, and criticism. Your answer should show them how you gained clarity. If you want them to take you seriously, be thoughtful about your answer.
Why were you fired?
Take time to consider what lead to you being fired. Was it your temperament? Did you lack skills to perform in a specific portion of your job title? Did you have a different vision than the project leader? Were you unable to keep up with the pace of assignments?
They want to know your weaknesses. Being honest with yourself will help you determine the answer that will put you in the best light. This is an opportunity to highlight your strengths and show understanding of your weaknesses. Weaknesses don’t have to reflect badly on you if you demonstrate an understanding of them.
If you understand your weaknesses, it will help you look for jobs that are the right fit for you. Does the job you are interviewing for allow you to lean on your strengths and give support to your weaknesses? Demonstrate an understanding of that and indicate that it is one of the reason you applied for the job. But, be weary of offering too many details. An interview isn’t the place to dwell on your faults.
Make sure you are applying for the right job
If the reason you were fired from your last job was because of a personal quality that was poorly utilized by your last employer, don’t make the same mistake twice. Use the interview as an opportunity to gauge if you are honestly what the employer is looking for and if you have the skills to complete the job. If you have the strengths to succeed at this job, explain how this job is a better fit for you. Be sure to speak respectfully about your previous employer. Having a respectful attitude will show professionalism.
How to use this question to your benefit:
While this question might break many job applicants, it doesn’t have to break you. In fact, the way you answer might help you stand out in the crowd. The most important thing to do is express that you have moved forward from the experience and that you are confident in your ability to tackle this new job. If you can show how that experience prepared you for this job, that is even better. But, be careful not to veer too far off course. Answer the question in a way that doesn’t lead into further discussion. If you can move on to other topics, there will be other opportunities to share where you excel.
There are a few skills that an interviewer will have heightened attention for when asking this question. They will be looking for honesty. If you made a mistake that got you fired, own it. Take responsibility for your shortcomings and don’t blame your previous employer for your circumstance. If appropriate, reflect on what you could have done better or why you didn’t fit there. Explain what you learned and why that makes you a good fit where you are applying. This will show that you are reflective and self aware which is an important skill in the workplace. Remember to be confident and focused on the present opportunity rather than defensive and concerned about what is already done.
To be as prepared as possible, there is one more thing that you will want to know. If at all possible, make sure you are aware what your previous employer would say. If your interviewer is going to be calling your previous employer, you need to prepare them for what will be said about you. Even though you want to minimize what happened, you need to be honest. Make sure that what you say doesn’t paint such a different picture that they are shocked by the other side. If they already have an idea of what your employer has to say, they will be more likely to be lenient about grievances that the employer may share. If you were able to leave your previous job in good standing, it may be a good idea to contact them and let them know that they may get a call and why this job will be better suited for you (again, in a way that expresses self-awareness, not contempt).
Keeping all of these ideas in mind will give you the confidence you need to answer this dreaded question. Take some time to reflect on your answer. Knowing it will not only prepare you for this question, but help you understand how to succeed at the job ahead of you. Don’t forget to practice your answer with a friend so that you can answer naturally when the time comes.
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