Facing the Tough Stuff

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So, you've been fired. While at the time it may seem devastating, most people rebound and move on to new opportunities. But one thing is certain: To get your next job you'll need to answer questions about why you left your last one.

The keys to dealing with the subject are self awareness and preparation.

Mend the Fence

The first step might be the hardest: Calling your previous manager to conduct some relationship repair. Start by asking his opinion about the type of position you're best suited for, and then inquire about the reference information he's comfortable providing.

Making this call serves several purposes: It mends the fence between the two of you, it lets you know what he's likely to say if he gets a call checking references or past employment, and it causes him to reframe his thoughts about you.

"I would ask your previous manager about your greatest strengths," advises Gayle Abbott, president of Hureco Inc., a talent management consulting firm located in Phoenix, Ariz., and Washington D.C. "By asking him to reflect on your positive attributes, he's more likely to remember those things when a reference call comes in."

If you didn't ask during your termination meeting, call your previous company's HR department and ask what information they'll release during a reference check. While most firms are reluctant to release negative information, the truth may still come out. Talking to your former HR folks will help you prepare for potential objections by giving you insight into what prospective employers might hear from your old firm.


Why were you terminated and what have you learned? The answers are vital not only because you want to find a better fit in your next position, but because you'll need that type of thoughtfulness to assure an interviewer you've learned from your experience and the same situation won't happen again.

And, it might help you come to some tough conclusions: "If you were constantly making mistakes with the numbers, perhaps accounting isn't the right field for you," says Abbott, who developed the financial career coaching program in association with the Association of Financial Professionals.


First of all be honest. If you're asked directly if you were fired, answer affirmatively but use language that softens your answer. Whatever you do, don't offer up that you were fired unless you're asked.

"Never bring it up first because the subject may never come up," says Arlene Vernon, president of HRx Inc.com, a consulting and training firm based in Eden Prairie, Minn. "Rehearse your answer out loud so you're more confident when the subject arises, and try to handle the question initially with a generic comment such as you didn't fit into the company culture or you didn't get along with your boss."

Says Abbott: "You don't want to bring up the subject of your termination right off the bat, because the interviewer assumes the worst about you and they will just shut down."

Because your old boss can still be a wild card, line up some former peers who'll give you a positive reference. Exercise some control over the process by providing a reference list or letters of reference to a prospective employer.

In response to questions about your termination, Vernon suggests beginning with a phrase such as, "I don't want to speak ill of my former employer, however the situation was this." On top of softening your answer, this conveys your diplomacy so an interviewer is less likely to dig for more information.

"In the accounting profession, it will be important to point out that you weren't terminated for ethics reasons," says Abbott. "You want to allay any fears that the interviewer may have that you didn't follow generally accepted accounting procedures. If you were terminated because of philosophical differences between you and your boss over some of the accounting and finance gray areas, this will be the perfect time to inquire about a prospective manager's philosophy and how structured he might be in some of his approaches to certain practices to make sure that those conflicts don't arise again."

While answering questions about your termination, it's important to stay emotionally controlled. Focus your answer on what you've learned and the corrections you've made as a result of the experience. And, if you've had that fence mending discussion with your previous boss, this is where you can spin your answer back around to the positive

"To demonstrate that your previous job performance wasn't all bad, I'd say something like, 'I've spoken with my old boss and he acknowledges that we didn't see eye to eye on everything but, he'll also admit that I'm a hard worker and that I offered up some great ideas for improving the department,'" says Vernon.

Have you ever been fired? How'd you handle the question during your next interviews? Let us know by posting a comment below.

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