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Fired? What do you say in your next job interview?

So something happened in your previous job, and you were fired. Maybe you deserved it, maybe you didn't, or maybe you were culled in a company-wide 'restructuring' exercise. And maybe you don't have enough money to head off into the sunset into early retirement to dabble in a spot of day-trading, real estate speculation or Bitcoin bartering.

If you still need to work, the circumstances around the sudden end to your last role can make things a little uncomfortable in interviews for your next job. Do you 'fess up and spill the beans on all the gory details or do you play it down with some spin-doctoring in the hope that your prospective employer won't dig too much deeper?

A quick scan of the internet and peoples' personal experiences sees an interesting spectrum of answers from the DADT (don't ask, don't tell) brigade to those who say you may as well put all your cards on the table, because you will be found out eventually.


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Chris Mead, Regional Director for Hays in Singapore & Malaysia, says honesty is the best policy.  In speaking to the first line person in most job processes - the recruitment consultant - you should explain why you left your previous job when asked.

"But also explain what you believe are your strengths and what you can bring to an organisation. Focus on the value you can provide to a new employer. Describe your situation honestly, but in a way that is as favourable to you as possible."

Of course, if you were 'let go' because the company was downsizing, there is no shame in revealing this in today's world, compared to only a few decades ago when being made redundant was regarded as career-limiting. Philip Quinn, managing consultant at Kelly Services says that in most instances, financial job-seekers in Asia who were made redundant "are usually quite open and honest about it" and hiring managers understand.

Not divulging it, though, does not look good. "Background checks are so stringent these days (in banks at least) and coupled with the fact Hong Kong, for example, is so small you will eventually be found out somehow. You are doing yourself no favours by lying or hiding things."

The exponential increase in background checking has made the hiring process a lot more thorough. Gerard Milligan, Randstad strategic account director points out that another reason not to lie or even be economical with the truth is that employers often partner with third-party reference checking vendors to confirm the integrity of their employees.

Telling a recruiter the whole story can actually turn out to your benefit. Andrew Clark, front office, risk & treasury manager at Robert Walters Singapore says a recruitment consultant can be a useful mediator in prepping the potential employer and in turn make the first interview less uncomfortable.

Randstad's Milligan agrees, and adds: "Recruitment consultants use this information to ascertain a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses in order to determine what type of role and company would suit their career aspirations best. Having full disclosure about their employment history – both good and bad – helps build trust and make an informed decision about their next career move."

Preparation is key though, and Hays' Mead says if you are put forward by a consultant for a role to a prospective employer, you need to plan to frame your answer in as few words as possible as it is best not to dwell on it.

"There is no need to offer a five-minute monologue. Practice addressing this issue in no more than three to five sentences so you can quickly move on to the positive points you want to make regarding your skills and qualifications. One of the biggest mistakes people make in a meeting is that they expand their responses to this type of negative question instead of moving on."

A common response is to say that you left by mutual agreement with your former employer. But Guy Day, chief executive of Ambition, says you should only make this claim if your former employer has provided it in writing.

Redundancy may be easy to explain away, performance issues less so, but almost impossible is being dismissed for criminal behaviour. Many recruitment consultants acknowledge that those people fired for breaking the law - whether for fraud or sexual harrassment, for instance - seldom get a second chance in the financial services job market.

Ambition's Day says that in small cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, reputation is everything and being fired for illegality severely damages your chances of securing a role. "It is unlikely that any prospective employer who knows you've been fired for criminal actions (in the workplace) would employ you."

But, says Howard Chan, director of Michael Page in Hong Kong, "it depends on the type of role the employer is looking to fill - there may be a chance to consider this candidate."

Mead from Hays says that the way to overcome this seemingly insurmountable obstacle is to, use your networks. "Jobs really are often found this way. You could also consider taking on casual or temporary work which may then lead to a permanent position."


AUTHORAmanda Vermeulen
  • Vi
    Vickie Austin
    13 January 2014

    First, being "fired" is completely different from being laid off or "RIF'd" (reduction in force). The workplace has been so volatile in the last 10 years that there's no shame in admitting you were let go as part of a company-wide layoff. The stigma of a resume gap is long past.

    If, however, the separation was due to performance, it is important to be forthright without being confessional. As a career coach I help people create the script to further their objectives--finding work--without being untruthful.

    If you've been fired and are still angry, hurt, resentful or bitter, get professional help with a counselor or therapist. Really. That's the first step in getting rehired--complete the past and take responsibility for your part in it. There's nothing more palpable than a chip on your shoulder when you're in an interview with a new potential employer. And believe me, they can smell your pain. It's like dragging a big ole smelly pile of dung around with you and ignoring it while you're talking about what a great addition you'd be to the team!

    Next, figure out what went wrong. Be honest with yourself. Did you stay too long at the fair? Was your boss a micro-manager and you finally had it? You have to process what happened before you can communicate about it.

    Then, create a very brief script to help you bridge to the future. I was fired from a job and when the inevitable question came up, "Why did you leave your last job?" I was prepared. I smiled and shook my head, saying, "It was just the wrong fit. AND NOW, I'm ready to contribute to an organization like yours..." If you're complete with the event ,they will be, too.

    If you were fired for cause (illegal activity), in the words of Desi Arnez of "Lucy" fame, "you've got a lot of 'splainin' to do." No amount of bridging will help here. As this article suggests, you'll have to depend on your network to get you back in the field and find someone who can trust you've reformed. I'd head back to that therapist before launching your campaign and figure out what went amiss. You owe that to yourself and your future employers, no matter what field you choose.

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