“The best way to gain self-confidence is to do what you are afraid to do.”
I’ve prepared hundreds of applicants for job interviews over the years and I’ve noticed that they tend to be most fearful of the questions that call them out on their faults. Surprisingly, many people walk into interviews prepared to talk about all their good qualities, and hope the interviewer will not bring up the fact that a resume might show a year gap in employment or quick turnover from one employer to another. The thought of being asked about a past failure and being forced to revisit a difficult time can be so excruciatingly dreadful for some, that they avoid thinking about it altogether.
If you want to have a successful interview, you have no choice. You must face your past and prepare to explain yourself. However, rather than taking a defensive stance and blaming others for setbacks, consider these areas of your life as your chance to tell a story that will leave your interviewer feeling good about your character. Through all my years of recruiting, I have found that honesty always wins out in the end. We’re all human after all, and we all make mistakes!
When preparing how to answer these questions, clarity is key. Make them understand. Don’t make them guess.
Lastly, think about the interviewer’s point of view and what would make you sound like a whiny kid full of excuses versus a mature, likable professional. The key is to show what you have learned from those experiences and how much smarter, wiser, more adaptable and more resilient you have become since then.
Here is the first of five of the most common objections in the job interview:
1) “Why did you leave your last job?”
I’ve heard some applicants start to answer this question by saying right off the bat, “Well, I was fired.” In this case, that immediately throws up red flags for the interviewer. It’s difficult to win someone over after such a blunt statement.
First, make sure you are using the correct terms. If you were laid off, this is not the same thing as being fired. Layoffs are nothing new, so feel free to briefly explain the company’s economic hardships that led to the layoffs. If you managed to stay onboard at your previous company through three different layoffs, for example, include that important detail. If you were the last person standing in your department, include that detail. It shows that your employer held onto you for as long as possible.
If you were terminated, tread very carefully here. Ease into it. The artful interviewee can engage the interviewer from the beginning of the story and walk that person through the story of how the termination happened. Start with something positive and then transition into the termination. Here’s an example:
Initially, they promoted me to supervisor because they noticed how well-respected I was among my co-workers. In fact, my boss told me executive management had hoped I could help motivate the junior team members to improve customer service and increase sales in our branch. In the first three months, I led my team up to No. 1 from among the lowest producing branches in our region. But soon after, I realized that upper management felt threatened by the self-driven empowering, mentoring style I incorporated. Unfortunately, they wanted me to be a dictator and use disciplinary methods I didn’t agree with. When it become clear our management styles were too different, they decided to let me go. I have listed a number of several references that would attest to my engaging style of management and the success that it brought. Is this the style of management style that your organization embraces?
Notice how much easier it is to relate to this person when the details are framed just right. In the example above, the interviewee takes the spotlight off of being fired and succeeds in showing more attributes. Before explaining that you were terminated, try to show why the previous company hired you and what you accomplished while you were there.
Stories about mismanagement are common, but don’t go on and on about your previous company’s horrible management style and how poorly you were treated. If you were truly at fault, be honest. Tell the story about how your firing served as a wakeup call for you to communicate more clearly, to learn how to relate to your coworkers more effectively, or to search for a company that shared your values.
Differentiate the “real you” from the termination. For example:
To be honest with you, I feel so bad about what happened. In hindsight, I believe the repetitive nature of the job led me to go on autopilot. I didn’t perform to the level that I should have, but I’ve learned so much since then.
Great managers have most likely experienced personal setbacks early in their careers and will understand. When you interview with a manager that has had a similar experience, that person will be able to quickly identify with your situation and may become an advocate for you.
I want to reinforce my point that we’re all human and we all make mistakes. Sometimes, getting fired can actually be good for you. As a fun side note, I discovered an article on BusinessInsider.com that lists seventeen people who were fired before they become rich and famous. Here are several of my favorite examples: Walt Disney, J.K. Rowling, Madonna, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Mayor Bloomberg, Bill Belichick