Getting fired from a job is unpleasant enough in its own right. Concerns about future employment prospects are often quick to follow. Fortunately, being let go from a position doesn’t mean that your career is over… but you do need to be smart about your next steps.
What Were You Fired For?
How you approach your job search after your dismissal depends on what you were fired for, suggested career management consultant Karen Kodzik. If it was for gross misconduct, embezzlement, or some kind of illegal activity, it’s important to be up-front about it—both with prospective employers and recruiters. “Sometimes people try to pretty it up and spin it in the positive, and that can be dangerous,” she said.
If you gloss over what you did and a prospective employer finds out the severity of it, they’re not going to think well of you. Instead, Kodzik recommends fessing up with honesty and humility, as well as an explanation of what you’ve done differently to move past the incident.
On the other hand, if you were fired for other reasons, such as not getting along with a manager, the key is to have a story around the incident without placing blame on your former employer. Instead of railing about the evilness of your ex-boss, for example, you can point out that your styles were incompatible and that you had a difference in how you wanted to accomplish common goals. You can also list ways that you tried to fix the issue and work with one another before splitting.
In both cases, Kodzik recommends keeping your explanation fairly brief during an interview.
To Include or Not to Include
It’s tempting to simply leave certain jobs off your résumé entirely, and that’s something you can probably do for a position that only lasted for, say, six months. But if you’ve been at a job for fifteen years, you have to weigh the pluses and minuses of having that large of an employment gap.
Even if you do leave certain positions off your résumé, Kodzik recommends including them in online applications. “The application is what is used for the background check and employment verification,” said. If a job shows up on a background check or employment verification and you didn’t claim it on your application, “that would be suspect and could be grounds for them not hiring you.”
Whether you were fired for a good reason or a bad one, career management expert Laura Lee Rose recommends being very specific when describing the incident during a job interview.
For example, she explained, if you were fired after ignoring emails sent during your vacation or late at night, “Instead of saying, ‘Oh, my boss was unreasonable,’ say, ‘The hours they expected me to work seemed unreasonable to me—I was expected to respond to emails immediately after hours.” You can then follow up by saying something along the lines of: “I understand there may be certain times I need to work extra hours, but in this position, it was constant.”
But if the new position expects the same types of hours, this explanation may not help you land the job. In a similar fashion, Rose recommends not saying a position you were fired from was “a bad fit” if you’re applying for the exact same type of position. That would make it difficult to make the case that the position you’re interviewing for is a good fit.
Keep the Conversation Moving
Try not to spend any more time than necessary discussing the position you were fired from. “I would continually focus on the new position and ask questions to keep the interview moving forward,” Lee advised. After briefly answering questions about the last position, ask questions about the current job opportunity, what the company expects from the person filling the position, and what characteristics they’re looking for. You can then explain how you fit those criteria.
Lee also recommends practicing fielding the questions you’re likely to be asked until you feel more comfortable discussing the situation with someone.
Companies have different policies about what information they provide to prospective employers. Many will only verify the dates of your employment and perhaps your salary. However, recruiters sometimes ask whether you are eligible for rehire. Keep in mind that they are looking for a pattern—so if you have multiple previous employers and good relationships with most of them, they may view the problematic one on your résumé as an outlier.
As far as references go, it’s important to use people who will speak highly of you. If you are unsure whether someone will make a good reference, Kodzik said, you can proactively ask them what they’ll say. It’s better to have glowing references from less-recent jobs than a mediocre one from a more recent one, so make sure to include people who will speak to your strengths rather than your weaknesses.
Though it’s important to craft what you’re going to say about why you were fired ahead of time, Kodzik points out that this is often a bigger deal in people’s heads: “As long as your story is short, precise, true, and forward oriented—focused on what you’re going to do next—you’re going to be fine.”