According to Harvey Mackay, author of Swim With the Sharks and Fired Up!, “If you’re under 30, the likelihood you’ll be fired in the next 20 years is 90%.” If you are an executive over 30 you have possibly already experienced being fired at least once. So the question here is, how do you explain that you’ve been fired?
It may help you to put this situation into perspective. In many cases, the person who is interviewing you has probably had a similar experience. So relax, and be yourself. The truth of who you are and what you can do for an organization will come through in the interview if you are not being too defensive about your circumstances.
Know the facts: Was your termination a true “firing” or could it be defined as a “layoff?” Were you part of a corporate downsizing or consolidating two companies? Create your response based on your particular situation. For example, if you were part of a consolidation you could respond, “Our company merged with XYS company and the new organization brought in their own executive team.” The main point here is that whatever your explanation is, you want to make sure that the interviewer understands this firing had nothing to do with your performance.
Know the rumors: What are people in your industry saying about you? If the firing was a volatile company-wide takeover or mass reorganization of the executive team, there may be rumors floating around about you and/or the company. Check with colleagues or peers in the industry to find out if there is any damaging “talk” about you. This is extremely helpful when interviewing because the recruiter or hiring manager may have heard the same rumors. You can circumvent any negative perceptions by preparing a realistic response to the rumors.
Know your rights: Human resources will only verify dates of employment and salary history, so details of your termination should not be shared with anyone.
What you need to do now: Offset the negative. You can create an equalizer with outstanding references from former colleagues and bosses that will lend credibility to your integrity. Also, developing a few success stories that highlight your accomplishments despite a downward economy, or whatever the circumstances is helpful. Remember, your attitude will transmit more than the words you say. Try to be upbeat and honest.