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Through interview coaching, Berkeley, California job seeker “Chris” went from stagnating in an underpaid job to starting an exciting new role with a 45% pay increase. The key: learning how to answer interview questions about being fired.

Fear of interview questions about being fired can really hold you back. 

“The memory of being fired filled me with shame,” said my client Chris (not his real name), a compliance expert with a career in government organizations, “and I was carrying that around. So I dragged my feet about leaving my next job, even though it wasn’t what I wanted, because I couldn’t face having to talk about my history in interviews.”

The first benefit of interview coaching was a change in mindset. With encouragement and support, “I began to think of the termination as a bump in the road, not a reflection on who I am,” Chris told me. “And you pushed me to work on it and practice my answer, which otherwise I wouldn’t have done.”

Here’s the answer we worked out together.

Answers to interview questions about negative subjects work best if kept brief. The one we came up with was less than a minute long. It sounded like this:

“During the year before my departure, there were some key leadership changes, and 20% of the staff in my area left or were fired. My role changed, and I underestimated what it would take to get up to speed. That caused me to make mistakes, and as a result I was let go. In retrospect I realize I should have done more to get clear on the new expectations.

“The lesson I learned was to overcommunicate with the team and managers around objectives and time frames when the workload is challenging. In my current role I’ve done really well, as I mentioned earlier. And the role we’re talking about today is a much better fit for my skills because (etc.).”

Other ways Chris benefited from interview coaching:

Chris’s second-biggest challenge was that he needed to use more concrete examples or stories in his answers to various questions. Through the coaching, he says, “I developed examples of things I’ve done that I’m proud of. That sounds very basic, but sometimes it’s easier said than done.”

In the process, Chris experienced a paradigm shift about interviewing.

“I always thought of interviews as being about right answers and wrong answers, but I learned it’s really more a matter of the fit. I learned to focus on ‘Who am I professionally, and what do I bring?’ That was a big shift in my thinking, and it was empowering.”

Can an interviewer ask why you were fired?

As it happened, the interviewer didn’t ask Chris “Why did you leave that position?” or “Were you fired?”, but they certainly could have. Conquering this issue through interview coaching allowed him to move forward confidently and land his dream job, telecommuting from Berkeley, California into a major Washington, DC agency whose mission inspires him. He now knows how to answer interview questions about being fired and other tough or negative subjects. Most important, he now has a job he loves.