Getting fired happens to the best and worst employees, but explaining the situation represents one of the trickiest challenges for any job-seeker. While being upfront is the best policy, your response also shouldn't reinforce an employer's impression of you as damaged goods. Instead, you're more likely to come out ahead by sticking with the facts and taking ownership of the situation while keeping your response free of emotional baggage.
Analyze Your Situation
Getting fired is an emotional, stressful experience, but hanging onto those feelings won't help you develop an appropriate response. CBS Moneywatch columnist Amy Levin-Epstein recommends putting down your thoughts on paper, followed by the removal of any subjective language that you see. Venting to a friend is also useful. Whichever approach you choose, you must analyze the situation first, so that you can simply stick with the facts of your dismissal.
Devise Your Response
Unless you've done something illegal or unethical, being fired doesn't automatically put you at a major disadvantage, CareerCast columnist Taunee Besson notes. For example, if you were let go due to corporate layoffs, mergers or other cost-cutting measures, an employer won't hold it against you. But you need a more explanatory response when you were at least partially at fault, Levin-Epstein states. Just admit the facts while explaining what you've learned so that the situation doesn't repeat itself.
Get Your Answer Down
How you deliver your explanation matters as much as the content. Practice your answer aloud before going to an interview, so that you can give a calm accounting of the facts, "U.S. News & World Report" career columnist Alison Green suggests. Consider recording your comments or calling your friend back in to listen. While an overly polished answer isn't a good idea, you still want to eliminate any hints of bitterness that will alienate an interviewer.
Focus on the Future
Focus on the future if you have to explain your dismissal. As Levin-Epstein notes, hiring managers know that employees lose their jobs for various reasons, which they don't always probe at length. An employer's biggest concern is whether your hiring benefits the company, so give him reason to feel comfortable. Emphasize your readiness to make a contribution, based on the fresh perspective that you've gained and the lessons you've learned.
Keep It Brief
Besides being upbeat, whatever explanation you offer has to be brief. Most hiring managers aren't expecting more than a couple of sentences, so don't respond with a dissertation. At best, you'll sound like you're making excuses -- and, at worst, you'll prompt questions that you don't want to answer, Levin-Epstein states. Getting fired isn't the most relevant part of your career, so don't allow it to take center stage at your interview, either.