Ouch. Rough question to get in a job interview. But let's be real: If you encountered a termination in the past, it's one you will get asked – guaranteed.
For a question like this, it's especially important to prepare and practice. Stumbling over your words can sound like you're hiding something or as if you're not exactly sure what happened – neither of which will put you at the top of the list for prospective employers.
To help you feel calm, cool and confident when facing this question, keep the following tips in mind:
1. Don't beat yourself up. Not every employer is a perfect match for every employee. Most people, including your interviewer, get that. Don't let this situation drag you down for the rest of your career. The more you practice how to respond to this question, the more the emotion will dissipate.
You don't want to go into the interview still feeling raw about what happened, so take time to process the events that took place and put things in perspective. Turn this into a powerful learning experience from which you can really grow. In all likelihood, that's exactly what it was for you. Now you just need to learn to articulate that.
2. Be honest. The truth always comes out and it's better that they hear it from you than someone else. A reference check may very well reveal the full story anyway, so don't try to brush things under the rug or turn the situation into something it wasn't.
3. Share what happened. Go through the "story" in a concise, straightforward way, sharing only the facts, not your feelings or perceptions.
4. Emphasize what you learned. Take ownership for your role in the situation. Don't blame others or make excuses. Remember that there are two sides to every story and your interviewer knows that. If you start focusing on how you were the victim and everyone did you wrong, a big red flag will appear. It takes two to tango, my friend. No matter how "victimized" you might have been, you and your actions were indeed a part of it.
Position yourself as a mature, self-reflective person who gained a lot from this painful experience. Share details about what you learned and how you grew both as a person and a professional. Often, the most devastating life events can turn out to be blessings. They create turning points that we otherwise would have never reached on our own.
This part of the discussion is where the majority of your time should be spent when answering the question.
5. Explain what will be different now. It's almost inevitable that as a result of this experience, you'll be a different employee. Talk about that. How will you prevent this kind of thing from happening again in the future? What specific changes have you made in your own professional behavior to help ensure this isn't a recurring theme in your career?
Answer this question thoughtfully and with humility and your interviewer may even be on your side by the end.
You want to appear balanced and clearheaded in this conversation, so planning and practice are essential. Don't try to wing it. That's when people get emotional and trouble ensues.
Ultimately, remember that transparency will make this line of questioning end sooner. If your interviewer senses that you're holding something back, he or she will continue to probe and dig deeper until they're satisfied. Or, even worse, they'll write you off completely. Why run the risk of hiring someone who creates any feeling of uneasiness or suspicion when there are so many other qualified candidates to choose from?
Finally, keep your head held high. You are a strong candidate, even with this glitch in your record. Focus on your achievements and the things of which you're most proud. Interviewers understand that you're human and believe it, they've heard worse.
Chrissy Scivicque, the founder of EatYourCareer.com, believes work can be a nourishing life experience. As a career coach, corporate trainer, and public speaker, she helps professionals of all levels unlock their true potential and discover long-lasting career fulfillment.