How To Successfully Job Search After Being Fired
Ok. You have been fired. It is not the end of the world. In the book, The CEO Next Door: The 4 Behaviors that Transform Ordinary People into World-Class Leaders, the authors tracked 2,600 executives that had been fired. They found something interesting. 91% had found a new job that was as good as or better than the one they were forced to leave. These people were at senior levels within an organization.
Some pretty famous and successful people have heard those words “you’re fired.” A list of those people that have been fired include Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Belichick and Anna Wintour. Obviously they went on to have successful careers in their field. So yes, being fired can be a short-term set back, but it does not have to be a career killer.
So how do you position yourself when you have been let go from your job? What do you put on your resume or say to someone that asks you about it? This is going to be situational depending on what happened. Let me guide you on some options.
What to put on a resume
What is put on a resume is always up to the candidate. What should be put on a resume are those jobs and accompanying achievements that are relevant for the job one is seeking. Therefore, a decision has to be made if the position that you lost is relevant to your job search. As an example, if you had a part-time position for supplemental income and you were terminated from that job, you may not want to put that job on your resume, even if you had not been let go, as it is not germane to your job search.
If the job is in your field, then you will need to make a decision based upon your tenure at the job. If you were at a job for a short period of time, say one to three months, then you could omit the job from the resume. I am not saying you should but that you could. Personally, I think it is better to include the information on your resume. There are risks for this type of omission. You will have a gap in your timeline on your resume, but it may be short enough that when a person reviews your resume (either recruiter or hiring manager) it does not cause any red flags. You will have to be prepared to be asked about the gap when you get an interview.
If you worked at a job longer, then it generally will make sense to include it, as the omission will cause a large hole in your career timeline which may be a deterrent to you to even get chosen for an interview. You need to concentrate on first things first, which in your case is getting to the point where you can sit in front of a person and discuss what happened.
With a resume, there is nothing that you need to do on the resume to explain what happened. Your resume would have the name of employer, title of job, dates of employment and duties or significant achievements. Nothing needs to be added more than that.
What to put on an application
The employment application is the legal document that is asked to be completed by most companies when you apply for a position. At the end of this document there is usually an area where you attest that the information you provide is true and accurate. There usually will be some sort of acknowledgment similar to the one below that you will be asked to agree to and sign.
I certify that the information contained in this application is correct to the best of my knowledge. I understand that to falsify information is grounds for refusing to hire me, or for discharge should I be hired.
In many Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), the information from the resume will be parsed into the application to help save time and increase accuracy. It is your job to make sure that the information parses correctly and is complete. When the ATS parses your information, you will be given an opportunity to edit the information.
So the question would be what to include and what to omit on the application. Since this is an official document, you do want to make sure it is accurate and complete. If you are omitting a position off of your resume, do not do it here. Add it back in. It does happen that people are in jobs for some time years when it has been found out that the application information was not correct. Often this results in someone being fired, so don’t take this chance.
You may be asked the reason for leaving a position. This is generally standard on an application. Phrasing of this can be tricky, but it is best to use a word that has less emotion around it. If you were subject to a lay-off them use that terminology. People understand that this was involuntary and there are many reasons behind it that are out of control of the job seeker. If the reason was due to performance or violation of company rules, it is better to just write something vague like the “job ended.” If the application requires a bit more information, you can write “involuntary separation.” Try to stay away from “terminated”, “fired” or “let go.”
Here is a secret you should know. When it comes to hiring, most recruiters and talent acquisition professionals deal with resumes. Yes, the application is completed, but often it is given a cursory look. Especially with recruiters are using an ATS system, it is possible that no one will look at the application until starting the background check process. If there is a question that the information on the resume is not the same as what you have on your application, you might be asked about it (if you haven’t already been asked about any time gaps), but you have already sold yourself to the hiring team. They are invested in hiring you. As long as you did not lie on your application (which would mean an immediate disqualification), you can say that you disclosed it on your application. You then put the onus back on the employer to have asked you about it. This is a much better position to be in as it implies that you were not trying to hide anything,
What to say in the interview
So you have passed the screening process and you are actually talking to someone with the company. You are likely to be asked about why you left each of the jobs listed on your resume. This is standard practice. You will need to provide some sort of explanation. So you need to prepare a good answer.
What you will say will depend on our circumstances. If your termination was due to a layoff, then explain what happened with the company. If there were financial issues, change of management, etc. you can put the layoff in context. If you were a good performer, make sure you allude to that in this discussion. Sometimes there is bias against people that lost their job as a result of a layoff, as it is thought that only poorer performers are the ones that are let go. If your being chosen were based on other factors, such as the entire team was laid off or corporate restructuring, say so.
If you were let go due to poor performance outside of a layoff, then you will need to finesse your answer. As an example, if you were unable to meet the performance expectations of the position, you might say something like this:
When I interviewed for the position, I thought my skills (insert your strong skills) would be a good fit for the role and the work would be interesting. When I got into the role, I realized that this was not the case. While my supervisor and I tried to make the situation work, at the end, the fit was not there.
You may be asked for some more details, but always keep what you say neutral and do not disparage a former boss or employer. Take ownership for your performance and if possible, add what you learned from the experience. In the example above you can say something like this:
I hope you are okay with me asking a lot of questions about the work and your expectations. I would never want to face that situation again, so I would want to be sure that I fully understand the job and that you fully understand my strengths and abilities.
If your employment was terminated due to a rules violation, like attendance, you might say something like this:
I was not as reliable as I need to be for the team and company. It was my mistake to not have (reliable transportation, back up child care, etc.). I have learned that I need that to be successful in a position, and I have that now.
Again, there is no blame assessed to the manager or previous organization. You own the problem and you also own the solution. You appear self-aware and reasonable, two things that an employer wants in an employee.
If for some reason you are not asked about why your left a company, there is no reason to offer the information. The company is supposed to ask questions to find out about you. If they do not, that is on them.
The last part of the employment process that could be sticky, when you have been fired, is the background check process. If the employer does an employment background check, they may conduct it in two main ways. Some employers will have third-party conduct employment verification, either solely or as part of a complete background check process that might also include criminal background checks and drug screens. You will be asked to complete some sort of release form to do this, and you may be asked to supply the names and address of previous employers or this information may be taken from the application. How far back this employment verification will go will depend on the employer. It could be a number of years or a number of employers.
When this type of employment verification is done, this information is what might be collected, depending on the organization:
Your title with the company
Your dates of employment
Are you eligible for rehire
Last pay rate
Each company will have a policy as to what is released with an employment verification and what paperwork they will need to have to release this information. It is best to ask your former employer what can be released about you so you are prepared and all information you have given a future employer will be the same.
Some employers will not have a third-party do this but instead will have someone in the HR department make this call. Generally, former employers will provide the same information, again depending on their policy. If someone in the HR department is conducting background checks, they also may be doing reference checks as well. You may be asked to provide names of former supervisors or peers that can be contacted to provide information about you. Obviously, you should not provide the name of a supervisor that fired you, unless you can be sure that the information given by this individual will show you in the most positive light possible. Be very selective on what names you give as references. Always call those individuals beforehand to prepare them for the company’s call by giving details about what the company is looking for and hearing what would be said by the individual about you.
One thing to be aware of is hiring managers using back channels to get information about you. Especially in niche industries where people know each other, it is possible that the hiring manager may reach out to connections that have worked at your previous employer or individuals that s/he thinks may know you to get additional information. This is quite common and there is nothing you can do about it. Especially if you said you were involuntarily separated, this would be something that a hiring manager may want to look into further. Therefore, be prepared that if some information comes to the hiring manager that may cause concern, you may get a follow up phone call to discuss the new information or worse, the company may pass on your or an offer could be rescinded. If that happens, there is really nothing you can do but continue to push on with your job search.