How to Interview After You’ve Been Let Go

Let’s face it: a job interview exists in its own conversational eco-system with its own rules. The characters in the supporting roles are Judgment, Ego, and Chemistry. Picture them waving and making funny faces over your interviewer’s shoulders. The characters behind your back are Judgment, Puzzlement, and Instinct. You’re both on high alert for red flags.

Enter the fact that you were let go from your last job, and the emotional triggers begin zapping your focus and energy. You misfire on a question, and all you want to do is slink toward the Interstellar trap door and join Matthew McConaughey in the time warp behind the bookcase where nothing has happened yet, over and over again.

Best Advice for Your Next Interview

Rest assured. It is possible to have a great interview even when your separation from your last job was not ideal. Here are some pieces of best advice, gleaned from my research with both job seekers and recruiters, with a particular shout-out to Deb Taft, CEO of Lindauer Global.

1. Acknowledge that a job interview can be one of the most emotionally triggering moments for someone who is finding their way after being let go. Just recognizing this will hopefully cause you to slow down and not jump into the first interview that comes your way without thinking about how you will feel answering questions about your job history

2. Your goal will be to come across as emotionally healthy. I’ve had many conversations with women who are still in pain and have anger and deep resentment toward their ex-organization. Vent with your friends. To paraphrase a piece of advice from Taft, practice saying the name of your ex-company or ex-boss without gritting your teeth or glazing over into a stunned trance. It may sound obvious, but remember, emotions frequently have a mind of their own – weird pun intended.

3. Practice matters. Practice with people you trust and/or make an audio recording or video if you’re comfortable enough to listen to your playback. What you’re listening for is your tone. How do you sound? Do you sound confident, comfortable, steady? Or do you sound apologetic, defeated, people-pleasing at all costs? You don’t have to feel great, but you want to sound as if you do.

4. Prepare your story. It’s unlikely an interviewer will ask if you were fired. They will typically ask why you left. Here’s where a good narrative is essential. These few examples will help you create your own answer to this question while keeping your professional credibility:

a. A new leader came and she wanted her own team. I’m very glad I spent the last 5 years there and was able to help them accomplish their goals before moving on.

b. There was a shift in goals/direction and I’m glad I was able to help them get to this point. I’m looking forward to doing the same for you.

c. We mutually agreed I had accomplished what they needed. I’m proud of this and excited about the future.

d. I learned a great deal and am looking forward to my next chapter and, in particular, how I can help you.

Notice how you reframe the question with a positive answer—about the company, your experience, and your focus on the future and what you can now accomplish for your new prospective company. Don’t assume that the interviewer is digging for drama. They’re asking questions to see how you can help them and to make sure you’re ready for a new role.

5. “Write a good list.” says Taft. This is a list of all the good things that happened at the company when you were there. Read it before the interview so it’s top of mind, displacing the negative thoughts about your experience so that you can deliver your lines confidently and with pride.

6. Finally, keep in mind that interviewers are likely aware of the changes at your company or the new leadership that came in if you’re applying for a role within the same industry. I can attest to this first-hand, having worked on executive searches where the hiring manager had more inside knowledge of the community than I did.

Here’s the Best Part

When you hit it off with your interviewer, when the behind-the-shoulders waving and carrying on of Judgment and Puzzlement are replaced by Chemistry, you know you’ve made a good connection. Even if this isn’t the right job at this time, your new connection can become your ally and refer you for roles that are a better fit for you. Take heart, I’ve seen it happen!

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