Dear Sam: I was just let go from an administrative assistant position I held for 14 years. I loved my job until about five years ago when the company hired a new supervisor. Since that time, I have just seemed to have constant disagreements with that person, mostly stemming from different viewpoints, philosophies, and approaches to work. Although my recent separation was “mutual” I am concerned about how this will look on my resume and in an interview. How can I present this situation? – Sunny
Dear Sunny: First, there would be no need for any mention of why you left an employer on your resume, but you will need to know how to handle this question during an interview. During the interview be sure to smile, stay positive, and remain focused. Script your answer and practice it in front of a mirror (so you can recognize any non-verbal cues you might be exhibiting) and in front of a family member or friend. The hope is, by practicing your response, that your answer doesn’t seem scripted and allows you to stay focused without veering into a long story that reveals too much information.
To answer the question about why you left your past employer I suggest stating something like this: “As you can see, in the 14 years I spent with the company I thoroughly enjoyed my position, made significant contributions, and played an integral role in the effectiveness of the administrative environment. Recently, however, I felt the company and I stopped sharing the same values of collaboration, teamwork, and cohesion. I, therefore, took the opportunity to reassess my current career goals and seek a position that better emulated the culture and environment that I enjoyed so much—one focused on empowering team members, holding individuals accountable, and fostering close collaboration to drive shared successes. Hence my interest in the opportunity to join your administrative team.”
The point in answering the question is to do so in a way that reinforces the positive aspects of your candidacy, staying away from directly stating anything negative about the company.
Dear Sam: What is the best way to handle the inevitable “why did you leave your last employer” question on an application? I was terminated after being employed for three years. While I have been successful using a networking contact to secure another position—bypassing the requirement to complete an application—I need to pursue a full-time role with a higher hourly wage. – Anonymous
Dear Anonymous: Explaining why you were fired certainly can be a nerve-wracking experience. I am not sure why you were terminated though. Was it a true “firing” for lack of performance or was it due to a reduction in force or company realignment? Of course, the latter would be much easier to explain, as the reason for your departure would not rest on your shoulders. If you were indeed terminated for lack of performance, the key is to present a brief, positive explanation.
First, script and practice your answer to that question, being sure you don’t sound too rehearsed, but do know your lines well enough to not over-explain the situation. Of course, in your explanation, you will want to avoid making any disparaging remarks about your former employer or supervisor. Instead, focus on what you learned from the situation. Did it teach you in what environment you worked best? Did it teach you how you needed expectations clearly defined by a proactive and communicative supervisor? Can you show strong levels of performance leading up to the timeframe in which your termination was based? None of those explanations point the finger too much at you. Instead, presenting an explanation which essentially says, “Yes, this happened, but this is what I learned, and this is why it will never happen again” is a very respectable way to handle the situation. Remember, most candidates have a skeleton or two in their closets that they will have to explain during the interview process. Don’t let this misstep continue to impact your career. Take charge with a well-crafted explanation, put the experience behind you, and move on to your next role where I am certain you will make it a point to be a strong contributor.