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 inevitable 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.

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.

Dear Sam: I am looking for advice about applying for a job in higher education. I have the experience and education required for the position. The ad for the job does not specify full-time or part-time so I am assuming it is a full-time role. The position appeals to me and I feel I could be an asset to the school, but I only want to work part-time hours.

If I apply for the position, should I mention the possibility of either part-time hours—or job sharing—in a cover letter, or wait until I get contacted for an interview? Alternatively, should I forget the entire thing and apply only for positions that are advertised as part-time? – Rick

Dear Rick: Great question! I would recommend waiting until interest has been established in you as a candidate before you start negotiating terms of employment. If the position is indeed full-time, an employer could still see something in you that they do not find in candidates seeking full-time employment, hence there may be some “wiggle room” in the position’s structure, hours, compensation, etc. So, I would wait until you are interviewing and moving along in the process to mention the terms you would prefer.

Now, if asked directly about your preference as to part- vs. full-time, you should of course be honest, but I would not offer your employment preferences until you feel it is time to negotiate the terms of your employment. You will find, if only searching for part-time roles, that your choices will be greatly diminished. More positions than you would expect however have room for negotiation so it is entirely likely you could strike the work-life balance you are seeking even in a full-time role. Keep your options open and wait until interest has been established, then open discussions on possible working structures that would be mutually agreeable. Best of luck!