Fired? How to explain it in a job interview

Consoling your friend when she gets laid off gets awkward if you're the one who gave her the pink slip iStockphoto

(MoneyWatch) Finding a job is never easy, but if you've been fired, you have one more hurdle to jump in order to find success. Although there are a lot of unknowns that come with job interviewing, you can be sure you'll have to explain the gap on your resume. "You'll always be asked this question -- especially if you're not prepared," says J.T. O'Donnell, author of "Careerealism: The Smart Approach to a Satisfying Career." Here's how to answer it with confidence:

Realize that you're not automatically at a huge disadvantage

Getting fired happens, for many reasons -- and employers know that. "The mistake candidates who have been fired make is that they think that they are the only person who has ever been fired and that the interviewer will not understand their situation. The truth is, the odds are that the interviewer was once fired or has friends or relatives who have been fired. They know that sometimes it is the employee's fault; sometimes the boss's," says Bruce Hurwitz, CEO of Hurwitz Strategic Staffing.

Make peace with it before you try to explain it

Being fired is emotional. Before your interview, you need to vent your feelings to a trusted confidante so you can explain the situation objectively. Putting the story on paper can also help. "Write out what happened and then go back and take out everything subjective from that draft. After revising it, you'll be at a place where you can simply state the facts of what happened," says O'Donnell.

Explain what you learned

Turn a negative into a positive by outlining what you gained from the experience. Maybe this happened because you were in the wrong company or position, but in all likelihood, you were at least partly responsible. "You will need to take an honest look at why you were fired and own it - even if you feel it was unjust. Let them know you've learned from your past experiences and are ready to move on with a new outlook - eager to give their company 100 percent of your efforts and make a substantial contribution," says Susan Steinbrecher, CEO of management consulting firm Steinbrecher & Associates.

Keep it short and simple

It can be tempting to delve into all the details of your firing, but it's just a small part of your past work experience and shouldn't take over your interview. "Talking too much can sound like you are making excuses. Follow the old Dragnet television show motto: 'Just the facts, Ma'am,'" says Hurwitz. If you don't focus too much on your being laid off, the interviewer might not, either.

  • Amy Levin-Epstein On Twitter»

    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.

Comments