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How to discuss having been fired in an interview

(MoneyWatch) Being fired or asked to resign from a position is surely one of the most painful professional experiences one can have. And it can come up in future job interviews, particularly if you're a corporate executive and your industry is small enough that folks in your interview loop network with people from your old job. So how do you handle questions about your previous departure?

Kristin Johnson, a job search coach at Profession Direction, recently answered this very question. She breaks the problem down into a number of categories.

Plan in advance. This probably sounds obvious, but don't wait for the question to come up in an interview to think it through and try to verbalize the incident. Spend some time in advance thinking about your termination and the events that led up to it.

Talk to your references. Reach out to friendly references and make sure you understand, at least in general terms, what they are prepared to say in vouching for your qualifications and general character. More important, make the effort to talk to your old manager at the company that fired you. As difficult as this might be, acknowledge your role in the termination and explain that you think you've learned and grown. This can help defuse any negative comments your old employer might share.

Talk honestly. In the interview, if you do need to talk about the termination, focus on your growth and what you have learned as a result of being dismissed -- in other words, what has the event done to help you improve professionally? Put a positive spin on things, but don't lie. If your interviewer feels you're covering up, you'll likely be ejected.

Script yourself. Rehearse what you plan to say, so you aren't caught off guard and can deliver the information in the most positive way possible. You don't want to look uncomfortable or nervous, and that's exactly what will happen if you aren't prepared for this question. Most important, be respectful of your former employer -- don't trash your former manager, even if you feel you were fired unjustly.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user David Blackwell

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