I often hear from people who were unjustly fired, wanting to know what on earth they can now say in a job interview. But let's be honest -- a lot of people deserve to be fired. Sometimes it's because you made a big mistake that costs the company money, or you're insufferably rude to co-workers or clients. Or maybe you're simply not doing a good job. Any of these reasons can get you get fired, and rightly so. But now, what do you do?
Here are five things to think about.
1. Resumes are marketing documents, not background checks. If you were at a job for only a short time, you don't have to list it. You'll be asked what you were doing during that time, but you don't have to bring up the bad job. However, if you were there for longer than a couple of months, it'll be worse to look unemployed for an extended spell than it is to explain why you got fired.
2. You can't lie on the application. While resumes are all about marketing, applications are about getting information about you. They often ask you to list all the jobs you've had in a certain time period. If you're found to have left off a job, either you won't be hired (best-case scenario) or you'll be hired and then fired once your omission catches up with you (and then you'll have two firings to explain).
So, make sure you list every job in the requested time period, even if you got fired from one. Often, only the human resources department sees the application, while the hiring manager sees the resume. (Of course, that's not true if you've filled in one of those awful online applications that doubles as the resume.)
3. You need to admit guilt. When asked why you got fired, don't start blaming everyone else, even if someone else did start the whole mess. Let's say a co-worker suggested that you leave work early without clocking out. Later, you say you forgot to clock out but didn't leave until quitting time. Surely, you wouldn't have done something so stupid without your co-worker's bad influence, but in this case you did.
So, don't blame anyone else. Just say, "I lied on my time card, saying I worked for two hours more than I actually did." Sometimes it does make sense to mention the co-worker's involvement, but no one is going to believe you are less guilty for what you did.
4. Say what you learned. "I didn't think it was a big deal. After all, it's a huge company, and my salary wasn't that large. But the more I think about it, the more I realize it wasn't about the pay, it was about honesty. I'm embarrassed that I was so focused on the short term that I didn't realize how it could affect my entire life."
Note that this is not defensive, or justifying your action. Even if you do think you were justified in doing something, don't say it like that. For instance, people often get fired for yelling at a customer who actually did deserve it. And while it may have made for a funny story in private, hiring managers don't want people who can't keep their calm.
5. Explain you'll never do it again. This is critical. You need to be able to convince the hiring manager that you won't make the same mistake twice. Explain what you've done to ensure that's the case. Did you yell at a customer? Then explaining that you took a communication class at the community college can go a long way to assure the hiring manager that mistake is in your past.
Did you clock out early? Explain how you're deeply ashamed of your poor behavior and make it clear that you will never be dishonest again.
Did you make a big mistake on a report? Talk about how you have a plan to put audits into place so it doesn't happen again.
The reality is, getting a new job after you've been fired for cause is really, really hard. But you can do it. When you do land that new job, you need to be the best employee ever, because if you lose this job, getting yet another will be even harder.