The Career Counter
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Career reinvention for moms

I was fired. Although it happened in my 20s, I can still remember it like it was yesterday. I was devastated. It was my first waitressing job in college. I had only been on the job for a couple of months when my manager called me over after my lunch shift. 

“You’re just not cutting it as a waitress,” she said. It felt like my insides were about to pour out.  

I went home that day feeling shocked, sad and mostly angry. How could they let me go so coldly? One month on the job was hardly enough time to grasp the stressful nature of a waitressing job. 

I threw myself a weekend-long pity party. My friends got to hear how my boss was a jerk, my coworkers were rude and the restaurant served lousy food.

After time and reflection, I realized that there were things I could have done differently or better. I had skipped an important meeting the week before my getting fired. I could have reached out to my coworkers to ask for help and learn the ropes of the job more quickly. 

The No. 1 thing to do in an interview if you’ve been fired.

If you’ve been fired, the most important thing you can do in an interview situation is to take ownership. 

For example, let’s say you get asked the dreaded question of why you left your last job. You respond that you were let go. While there’s no need to launch into a diatribe about what happened, this is a golden opportunity for you to take ownership.

You can say something like, “I lost a couple of key clients. I realize my communication style was the culprit. I’ve since enrolled in an emotional intelligence course that has taught me how to be a better listener and communicator.”

Own your part, then speak briefly about what you learned and what you plan to do differently moving forward. 

Don’t trash talk.

As tempting as it can be, never talk badly about a former boss or company. Even if you were treated badly, this will always reflect negatively on you. You’ll come across as immature or lacking in communication skills.

It’s acceptable to say there was a clash in personalities, for example. But follow it up with something like “I learned an important lesson about working successfully with someone who has a different approach to time management than me.”

Never lie.

Lying will always come back to bite you in the butt. It’s a small world. 

I’ll give a hypothetical situation. Let’s say in the interview you mention that you were laid off even though in reality you were fired. After all, how will anyone ever find out about this little white lie? However, after you start the job, you find out to your horror your new supervisor went to college with an old co-worker. Gulp.

Seek help.

Getting fired can lead to depression, anxiety, and a feeling of hopelessness. Talk to trusted friends or family members. Get some counseling if you need it to work through your feelings and learn some healthy coping strategies.

Reframe the situation.

Getting fired does not define your career. It does not define you as an employee or as a person. Look at it as a learning opportunity. 

After I was fired from the waitressing job, I wound up getting into bartending, which turned out to be a much better fit for me (and more lucrative, too).

Rehearse your script.

Before the interview, spend time practicing how to answer those tough questions like, “Have you ever been fired?” or “Why did you leave your last job?”

I like to write my answers down first. After I get a succinct narrative down, I spend time rehearsing the answer in front of a mirror, friend or family member so my answer sounds relaxed and genuine. 

If you’ve been fired, taking ownership of the situation will lessen your feelings of powerlessness and put you back in control of your career.

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This article was written by an FGB contributor.

Lee Cristina Beaser is a career coach, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and founder of The Career Counter, where she empowers women to achieve happiness and fulfillment in their careers.