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Terminated? Downsized? How To Explain It In An Interview

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Question: “I was recently let go from my position as a Division Manager.  I’ve never been fired before, so this is a new situation for me. I need to start looking for work soon, and I’m not sure how to discuss my unemployment in an interview.  Since I’m in my late 40s, saying that I wanted to take time off to travel would sound funny.  Do you have any suggestions?” — Middle Age Job-Seeker

Marie's Answer:  Although I’m sure this was a shock, plenty of good managers have been fired and gone on to succeed elsewhere.  You’re smart to think about how to describe the situation, since that will be key to landing a new job.  Here are a few points to consider:

* Screening out risky applicants is the first goal of every interviewer. Your answer to the, “Why did you leave?” question must not make you sound like a potential problem.
* Resist the urge to overexplain by following the “less is more” rule. The longer you go on, the more red flags you may raise. So be ready with a brief, well-rehearsed answer. 

* Avoid using words like “termination” and “fired.” Your answer should be honest, but politically intelligent. And you must quickly move from the past to the future. 

* Example: “The company wanted to take my business unit in a different direction, and we agreed that my background might not be the best fit. But I believe my experience can really add value for your company.”

* Never trash your former managerseven if you now hate them. Any negative comments will only cast you in a bad light. 

* Reach agreement, if possible, with your former company on how your departure will be described to a potential employer. Even better, see if the organization will give you a positive reference.

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