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3/27/16 - Here's what to say when a hiring manager asks, 'Have you ever been fired?'

Jacquelyn Smith 

If you've ever been fired or asked to resign from a job, chances are it's not something you enjoy talking about ... especially with prospective employers during job interviews.

But if there are any gaps or red flags on your résumé, hiring managers will likely ask you about them — and it can be uncomfortable.

"Employers are often so swamped with job applicants, they're programmed to use a process of elimination mindset," says Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert, leadership coach, and author of "Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant." "And this can easily be one of the questions that keeps you off the shortlist — unless you plan ahead."

It's a classic query because your answer meets multiple objectives, she says. "So it's helpful to consider the reasons behind the question."

She says interviewers are often trying to determine four things:

1. Are you a risky hire? Hiring managers don't expect you to answer "no" to this question — unless you're at an entry or very junior level in your career. "They're trying to piece together 'the fit,' but also the risk factors of hiring you. For instance, have there been several terminations that suggest an issue or pattern? Do the reasons behind a termination underscore one of their fears — especially one that could be a deal breaker based on the requisite job duties?"

2. How you handle adversity. Your job interviewer is also trying to determine if you're able to shrug off setbacks and move forward. Nobody is immune from job challenges, Taylor explains. "In other words, do you view negative experiences as failures or learning opportunities?"

3. Your real time response to pressure. Do you become defensive or upset when they ask this question, or are you poised and confident when responding? "It can help a hiring manager evaluate how you handle real-time stress, presumed to be a predictor of how you'll handle job challenges," she says.

4. How honest are you? This is one of those interview litmus tests of how forthcoming you are, Taylor warns. "Savvy hiring managers can typically read job seekers. They may consider how long it takes you to respond, your intonation and body language, and whether you're being vague, evasive, or honest to a fault."

"So this question reveals much more about you than the answer itself," Taylor adds.

Here's how to answer this tricky query:
Be honest.
Most people experience at least one termination in their career, and it's not always a result of poor performance, Taylor says. "There are restructurings, shifts in corporate strategies, financial losses, increased automation, outsourcing, conflicts in perspectives or work style — and much more that can contribute to a parting of the ways."

It's best to be truthful, without dwelling on the topic. "You don't need to offer a soliloquy akin to 'The saga of my career demise,' with self-effacing or regretful details," she says. "But if you come across as disingenuous, that will be much more damaging than admitting to a termination."

Also, your mutual network may overlap — meaning you could be caught in a lie.

Be concise.
Most hiring managers are not trying to drag you through the mud. A couple of sentences on what occurred should suffice — although you may be asked to elaborate, she warns.

Show how and what you learned from it.
Alan Henry of LifeHacker writes: "The key to getting past the question is to frame it up in terms of what you've learned — not what happened."

Taylor agrees. She says this is one of the primary objectives behind this question. "Demonstrate that you left with positive lessons from the experience."

Perhaps as a result, you were able to take greater initiative in communicating with your team, or incorporate a better time management system.

"By focusing on the positives, you're illustrating that you're capable of self reflection and are interested in advancing your personal development," she explains.

Don't place blame — and remain upbeat.
You definitely don't want to fall into the trap of speaking negatively about your former employer or blaming them for what happened. "The interviewer will be listening carefully to whether you describe interpersonal conflict — always a big red flag," Taylor says.

One of the best ways to handle this question is to explain that, despite the "different objectives or mismatch" that ultimately occurred over time, you enjoyed the experience and learned a lot from it.

Hiring managers typically identify with the employer, so you don't want to ever convey that, should you ever part ways with the new employer, you might speak poorly of them, too, she explains.

Be thoughtful in your answer.
This is a question worth planning for." Commit it to writing and rehearse it, ideally with someone else," Taylor suggests. "You don't want to be caught off guard and derail your momentum — or resort to a last minute panic quip, like 'Well ... hasn't everyone?'"