Tuesday, December 27, 2011

How to Handle Termination Reasons on Your Job Application

I recently contributed the following response to an online discussion group. The question addressed was: "I was recently terminated from my job. Do I need to give the reason for termination on my application?" Let me know your thoughts on my response.

"Assuming" that termination was performance related (which is a worst case), if you notate "Will discuss" in reasons for termination, it will likely be a kiss of death. That said, honesty and personal integrity are important to the process. My suggestion, therefore, is to lead as much as possible with your resume--which should not give a reason for leaving. When you get an interview on the resume alone, you can address reason for leaving (if requested) in an appropriate, well-rehearsed way. A few additional thoughts here: (1) No matter how wronged you might have been, never mention your prior employer in a negative way no matter how cathartic it might be. To do so is an even more sure kiss of death! (2) Terminations are often blessings in disguise. For example, your skills, temperament, etc., might not have been a good match for the prior job. If that was the case, termination probably validated the mismatch--nothing more. In the interview, therefore, don't be defensive. Recognize the mismatch, show how your skills, etc., match the new position, how you can contribute positively to the prospective employer, then move forward without hesitation or embarrassment. (3) Establish a proper mindset when you approach the next interview. Recognize that the employer NEEDS a new employee as much as you need the new job, so on balance, both the potential employer and you are in a mutual need position. Knowing this, assertively interview the employer to see if s/he has a position that will be a good match overall for what you offer. Don't sell out cheap. The mindset you create here can be a powerful tool in getting the job you want.

If, however, you MUST complete an application before you can get an interview, I always recommend leaving the response unanswered in cases of termination. Any way you cut it, the number of applicants for any job nowadays will likely mean you won't get called for an interview if you have answered. Sad, but true. That said, I would suggest additionally that you leave a few select items blank for each past employer--almost as if there's some "greater" reason you didn't respond. Examples might include city/state, supervisor, etc. Having interviewed thousands of individuals in my career, none of these omissions would ever have stopped me from interviewing a candidate who otherwise looked attractive to me. Understandably, some respondees to your Q might argue rightly with this approach. Nonetheless, I believe it's a good method for getting an interview in a situation such as yours. Good luck in your search!

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