Discussing a Career Failure in an Interview | JobSearchTV.com
You made a major mistake and were fired. You were a success but fired, anyway. How do you discuss a career failure on an interview?
Discussing a career failure in an interview is different than experiencing the career failure. After all, now you have to tell someone about this in a way that they’re not, shall we say, questioning you, find what you’re saying dubious, believe that you’re giving them a line of BS. It requires that you spend a little bit of time and reflection, and just sort out what really happened.
Now, I’m not talking about “I got let go because an organization had a restructuring.” I’m talking about you screwed up, or you were accused of screwing up, or you were let go from a senior position and you don’t think it was a fault of yours. Like, for example, there is one person I coach and he got results in his first year as a C suite executive. He increased sales by more than 40% and significant cost reductions, as well. And he still was let go. How do you talk about these situations?
The answer is, you start off by trying to put the other person in the position of what happened. So, for example, in the case of the C suite exec, “I don’t know about you, but when you increase sales by 47%, most of the time you’re treated as a hero and not let go. And that isn’t what happened with me. Their expectation, their hope, for me was more than 30. And I got closer to 50. They had a different priority. The president of the firm wanted to bring in a friend of hers. And thus, the idea that I failed, I don’t think is valid. Clearly, I’m out of the job. And clearly, this is a situation where I would prefer to still be with them. But that isn’t the case. I increased sales by 47%.” And then you start listing your accomplishments during that period of time. Now, that’s one situation that you can talk about.
Another one is, you did screw up. And you have to be prepared to talk about where you missed, and what you learned from that experience. And I don’t care what level you’re at., if you screwed up, own up to it, because frankly, someone is going to out you for having done this screw up. Like when they’re doing the references.
“Why isn’t she there any longer?”
“Well, we let her go?”
“Why did you let her go?”
“She screwed up.”
So just acknowledge it. Talk about what you learned. You can use the old Thomas Watson quote that talks about, you know, they cost me $100 million. No, I didn’t fire them. I’m not gonna let someone else take that learning to another organization. I want them working for me. They already learned that lesson so they’re not going to do it again.” Well, you can look up the quote, but the idea is, you can’t be defensive. You can’t avoid the situation. You need to tackle it in a way that people believe you and put it in a way that says “no, I missed a key piece. I don’t know about you, but I missed this one. And most of us do at some point or another. And it’s a painful lesson for me. And I’m trying to get back into this kind of role again.”
So just own up, move on. Convey sincerity, and humility. Someone will believe you.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with over 2300 episodes.
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