If you’re not proud of how you left your last job, should you lie or tell the truth in your next employment interview?
If it’s never happened to you, it seems like the unthinkable. But if it has, rest assured you’re not alone – being made redundant, or worse, getting fired outright, is a common experience.
Every year, at least 3% of people are made redundant due to corporate restructuring or downsizing, and many more are either let go or reach a mutual decision to terminate their employment.
Yet the fact that getting fired is common doesn’t make it easy. And one thing that many people find challenging is how to describe what happened, especially when talking to a recruiter or prospective boss.
Should you lie? Or should you simply tell the truth? If you do tell the truth, do you risk sabotaging your new role? Or if you do lie, could even more be at stake?
Your reputation and the industry
Being made redundant or getting fired can be an extremely unpleasant experience. You might feel angry or ashamed, and as a result, may want to ‘save face’ by telling a recruiter or prospective manager that you left for another reason, or that you’re simply still at your previous organisation.
But Imelda Walsh, manager at The Source, Australia’s premier procurement recruitment consultancy, cautions all procurement professionals against doing this.
‘Procurement is somewhat of a niche profession,’ she says, ‘and everyone is interconnected. If you aren’t honest, you do run the risk of being caught out.
‘We’ve actually been in the situation a few times where a candidate hasn’t been honest about their reasons for leaving and we’ve discovered this through our network.’
Beyond the risk of being ‘found out’, Imelda doesn’t recommend lying simply because of the damage it can do to your personal brand.
‘If you’re honest,’ she says, ‘it shows you have integrity. If you’re not, it casts doubt over your whole personal brand. It takes an entire career to build a positive personal brand, but only a few minutes to destroy one.
‘The risk simply isn’t worthwhile.’
Deal with your emotions first – don’t vent
There are undoubtedly many emotions associated with being fired or made redundant, many of them negative. Our natural human response is to take everything personally and to want to vent. But an interview isn’t the time for this, cautions Imelda.
She says that prior to attending an interview, you need to make a concerted effort to deal with your emotions. In addition to this, you should plan, ahead of time, how you’re going to describe how your employment ended, and ensure you stick to this when you’re in an interview.
‘When candidates aren’t prepared, they tend to go into too much detail about why they left their previous employment,’ she says. ‘This inevitably turns into a vindictive and personal whinge, which can quickly derail an interview.’
As recruiters and hiring managers are trying to ascertain your skills, experience and cultural fit, Imelda recommends avoiding at all costs too much focus on the reasons you left your past employer.
How to talk about being fired
Most people would assume that abruptly being asked to leave or mutually decide to leave a role, especially after a short amount of time, is a bad look when you’re re-entering the job market.
But Imelda doesn’t see it that way: ‘We see a lot of people, really talented people, who mutually decide to leave their role.
‘This can be because the opportunity that was sold to them was misaligned with the reality of the role, or because a change of management has changed their situation.
‘In this case, leaving is the best thing to do. Better that than try to stick it out and do further damage to your career.’
If you find yourself in this situation, Imelda recommends being honest, albeit with a professional veneer. She recently encountered someone who did this perfectly: ‘We had an exceptional candidate here recently who said “There was a change of management, and the new team wanted to take the business in a different direction.”
‘After the interview, he discreetly said to me: “Two other people left in the same week as me. I’m sure you can read between the lines.”
‘Recruiters understand this. We know that not all managers are great, but that a manager can make or break your happiness at work. This is a legitimate reason for leaving or mutually deciding to leave.’
How to talk about being made redundant
In years gone by, redundancy was uncommon. But these days? Not so much – 1 in 4 people will be made redundant at some point in their career, with some being made redundant many times. The idea of a ‘job for life’ is rare, and some companies restructure as often as every few years.
Imelda recommends that if you’re made redundant, simply say so.
‘One of our clients completed two redundancies within less than two years,’ she says. ‘As recruiters, we have a macro view of the industry and we see redundancies all the time. If this has happened to you, just tell us.’
Have you ever been made redundant? How have you described it? Tell us in the comments section.
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