Job Interview Train Wreck – Talking About How You Lost A Past Job

Dec 22 2010 in Featured, Interviews, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

job search information, job search advice, job search help, job search tips, career advice, interview, layoff, firing, unemployment

Candidates self destruct in many ways during interviews. But I’ve heard – and seen – more candidates kill their chances during interviews this one way than all others combined. This mayhem doesn’t just kill interviews, the poison can extend to phone interviews and written communication also.

It’s a deal killer … and it happens a lot. Many candidates just can’t seem to stop themselves.

As an observer or listener, it’s like seeing a train wreck that’s about to happen – it hasn’t happened yet, you can see that it’s inevitable, yet you’re powerless to stop the wreck from happening.

There are some times when talking about how you lost a past job is unavoidable – if you’ve been referred by someone who already knows the dirty details. Other times might be if you’re in transition. If you’re in a situation where it wouldn’t make sense to withhold why you lost a past job, then mention it … briefly. Practice this so you can get it out in one short sentence, without evidence of pain or emotion. Then put this practiced sentence away, and don’t use it unless you absolutely have to.

You might ask – why would anyone in their right mind want to discuss how they lost a past job in the midst of a job interview?

I think some personalities are compelled to “tell their side of the story” or others might feel that discussing how they lost a past job might somehow help them get back at a past employer for wronging them. Some want to tell anyone that will listen that their job loss wasn’t their fault (are they telling the interviewer … or themselves?). Some candidates feel the need to explain why they’ve had shorter stays at a job (or few in a row) – thinking that by sharing they were picked for 3 layoffs, in their past 3 jobs, over the past 3 years is somehow a positive statement to an employer. The best perception this gives is that the candidate makes poor decisions – more often it gives the perception that the candidate can’t hold a job.

Still others are too open for their own good – I don’t suggest being dishonest, but I wouldn’t recommend telling all your personal dirt to someone you just met either.

Some candidates are so anxious to get this off their chests, they won’t even wait for an interview to accomplish the train wreck. These candidates want the express track to reach the wreck even faster. So they spell out the carnage right on the face of their resume, calling even more attention to it – by describing why they left each job (I’ve even seen this in italics on resumes).

Recruiters and employers really don’t care why you left.

They’re more interested in discovering if you can solve company problems or create value than your story of being caught in a game of musical chairs.

So why do employers even ask why you left your last job? If you’re still employed, it’s a legitimate question to gauge if you’re likely to encounter the same problems with their company as your employer. If you’re in transition, however, interviewers ask this question to discover something entirely different.

For transition candidates, recruiters and employers ask the “why did you quit/get fired” question … to see how you answer the question. Recruiters and employers are looking for clues like – Are they telling the truth? Can they answer the question confidently? How do they act in uncomfortable situations, or under stress? Unless you’ve stolen something or killed someone, your next employer probably doesn’t really care about your answer itself, but rather how you’ve presented it.

About the only way to avoid the “Why did you leave” question from trashing your chances is to answer quickly and confidently and immediately moving the interviewer’s attention to how well you can solve the employers specific problems. Repeating from above – have an answer ready, a very short sentence, well rehearsed and confident. Look the recruiter/employer straight in the eye and answer it quickly. Then move past it, so that your short interview time can be spent demonstrating how you can provide employer value, rather than why past jobs didn’t work out (through no fault of your own).

If you’ve been laid off or fired, you’re bound to be upset about it and people can tell – they hear it in your voice.

Get it out of your system before you start interviewing. During a phone screen or interview, you don’t want your voice to betray the hurt you’ve felt.

Take a week or two, and tell your close friends and family all the rotten details. Join a support group if you have to, talk to a therapist or clergy – but just for 2 weeks. Spend those two weeks getting all the hurt out of your system … then stop. If you’re still talking to others about the hurt, pain, and even hate you’re feeling about loosing your job, that hurt and pain remains in your head – and also in your voice. Don’t start interviewing until you’ve stopped talking about the hurt. Others hear it, even if you’re trying to keep it bottled up, when you talk about your past employer – and it’s a deal killer.

After those two weeks, even if you’re commiserating with others in transition or making a point about the injustices of the economy, stop short of sharing your hurt or that you feel wronged. The hurt continues with you as long as you allow it to and will travel with you into interviews.

Readers – Please share your experiences. How have you been able to answer the “Why did you leave” question successfully? How do you keep the hurt out of your interviews?

Recruiters and employers – Please share your stories about how you’ve seen this question kill otherwise good interviews.


Want to do more than just complain about a bad economy?

To attend our next complimentary live webinar featuring action items to double your resume response rate and number of interviews, plus live career Q&A with Phil Rosenberg of reCareered, register at .

Available Now On Amazon: Job Search Secrets - Rethink Your Job Search Now, By Phil Rosenberg

Phil shows you why your current job search strategies work against you and how to replace them with strategies that improve your odds. Phil provides you with research - cold, hard statistics provided by job boards and hiring managers themselves, to show you what works for you and against you in the worst job market in our lifetimes.

Download Job Search Secrets on Amazon

Join our mailing list for newsletters, announcements of complimentary upcoming webinars and other job search resources. Sign up at

For access to more information:
Connect to Phil Rosenberg on Linkedin:
Follow reCareered on Linkedin:
Like reCareered on Facebook:
Follow Phil Rosenberg on Google+:
Follow reCareered on Twitter:
Join Career Change Central on Linkedin:

Author: Phil Rosenberg

You might also like

Networking Mistakes – Don’t be THAT GUY at your holiday party Now that we’ve entered December, we’re starting the month of holiday parties. Many job seekers utilize...
How To Make An Employer Think You’re Clueless OK, so you're not a job search expert. You're a marketing expert, a finance expert, a technology...
Live from the HR Tech Show in Chicago HR Tech is a trade show where HR managers go to learn what's new. All they are talking about is Web...
5 Job Search Lessons From The Easter Bunny While often considered just a childrens' fable, the Easter Bunny has decided to broaden his appeal...