Rest assured; it is possible to have a great interview even when your separation from your last job was not ideal. Here are some guidelines, gleaned from my research with both job seekers and recruiters, with a particular shout-out to Deb Taft, CEO of Lindauer Global.
1. Acknowledge that a job interview is emotionally triggering, especially for someone who is finding their way after being let go.
Give yourself the gift of self-compassion. This will help you slow down and prepare for that first interview that comes your way. Otherwise, you may come across as defensive because you haven't anticipated how you'll feel answering questions about your job history.
2. Your goal will be to come across as emotionally healthy.
I’ve had many conversations with fundraising professionals who are still in pain and have anger and deep resentment toward their ex-organization. To paraphrase a piece of advice from Deb Taft, practice saying the name of your former employer without gritting your teeth or glazing over into a stunned trance.
3. Practice matters. Practice your pitch and Q&A with people you trust before the formal interview.
You can also make an audio recording or watch yourself on Zoom if you’re comfortable enough to do so.
What you’re listening for is your tone. How do you sound? Do you sound confident, comfortable, and steady? Or do you sound apologetic, defeated, and people-pleasing at all costs?
You don’t have to feel great, but you want to sound as if you do.
4. Prepare your story. It’s unlikely an interviewer will ask if you were fired. They will typically ask why you left. Here’s where a good narrative is essential.
To practice what you'll say, reframe the question so you can provide a positive answer. Focus on the future and what you can now accomplish for your prospective employer.
Write down a few answers and rehearse them ahead of time.
These few examples will help you create your own response to this question while keeping a positive mindset.
- A new leader came in and she wanted her own team. I’m very glad I spent the last five years there and was able to help them accomplish their goals before moving on.
- There was a shift in goals/direction and I’m glad I was able to help them get to this point. I’m looking forward to doing the same for you.
- We mutually agreed I had accomplished what they needed. I’m proud of this and excited about the future.
- I learned a great deal and am looking forward to my next chapter and, in particular, how I can help you.
5. “Write a good list,” says Taft. This is a list of all the good things that happened at the organization when you were there.
Read it before the interview so it’s top of mind, displacing the negative thoughts about your experience so that you can deliver your lines confidently and with pride.
6. Finally, keep in mind that interviewers are likely aware of the changes at your organization or the new leadership that came in.
The nonprofit world is small, and we all know turnover has been a part of our culture for decades.
The interviewer may, in fact, have been forced out from her/his last position and be more empathetic than you realize.
You're not alone if you feel apprehensive about saying “yes” to a new position after one or more rough endings.
Executive Director Sarah Cortell Vandersypen, CFRE, told me, "The most difficult thing about interviewing after being let go is the second-guessing you do to yourself about organizational fit. You try to avoid the red flags or pitfalls from the last organization while checking off all the other criteria like job fit, career growth, and salary. Ultimately you know that no job is perfect but you try to mitigate as much risk as possible."
This article was adapted from my blog "Move Forward" and my book, "Involuntary Exit, A Woman's Guide to Thriving After Being Fired," on Amazon and https://theprofessionalguide.com. Connect with me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/robinmerletpg/.