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Explaining a termination

Posted by Pattie Hunt Sinacole  April 2, 2012 07:02 AM

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Q: I was fired from my last position for poor performance. I had returned to finance after 12 years and found out just how much the industry had changed. I went to work for two brokers with $1B under management. It was a nightmare. I was in over my head. Long story short...how do I present this in an interview without sounding completely incompetent?

A: You may not believe me right now but you have learned some valuable information because of this experience. Being terminated can take an incredible toll on your self-esteem. Make sure that you are taking care of yourself.

You have learned what you can do well and what you can not do well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. You probably understand some of your weaknesses now (e.g., recent changes in the brokerage world). But what did you do well? You may have very strong PC skills. Or you might have very strong client relationship skills. Think about what went well and also what when wrong in your last position. This information can only help you in your next role.

You are right to ask about how to best explain your termination. You always want to emphasize the positives and minimize the negatives. Your explanation could be something like this:

In my early career I worked in the finance industry. In 2011, I landed a job working for two brokers with $1B under management. I really liked the work environment and my team members. One of the areas that I also enjoyed was the service side of my job, especially resolving client problems. What I underestimated was how much the industry had changed over the years. I am eager to return to the workforce.

Additionally, never “bash” your former employer. This will only make you sound bitter and negative. Make sure that you can select one or two positives from your recent job. Talk about these positive experiences in an enthusiastic way. It might be related to a favorite client, a special project or a special skill which you acquired.


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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.

Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.

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Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.

Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.

Tracy Cashman is Senior Vice President and Partner of the Information Technology search division at WinterWyman. She has 20 years of experience partnering with clients in the Boston area to conduct technology searches in a wide variety of industries and technology.

Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.

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