I was fired because I was the fall guy. What do I say in interviews?

I got shafted in my last job, and I'm still angry about it.


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Cary Tennis
May 14, 2007 2:40PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I was recently fired from my job. Not to go too into depth, but I was blamed for the failure of a succession of projects.

In my opinion, the causes for these failures lay in the planning stages, which I was largely excluded from. When I was present at planning meetings, I was the most junior person present, and my suggestions were mostly ignored, including ones that would have mitigated later problems. In any case, I would be sent out to do things I often wasn't trained for, in places that no one had checked the conditions.

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In the end, I was fired on a pretext, but my supervisor made it plain that I was taking the blame for a costly accident, which might not have occurred if he had given me training I had asked for (and that the company requires). Now I am searching for a new job, and I dread, at every interview, being asked, "Why did you leave your last job?" I feel caught between being overtly critical of my former company and trying to avoid the question, neither of which is a good idea in an interview. On one occasion, I had such difficulty explaining my firing that the interviewer became noticeably uncomfortable. Another interviewer told me that I had been evasive in my explanation to her.

I have had several weeks to consider the problem, and I still cannot forget the anger and humiliation I feel over losing my job. And this all comes back when I have to explain it to yet another person. What can I do?

Fired

Dear Fired,

First, a word of caution. I may not be the guy to ask about this.

But let me offer a little bit of advice anyway. While not ensuring that you will be hired, it may help you endure the charade with some dignity.

Be honest. Be authentic. Try to be of service. Don't freak everyone out. Be clean and reasonably well dressed. Don't be hung over, but don't be strung out either. Remember you are entering somebody's workplace.

But you knew that. OK, so what do you really say to the person about the fact that you were fired?

How about the unvarnished truth? Is there something wrong with the truth?

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Again this is just me talking. I'm just a guy trying to look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day. Why not tell the truth -- without blame and recrimination, without bitterness and resentment, just the truth: The projects you were working on failed, and you were fired because of that. You may be asked if you think it was your fault that they failed, and you can answer truthfully. You can point out that you had opinions, and you expressed them, but that you did not have the authority to change the way things were being done. Perhaps in the interview, if it comes up, you could ask how this particular company would handle such a situation, where a low-ranking employee has something valuable to offer but feels he or she isn't being heard. Perhaps you could be honest and say that while you learned some stuff, it's not an experience you are eager to repeat; you might even wonder aloud how you could work within the present company to prevent such failures in the future, should you be offered the job. Maybe that would bring the conversation around to some creative thinking about real business problems.

Or perhaps not. It depends on who is interviewing you.

But relax. No matter what you say, they're not going to hire you if they don't want to hire you. So just treat them with the respect they would deserve if they were regular people.

You were fired because your projects failed and somebody had to be fired.

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That's how things are done. It was just business.

You were glad to get the experience, and you'd do things differently next time. How?

You're on your own there. Just tell the truth. Something will come to you.

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