On the whole, employers do not enjoy sacking people. Firing someone is fraught with difficulty and often causes a great deal of angst for both parties. Unfortunately, however, there are employees whose actions give employers no choice but to exercise the ultimate sanction.
The issue here is how someone who has been unfairly dismissed responds to the barrage of questions at their next interview. In particular, how do they respond to the ubiquitous question, ‘Why did you leave your previous employer?’ when we can reasonably assume that telling an interviewer that you were sacked (albeit unfairly) may border on interview suicide? As already mentioned, interviewers tend to be a cautious bunch (generally with good reason) and have only your word to go by when you try to explain how hard done by you were. Unfortunately, some recruiters (especially in an over-supplied labour market) will demonstrate considerable reluctance to hire someone who was sacked from their last job, even if that person was blameless. Much of their reluctance stems from a fear that the formerly sacked person won’t work out in the new job. In such a scenario, the recruiter may end up looking incompetent.
Describe what happened in detail
One option is to draw a very clear picture of the circumstances that led to your dismissal. One of the keys here is not to use pejorative terms. Avoid descending into abusive language or insulting your former employer, hard though it may be. Just stick to the facts and present your case dispassionately, using measured language. Four things you could include to bolster your case are:
Similar experiences with other employees
This is a powerful argument. If others were treated in a similar way to you, then that is compelling evidence condemning the employer.
Employers who dismiss employees unfairly usually make lots of promises which they break.
Examples of poor management practices
These could include any number of things, including: no training where training was essential; significant changes without any warning; zero consultation or feedback; abusive behaviours; or major changes to your job duties without any warning or consultation.
What you did to save the situation.
This would include attempts you made to improve matters, including suggestions you made or any actions you took.
Here’s what a good answer to the dreaded ‘Why did you leave your former employer?’ question may sound like:
Unfortunately we parted ways because of a string of negative incidences. My former employer was under some pressure and had great difficulty in coping. He often took out his frustration on his staff, including using abusive language and making all sorts of threats. As a result of this, many of his staff were terrified of him and were actively looking for other work. In fact, staff turnover was very high. He was also in the habit of making important commitments but very rarely keeping them. One example of this was a promise he made that we would receive training on new machinery. This training would have improved our productivity levels significantly and made everyone’s life much less complicated, yet the training never arrived. When I approached him about the matter, he told me to mind my own business. When I tried to explain to him that my concern was for the welfare of the business he got very angry and dismissed me on the spot.
Compare the above answer to the following:
I left because I got fired, which was the best thing that could have happened to me. My former boss was terrible. As well as having no idea on how to run a business, he had no people skills whatsoever. He was a bully and an idiot and could not cope with pressure. No one could stand him and those who weren’t jumping ship were looking for other work. I got fired because I told him we needed training on new machinery— training he promised we would receive and which would have improved our productivity levels significantly. Last I heard he was going broke, which surprises me not at all.
Avoid mentioning the sacking
in the distant past. At the risk of offending those who enjoy occupying the moral high ground, it is my view that there are times when certain things need not be revealed to interviewers. At the end of the day, all employers are entitled to know only whether you can do the job, whether you will fit into the culture of their organization and what your motivation levels are like.