Do you find yourself competing in a saturated market of job seekers, at a time when employers are taking longer than ever to fill positions AND you were fired from your last position for cause?
While this may feel like the ultimate challenge, it is also a fabulous opportunity to ditch the drama (and all "warlock" tendencies per Charlie Sheen's recent example), stop whining and set yourself apart as the candidate who has grown the most! You can go far beyond simply acknowledging your error in judgment and acting appropriately shamed—use the experience to highlight your competencies of personal accountability, learning agility, and willingness to change.
However, before you can even think about handling the topic in an interview, you have to do your inner work first and prepare fully.
For starters, immediately stop blaming everyone else, the situation or some grand conspiracy theory and own your part in the event. Account for at least three things you did that led to you being fired. List them out and memorize them. Hint: They all start with "I" and include "I chose," "I assumed," "I denied," "I did" and "I didn't." They are single sentences without additional context or story. Examples include, "I chose to go over my boss's head with a grievance rather than go to her directly to address the matter." "I did not give her the opportunity to work things out between us." "I didn't step up and take responsibility for my own happiness," etc.
Then, get very clear on the lesson you learned from the experience and how this has helped you develop new skills. For example, "The approach I took was not professional or mature," or "I was being over-critical of my boss and under-responsible for my role in hosting a dialogue with him/her." "I have learned that my approach was not only ineffective, but also harmful to the working relationship with my team." "I am working on developing more direct communication skills so that I can have professional conversations with those directly involved with any issue."
Next, identify how what you have learned will benefit the organization or your team in the future. An example might be, "I now believe that not only can I refrain from creating unnecessary drama in the workplace, but I can also be a positive force on a team. If a teammate comes to me to complain about another teammate or boss, I can share my experience and provide ideas and support for ways they can handle the situation more appropriately."
Finally, practice talking about the incident with others (who are not potential employers) until you are comfortable with the topic. When you no longer stumble through your explanation—then you are ready for your interview.
On the application, if you are asked about your last position and reason for leaving, be honest that your employment was terminated. Do not make up excuses for leaving. Instead, include on the application that you would be happy to discuss your responsibility in the ending of this position in person.
In the interview, address the issue head on, but not prematurely. As you talk about your employment history and experience gained, do so for each recent position. Then add that you would like to let the interviewer know that you were let go from your last position and the honest reason why. Talk simply and clearly about what you did, what you learned, and how that will benefit you and the organization in the future. Use only "I" statements and refrain from any interpretation of others' behaviors or attempts to assign blame on your past employer. We've seen how far that approach has taken Mr. Sheen ...
Believe it or not, in HR we don't rule out people that have been fired from past positions, we rule out people who blame others for the event or who have not readily taken accountability for their actions. We believe your approach will be an indication of how you handle most issues on the job.
If you shy away from, or avoid the topic altogether, you will likely come across as though you haven't learned from the experience and will bring unnecessary drama to the company. If you admit to your shortcomings, are accountable and take responsibility for your personal development—you will likely earn the title of "Top Candidate."
Cy Wakeman is a dynamic keynote speaker advocating a revolutionary new approach to leadership. Her groundbreaking ideas are featured in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and www.SHRM.org. Her book, Reality-Based Leadership: Ditch the Drama, Restore Sanity to the Workplace, & Turn Excuses Into Results (Jossey-Bass, 2010) is available for order at all major online book retailers. For more information, visit www.cywakeman.com.