Regardless of what led to the termination of your employment, you should first know that the employer is not trying to trick you into asking this question. They simply want to understand your career path. In fact, ALL employers are kind, honest, open-minded, understanding and empathetic, so they never set a trap in an interview.
Each of your jobs ended in one of two possible ways: good or bad. In the first case, it could be the end of a contract (therefore as planned), bankruptcy or restructuring (therefore for a reason beyond your control), a move, etc. When your skills and attitudes are not in any way affected by an end of employment, simply explain what happened and then move on to the next question!
On the other hand, if you have been fired or quit your job yourself, for whatever reason, you will avoid blaming your ex-employer or speaking out against him or her. Because if you do, the employer you’re trying to convince to hire you today will think that it’s behind his back that you’ll be talking to him in a few years.
So, while you should avoid lying as much as possible in an interview, you should embellish the truth a bit if necessary. Whether you were beaten, robbed or betrayed by your former boss, it will always be better to talk about an end of employment because you were looking for new challenges, because you were not stimulated enough, etc. And the interviewer’s office is really not the place to vent about your recent hearing before the Commission des normes du travail!
Before embellishing the truth a little in this way, put your pride in a drawer, take your courage in one hand, the phone in the other, and then contact your former boss to ask him or her if he or she would be willing to put aside your conflicts and instead remember the good times of your union when an employer contacts him or her to take references about you. You may be pleasantly surprised: ex-bosses are usually very relieved too to bury the hatchet after a calm, frank, direct and polite conversation. (We’ll cover the whole subject of references in a future column).
Example of an answer
(Assuming you were fired for incompetence.)
When I was hired as a customer service advisor, the job description for this position was not yet finalized. After a few weeks, I was
asked to take on sales duties as well. I don’t really have any expertise in this area, but I did try to meet my boss’s requirements. However, after a few weeks, he and I came to the conclusion that this position wasn’t quite right for me, and we both agreed to end it.
Another example of an answer
(Assuming you left on your own, because your salary was deposited only one out of three times, or your former boss was always yelling at you).
It was a very nice job, which gave me some really interesting challenges at the beginning. However, after six or seven months I felt I would have been around the garden in no time, so I decided to look for a new job to make sure I continued to develop my skills.