A friend I’ll call Marissa recently resigned from her high-level position that she’d held for less than a year. After a great start on her job, contact with her boss grew strained, especially after Marissa noticed the poor performance of some key company investments. Although her relationships with colleagues thrived, interactions with her superiors cooled to ice-cold. No longer included in key business decisions, Marissa knew it was time to look for another job.
Nothing this bad had ever happened to her at work before, and she felt haunted by this failure. She dreaded dealing with the inevitable question of why she left this job.
Career setbacks like Marissa’s often deal a double whammy. First, they’re upsetting at the time (being laid off, fired, passed over for a promotion, receiving a poor performance review, coping with personality conflicts or ethical dilemmas, etc.). You feel betrayed, angry, confused, hurt, ashamed or discouraged.
Before Interviewing: Debrief the Setback
Before you even attempt an interview, debrief the entire situation with someone you trust.
–What’s the unedited truth as you see it? Expressing the full range of your reactions is the first step to understanding and learning from the setback.
–As you think back over the situation, were there any signs/signals/red flags that you missed or didn’t take seriously earlier?
–It’s tempting to blame only yourself or only your employer for the problem. Resist that urge. Instead, consider what you and they could have done (or not done) that might have changed the negative outcome. Determine your responsibility, obvious or subtle, in these events.
–What were the larger circumstances–economic, political, personal, etc.? This broader perspective helps you recognize and navigate troubled waters in the future.
–What have you learned? About yourself, similar situations? How is this setback like or unlike other experiences?
Debriefing and and learning from the setback reduces dread, embarrassment, and oozing bitterness in interviews. You don’t want to feel or look like “damaged goods.” Employers don’t want to hire personnel problems, thus their interest in the nature of your departure. Understanding your interviewer’s unspoken fear helps you frame your response. Being clear with yourself ensures that you’ll be able to communicate more calmly and confidently at interview time.
The Four-Part Strategy
After you’ve considered the questions above, you’ll be able to frame your response by using the four-step strategy below:
1. Tell the truth–briefly, and minus the gory details.
2. Take responsibility for the outcome–even if you think you were blameless. No bad-mouthing previous employers.
3. Describe what you’ve learned–about yourself, situations you do best in, etc.
4. Return the conversation to the interviewer.
Here’s how Marissa responded to the “why did you leave your last job?” question:
“I’m the kind of person who takes pride in getting along well with others. In my last job, though, I ran into a situation that I wasn’t able to figure out how to work out, and it was clear I needed to leave.
“My colleagues told me I was the most productive person who’d ever held the position. My experience base is broader, and I’ve gained technical and managerial skills.
“I want to be sure that in my next job that I’m part of a strong leadership team and that giving and receiving feedback happens in a timely manner.
“So even though it was a tough experience to go through, I have stronger skills and experience to bring to the table. I’d like to explore how these would be an asset here.”
Marissa told the truth, took responsibility, explained what she learned, and returned the conversation to the interviewer.
Given the four-part strategy described above, career setbacks don’t have to haunt you long after they have happened. Paradoxically, when understood and discussed in a direct and even-handed manner, you address your interviewer’s unspoken fear in a way that strengthens your candidacy. Now you have your “ghostbusting” strategy.
♦ ♦ ♦
Consider a CAP (Career Action Planning) Session if you:
> Feel stuck or stalled in your career
> Are worried about a layoff
> Wonder if it’s not just a new job but a new career you need
> Have been looking for work but not getting results.
In this 90-120-minute meeting, we can get to the root of your career problem and come up with a plan to solve it. For more information call me at 314-752-1373 or use the comment form on my website.