How to Deal With Your Past in the Present and for the Future

One of the most difficult questions anyone will receive in a job interview is:  Why did you leave your previous position?  Of course the best way to answer such a question is to be truthful and honest at all times.  People leave jobs for many different reasons, including termination but it is how you describe such an event in the past to your interviewer that can make your future successful or not.

For whatever reason, interviewees provide more information than necessary.  Most experts believe that you should be upfront about previous terminations but please do not go into gory details – it makes you appear that you are defensive and wanting to find an excuse for the whole affair.  It probably behooves you to get the answer out on the table before the issue is even raised by the questioner.

If your last appointment ended in a not so satisfactory way, it is best to present that conclusion almost immediately in the interview.  Since most interviews start with an introductory soft-ball question like: “Tell me about yourself?” –  this is the golden opportunity for you to describe what happened and that such an occurrence now avails your talents to potential new employers.

Obviously there is a big difference between philosophical differences and a legal matter when it comes to explaining your recent departure.  If you are currently without employment because of a personality conflict or philosophical differences, such explanations will be simple to explain and acceptable to most recruiters. 

Of course your truthful explanation of your departure is determined by where you stand in your post-termination mindset.  Unfortunately it takes longer for some to remove themselves from such previous situations.  If your need is to rehash or to periodically revisit your previous organization, you will have more difficulty in moving on to ‘greener pastures.”  Life goes on and frankly the sooner you move on, the more likely you will positively land on your feet elsewhere.

Let’s face it, we don’t all work well together and there are instances where it is best to remove oneself from a potentially uncomfortable situation for both the employee and the organization’s benefit.  If presented accurately, you may even be able to make this change a positive look into your personality.  You may be able to paint a picture of yourself being an individual who isn’t always looking for total compliance or agreement but that you are not the kind of person who wants to battle on a daily basis.  Your bottom line is your desire to be a successful and profitable cog in the organization’s mechanism and you would rather want to work along side your fellow team members than be in a constant combative situation.

Though it is highly unlikely that an interviewer will spend an inordinate amount of time on the subject of previous terminations, if you position your departure in a positive light, you must always be prepared to explain the reasons behind the change and be truthful and forthright.  If you are not prepared and if you stammer and circle the wagons, it will make you appear uncomfortable and that you are possibly attempting to hide the truth.  It is not always what you say but how you say it.  Rehearse your answer ahead of time and in that way you will be able to move on to more productive issues.

Since the philosophy of staying in a job for your entire career is no longer valid it is vital for you to describe your employment progression and what your ultimate goal is.  It is most important to paint a picture of moving forward in one’s career.  Explain what you have been able to achieve in the past, what you have in mind for the future and what you can accomplish for the interviewer’s specific organization.  Hopefully you can tie those accomplishments to the job description so that you can prove to the recruiter that you have done your homework and that you are cognizant of the organization’s positioning.

You have accomplished much so far in your career, make sure you emphasize that.  Be dynamic and charismatic in your answers and as always, make sure you point out all your attributes.  Though you are the recipient of questions during an interview there is nothing keeping you from transitioning those inquiries into areas that you are most comfortable in and where you can gain most from in the discussion.  Be more than your Cover Letter and Resume – be the person who can address the future for the recruiter.  If you are prepared you can make this interview a positive step towards achieving your ultimate career goal.

Dan Borschke is a Certified Association Executive who has been a CEO for 3 distinct trade associations in his career.  He currently is between positions and has written more than 50,000 words or 65 blogs on the topics of job search and career transition.  He can be contacted at:


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