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No. 120 – I got fired without warning. How do I explain what happened in job interviews?

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16 August 2023

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: job hunting after an unexpected dismissal, a new monthly check-in and interview anxiety.

I was dismissed from my last job without warning, after only a few months. It was a negative environment and each day was stressful. How do I go into a job interview with confidence? And how much do I need to share about my last role? I’m highly educated and qualified, but I feel so vulnerable.

It is understandable that your confidence has been shaken. However, as you said, you are highly educated and qualified, and that is what you need to focus on. It may be helpful for you to reframe what happened as an experience to help clarify the kind of culture you want to avoid.

I wouldn’t suggest going into detail about what happened in your last role in interviews. It’s hard to explain these situations without raising red flags or questions, even if that seems unfair. Given you were only employed a short time, you can just explain it wasn’t a great cultural fit and move on. If you are asked why, I think you are best to keep your answers fairly general and focus on what you will bring to this role if you are hired.

My boss has set up monthly one-on-one meetings with everyone in my team. He says I should bring questions. I don’t know what he’s expecting, as I’ve never had a regular check-in before. What should I ask?

It sounds like your boss is trying to understand what you need to thrive in your job and do your best. Good leaders want to connect with individual team members in a way that isn’t just about to-do lists and project updates but about you, your aspirations, your needs and the support your boss can offer.

Some things you might want to ask about include:

  • What work you should be prioritising
  • What you need to do to be considered for a promotion (if that’s something you aspire to)
  • Whether your boss has any advice on working effectively with others in your team
  • What changes or priorities your boss might be seeing at their level across the organisation
  • Opportunities for professional development

The more of these monthly meetings you have, the more comfortable you will feel with them and the more questions you’ll likely have.

I am searching for a new job, but I don’t perform at my best in the interview room or over video calls because I’m just so nervous. As a result, I am not having much luck. Any tips?

While this won’t ease your nervousness about interviews, it may be reassuring to know you are not alone. I was interested to read research by SEEK that showed 76 per cent of Australians get nervous before an interview and afterwards, two-thirds worry about what they could have done better.

While it’s natural to feel nervous before an interview, it is a problem if it is preventing your ability to get a job. One idea is to try and not consider it to be an interview at all. See if you can approach it as a conversation and just focus on getting to know the person you meet, rather than trying to impress them and communicate every point you want to get across. If you let them get to know you and find a way to be genuine – you can even say at the outset how nervous you feel – they will hopefully put you at ease. Good luck!

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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