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How to interview with a strike against you

Published:Sunday | March 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Glenford Smith, career writer

Glenford Smith, Career Writer

Interviewing for a job, at the best of times, can prove highly challenging and nerve-racking. As an interviewee, however, your difficulty can be compounded if you were fired, asked to resign, or otherwise dismissed from your previous job under questionable circumstances.

Take for instance, a poignant case which a former Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) member wrote to me about recently. He was asked to retire from the Force 'without sufficient cause', in his opinion.

While seeking vindication, he has had to seek a livelihood to ensure his economic survival. His frantic efforts have been met with repeated frustration, however.

Despite the fact that it has been years since his tenure with the JCF, all his interviews for jobs have had one bothersome commonality. In every case, he claims, "the panellists' interest seems to lie in my tenure with the JCF and nothing more."

interest in details

So, what is he, and others like him, to do? Well, the first thing is to not interpret interviewers' interest in the details of your disputed termination as unfair or unjustified. Their recruiting duties are a big responsibility.

Any hiring mistake they make will come back to haunt them and hurt their own careers. Consequently, many take a simple approach to recruiting: When in doubt, don't hire. This eliminates the inherent risk.

Especially with such a wide pool of job candidates to choose from, it makes little sense for them to take the trouble of investigating whether your premature dismissal was justified or not.

The fact that you've been called in for an interview is a good sign in the first place, however. Take it as an opportunity. Use the following tips for grabbing your chance with both hands.

Acknowledge and redirect: When asked about your past dismissal, don't ignore or deflect the question. Admit the fact of your dismissal and refocus the discussion to what you can bring to the organisation.

For instance, 'I enjoyed working at XYZ Company and believe I made a valuable contribution there. While some aspects of the job didn't work out, that has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to use my extensive marketing experience to increase revenues and brand awareness in ABC market. Are you interested in how I can help to make that happen?'

Don't badmouth past employer: Keep your anger and resentment towards your ex-employer to yourself. Even if they were unjust, dishonest and uncaring, detailing their shortcomings will work against you. It's human nature for your interviewers to conclude that it will only be a matter of time before you will be vilifying them in the same way.

Focus on your value proposition: Prepare beforehand to demonstrate specific solutions you intend to bring to their most pressing problem. Unless you clarify what your prospective employer's most urgent requirement is for the new hire, you are merely shooting in the dark.

Don't waste time defending yourself or your past record. Maintain a laser-like focus on proving that you are the best candidate for helping achieve what is most important to them and the company.

Glenford Smith is a motivational speaker and success strategist. He is the author of a new book 'From Problems to Power: How to Win Over Worry and Turn Your Obstacles into Opportunities'. Send feedback to