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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 6:01 am | Fair 38º


Paul Burri: Was It Something I Said?

Firing line advice for uncomfortable moments in job interviews

A friend of mine just went through the unpleasant experience of being fired. (In the rest of this column I will use interchangeable personal pronouns to protect the privacy of my friend.)

So anyway, he immediately started to go to mutual friends for advice on getting another job. One piece of advice she got was to answer the inevitable interviewer’s question, “Why did you leave your last job?” by giving the hackneyed and worthless answer, “I left by mutual agreement.”

Oh, really? How did that work? They said, “You’re fired,” and you said, “OK.”

Was that the mutual agreement?

I remember how I used to answer that same question — Why did you leave your last job? — by saying, “I’d be there yet if it wasn’t for something they said.” Of course, if the interviewer were to ask me what it was they said, I’d have to reply that what they said was, “You’re fired.” (Yes, I’m being a little facetious here.)

So it is my opinion that to say it was “by mutual agreement” is meaningless and worse, just plain dumb. It immediately tells even the most inexperienced interviewer that you were fired. And it also implies that you think the interviewer will not be smart enough to see that. Want to get the job? Insult the interviewer’s intelligence. That will work every time. NOT.

So do your best to explain what happened from your point of view. In my friend’s case, she was perhaps too eager to make changes (good changes by the way) in an old, rigid, change-resistant environment. Personalities clashed and his same-level associates undermined him and badmouthed him to upper management. It happens. So try to explain what happened in a clear, nonaccusatory way. Perhaps in my friend’s case she should be willing to accept part of the blame for the situation by saying something like, “I was probably too eager to change the old methods to more efficient and profitable ones.” That accepts a weakness that could be interpreted as a strength by a prospective employer. Who doesn’t want an eager employee who wants to increase your profits?

I also remember struggling to answer that other standard interview question, “What are some of your weaknesses?” Who the hell knows how to answer that honestly? What interviewer really thinks he will get an honest answer to that? I finally figured out that it is a trick question designed not for an answer so much as to see how you handle the question. So how did I answer that question? Here are some answers I used depending on the situation and how I felt about the interviewer:

» “I don’t have any weaknesses. I’m perfect.”

» “I tend to be a workaholic.”

» “I never want to give up.”

» “ I have too many ideas.”

» “I tend to focus too much on making a profit for the company.”

So Mr. Interviewer, find fault with those answers.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. The opinions and comments in this column are his alone and do not represent the opinions or policies of any outside organization. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Click here for previous Paul Burri columns. Follow Paul Burri on Twitter: @BronxPaul

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