Centred Content

“What Happened At Your Last Job”?

Sept 2019

Dear Joanna

I was fired from my job as a maintenance helper. As a job seekers with Autism, it took me a long time to finally get this job! After one year of hard work and being a dedicated employee, my manager suddenly told me that they were restructuring and either I continue on as a casual part time employee or I would be let go. I decided to quit as I was shocked and upset as I thought I was doing a great job. I had no indication to the contrary. I started to apply for jobs and have an interview next week. How do I respond to the interview question that is always asked: “What happened at your last job”?

Signed: Suddenly Fired

Centred Content

Dear Suddenly,

I am so sorry to hear that this happened to you although it seems that the employer didn’t directly “fire you”. You were offered a “shift change” option which could be interpreted as being terminated. It’s a tricky situation. I appreciate you reaching out to me for advice for this very difficult interview question. I’ve consulted with the job coaches from the Reena Supported Employment Service and Summer Employment Transition supported employment programs for youth with developmental disabilities (including Intellectual and Autism), as well as some great advice from https://careersidekick.com/why-did-you-leave-your-last-job-answers/. They suggest the following ways in which to handle this challenging question at the job interview.

  1. Remove the job from resume. You can consider doing this if you were at this company for a brief time or if it was a short-term contract. If you decide to remove the position from the resume, you will want to speak to the gap in time with confidence and transparency. Give consideration to highlighting other notable activities that would support your personal and professional growth; are you volunteering? did you enrol in a course? Engage in a self-study? Attend conferences or relevant events like job fairs? Volunteer? Travel? Learn a new language? The key is to make the gap relevant, valuable and active in both cyberspace and during the interview. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate how you continue to learn and grow in your career.
  2. Add the job to resume. If you do decide to acknowledge this one-year experience on your resume, then be prepared to speak to it in concrete terms. First and foremost, it is important that your reason for leaving matches what your previous employer will say – if you decide to use your former boss as a reference. If you keep the experience in your resume, see if you can ask a former co-worker to be your reference or another supervisor from your former company. This might require a quick phone call to the human resources who sometimes can help you craft your story. Depending on the human resources team, this could be an opportunity to ask them if they will support your leaving story, within reason.
  3. Job change. Sometimes, as in your case, you’re hired for a full time position and then it ends up that you are switched to casual. Also, I’ve known many situations when employees end up with doing a job that is nothing like the job description they were hired for. Your shift change is an acceptable reason for why you left your last job. You could respond to the question if asked: “I was hired for a full time maintenance helper position. My performance reviews and feedback from my boss were nothing but positive. But after one year, my position turned into casual; and I need full time work. This is a very convincing and acceptable answer, even if you left the position very soon after being hired. It make sense right?
  4. Handling the interview. Do your homework in order to avoid a potentially awkward interview. Keep the response specific, short and transparent. Some examples include: Change in management, restructuring of roles, changed career path, skills were not being fully utilized and I need full time employment. Prepare (and practice) a positive response that can be discussed with ease. Don’t end with the leaving story. Emphasize your key learning, accomplishments and contributions to the department and the role in the year of employment. Do not try to hide from talking about the experience.
  5. Keep it positive! Never badmouth your last employer, especially if you have been fired. Beware of the language. This is a red flag for interviewers. Emphasize that the last job was an important learning opportunity for you and stress how much you like your work and career! Take responsibility, and don’t sound angry or bitter about this past experience. Don’t make it sound like money is the only thing you care about. You need to show the interviewer that you’re focused, ready to come in and help them if they hire you! Regardless of what happened in the past.
  6. Keep your answers clear and direct especially if you were fired, laid off or quit. Don’t use vague words like “I was let go.” This will make the interviewer suspicious and open up a ton of possible follow up questions. Talk about your dedication to the job and that you take your career seriously. Show appreciation of your past jobs (even the last one!). Even though you might be leaving it for a better role elsewhere, it doesn’t mean you should hate on the role. In fact, you should point out the value of the job and the lessons you learnt in that role.

Wishing you lots of success in your next job interview and I’m sure you will be successful!


To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email jsamuels@reena.org