There was a time not all that many years ago when you never admitted that you had been fired, fearing that it would blacklist you in the job market forever after. People came up with elaborate – and often unconvincing – stories about what had occurred: “The company's direction was so wrong-headed, there was no way I could stay there,” or the ever-popular “I resigned to spend more time with my family”
Those are a few of the classics. Any number of phrases were code for lost-my-job, and somehow it was felt that resorting to them salvaged your professional dignity and maintained your employability. Now job loss is so epidemic, there's little reason to resort to them automatically anymore. And there can be good reasons not to.
I remember being amazed a couple of decades ago when my husband explained his exit from a job with characteristic bluntness, “I was fired.” I wasn't sure whether to be awed by his courage or stunned by his foolishness. As it turned out, the truth had an amazing effect. Heads swiveled, eyes widened, and people really took note of what he said. Because he was neither sheepish nor apologetic, neither belligerant nor enraged, it made people respect and listen to him. He decided not to seek another corporate job, opting to go solo instead, and he had no trouble finding clients, even in areas where he hadn't worked before. I always believed the “I was fired” line was his lucky charm, the magic ice-breaker. It worked brilliantly for him because it was so novel then: it made everybody ask “Who is this guy who has no hang-ups about losing his job?” They wanted to find out and once they did they liked what they saw.
Showing that you're bigger than what happened to you is just one reason to let the cat out of the bag. There's another that's just as important, and I was reminded of it the other day when I had lunch with a friend who was reminiscing about being pushed out of the management team at a NYC firm. “After I lost my job, a few people – including you -- said, 'you were miserable in that job for the past five years.'” she told me. “It really straightened out my head about getting fired.” If she hadn't admitted that she lost the job, she never would have gotten this feedback and might always have harbored doubts about the part she played in her job loss.
Of course, it's one thing to come clean with your family and friends, quite another to play truth or dare in a job interview. When you decide how to handle this issue with prospective employers, consider the consequences of dissembling by asking yourself these questions: Is it going to create awkward holes in an interview? Will guiding the conversation away from your job loss make you uneasy and throw you off your game? Can you carry off talking about being fired without anger, guilt or laying of blame? Can you use the situation to demonstrate your confidence and resilience?
Only you can decide whether you can turn a professional tragedy into a door-opener. But it's well worth thinking about.