How to Handle a Most Unpleasant Interview Question

Ok, let’s face it.

Some interview questions would have been left out. The issues that these questions address are highly sensitive and simply unpleasant. But interviewers don’t see it that way.

Your smiles are set and disarming. You’ve done your homework on the company and you’re now a veteran in the field of job interviews. But are you sure you are prepared for this question?

The interviewer calmly fixes his gaze on you and bang! The question hits you in the face.

Why did you leave your last job?

Now, it won’t be a problem if you’d willingly resigned in order to look for a more challenging job or if you were fired as a result of organizational downsizing. Those are normal scenarios. They’re not a crime. It happens often in the corporate world.

But in your case, the story isn’t that straight. You were fired for an ‘offence’. Mind you, even if you were completely innocent of the alleged offence, your file at your last office has been decorated with the inglorious letter or memo that delivered the exit sentence. And that remains a reference point for official purposes should prospective employers call for references.

So, how do you answer such a question now? In honesty, you declare that you were fired. Then, logically what comes next is ‘why were you fired?’

The biggest mistake you’ll make is to tell a lie. And yet another big mistake you’ll make is to badmouth your last employer in a bid to justify yourself. But you can’t completely evade the question. You’re faced with the proverbial bone that’s tied to the neck of a dog. It can’t eat it, it can’t get rid of it. Should you find yourself in such a ‘dangerous’ situation, let me share with you what a recruitment expert taught me.

Let’s assume it was alleged that you divulged some confidential information, which you didn’t do (or did you?). Before the allegation, you’d noticed some words going around within your colleagues which signalled a breach of confidentiality. You didn’t flag it up. Now you’re stewing in your own juice. You’re fired because your position in the organisation places the blame at your doorstep.

Here’s an example of what you could say. You’ll neither tell a lie nor crucify yourself. Be brief, and be diplomatic.

“Every higher position in any organisation presents its challenges. Unfortunately though, there are times we learn to cope effectively with such challenges the hard way. My case is a classic example. If there’s one thing I should be eternally grateful to management of XYZ Ltd for, it’s the opportunity given to me to learn to raise a timely alarm to the appropriate authorities on potential breaches among my colleagues, that may undermine the integrity of my office if left unchecked. I was fired for not doing this. It’s an on the job lesson, and it has stuck with me. Now, I am a better fit for such sensitive situations.”

That settles it. No bitterness. No grudges. No lies. And that’s for the scenario we’ve created. A specific situation will give the clue to how well we can answer the question. The rules are simple and general.

Never badmouth your last employer.

Never display any sense of bitterness.

Always emphasise on the brighter side of a negative situation.

Never judge or condemn yourself.

Never tell lies.

In my next post, I’ll discuss with you how to answer one of the commonest interview questions ever abused – Tell us about yourself.

Talk to you soon.

Taiwo Adeyemi is the HR Manager at the Waterman Day College, a reputable international school in Nigeria. For comments, suggestions and enquiries, please contact him on

What if you are currently working but looking out for greater opportunities? Ngcareers is the best place to have your profile matched to the best jobs that fit your aspirations. Join now and create a career profile that employers can find.

About Taiwo Adeyemi

Taiwo Adeyemi a passionate and inspirational freelance writer. A motivational speaker and a blogger. He holds a bachelor degree in Business Administration with experiences in finance, teaching, public speaking, writing and music. His passion for inspirational writing and speaking has seen him publish a book Ideas: From Nest to Transformation. He is putting finishing touches to a second one. Contact him. 09097348380

One Comment

  1. NICE says:

    this writeup above rocks, its QED. This answer hits it and i say THANK YOU SIR, thans a zillion. i too have suffered from this same exact thing and this questn stucked to my head too and here the answer shoots through, i feel blessed, Thanks.

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