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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

July 13, 2016

My work environment was terrible and I wasn’t happy. Instead of leaving, I tried to make it work and now I’ve been fired. How do I address this in an interview without looking bad?

Julie Q. Brush

It is hard enough working in a difficult environment. But being terminated after electing to stay to try and make things work is like rubbing salt in a wound. I commend you for your desire to “make it work.” But somewhere along the line and despite your efforts, things continued to go south. And as a result, you are in a less than optimal situation. But it’s not the end of the world. The silver lining is that this situation has provided you with an opportunity to grow and evolve as a person and a professional.

The first important step (before determining your interview messaging) is to examine your recent situation and assess the following: (1) What made your work environment “bad”? (2) Were there any “tells” about the culture when you first interviewed – or did the culture change? (3) Why did you elect to stay and try to make your situation work? (4) What was your strategy for trying to course correct your work dynamic (Was there a strategy?)? (5) Why did your effort fail? (6) Were there any material signs indicating it would be a good time to leave? If so, why didn’t you act on them? (7) What would you do differently if you encounter this situation again?

While this may seem like reliving ancient history, being self aware and proactive in one’s career is a must. And learning from one’s mistakes is just as important, if not more… as learning from the victories. In addition, understanding the “How” and the “Why” of your last situation will better prepare you as a candidate for your next opportunity-and ultimately for your next role.

After you understand your past situation, you’ll be prepared to turn your attention to appropriately addressing it in an interview. So how does one handle the explanation when asked about the “Why” of a departure? Below are a few suggestions:

Example #1

“I had a great run at Firm X and grew as a lawyer. But after a few years, the culture changed and it was no longer compatible with my values. I am a loyal person and elected to stay to try and work things through, but ultimately it was not a fit – and best for both sides that I moved on.”

Example #2

“The lawyers at Company Y are terrific and I greatly enjoyed working with them. The legal issues were also very interesting. But I found the overall culture in the company to be different than how it was when I first joined the company. As time went on, I tried to create a work dynamic that was more aligned with my principles, but my employer ultimately decided it was best to go in a different direction. And I agreed.”

Example #3

“I learned a great deal in my last position at Company A and enjoyed many of my colleagues. It would have been great to continue on, but there were challenges in the culture that were less than ideal. I was committed to make things work, but after time and effort it was determined that the best path was to part ways. And it was the best result. Now that I have some distance, I can see the mismatch with greater clarity. Collaboration and transparency are important to me and I look forward to a culture that embraces those values in my next employer.”

Example #4

“Organization D was very dynamic with bright people and cutting edge legal issues. And I broadened my skills as a lawyer and a business partner. But the executives supported a culture that was not a good fit for me. I stayed for a year trying to create a workable situation, but in the end we felt it would be better if I found a culture that was more compatible. So this is an important value for me as I explore other opportunities.”

Sometimes a company, a role or a culture is just a bad fit. And that’s ok. You tried to “make it work” in a situation that was not suited for you and you suffered the consequence of termination. And while this may feel like the end of your career, it need only be a bump in the road. As long as you learn from it and use that knowledge to move forward in your next interview…and career with confidence.

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