Everyone has a “difficult interview question” they need to answer. One of my Twitter pals (my “tweep” Cynthia Y.) suggested this:

I always say – don’t be afraid to breathe in an interview. Take a moment to reflect difficult questions before you interview!

I love that and call it the “pause that refreshes,” to swipe an old ad tagline.

Here’s how I answered this question from someone today:

“I’ve sent some resumes out and it just occurred to me… what do I tell an interviewer when they ask me why I left my last job? I don’t want to trash the org, but not sure if telling them I was fired is good either.”

My Response

I also was fired and for a while found it difficult to talk about why. So I really have gone through this and come to a great place of peace with what to say. Here’s what I say about why I left my longest job:

I was there a long time and accomplished so much. The time had come for me to go. The organization decided that it wanted to go in a different direction, as well, so it worked out for all of us.

You also can say “there was a change in leadership, a new COO came in, and I felt it was a good time to leave.”

We want to state things as neutrally as possible. No potential employer wants to hear you say bad things about a past one, and you don’t really want to get into what happened.

Another option for you: say you were hoping to set up in your own business, realized you don’t really enjoy working on your own, like to work on a team, that’s why you’re applying for this job. This seems like the kind of place you could make a real contribution.

That way, you are refocusing the conversation on the job at hand, leading them away from the difficult question.

Also, remember the (fake) 12 step program “Extra Sentences Anonymous” for people who say too much. You may feel uncomfortable about what you intend to say to the employer, so just practice, practice, practice keeping it short and sweet without an edge or nerves or a sense that there might be more to say. Find someone you can rehearse with, so the answer just flows from you during any interview. The more comfortable you are with what you say, the more comfortable they will be with the answer and the less likely they are to suspect that there’s more to it.

So tell the truth, in a way that you feel confident and good, that puts everyone in a good light, and that is complete yet short enough to make them feel you’ve disclosed and come to terms with what happened – and then move back to the job in question.