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How Do I Handle an Unsuccessful Past Job in an Interview?

How Do I Handle an Unsuccessful Past Job in an Interview?

This question is taken from AGB Search's monthly newsletter, “Securing Leadership,” which features two questions — one frequently asked by search committee members and another often posed by candidates in presidential searches. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.

From a candidate: How do I deal with a past job experience that was not successful?

Long past are the days when anything negative is forgotten. Your bad experience will be posted and achieve Google’s version of immortality. As a candidate, you must presume this and get in front of any negative reactions.

  • Start with a short conversation with the search consultant. Briefly tell your story and seek counsel.
  • In the letter of interest, consider a closing paragraph such as “You may have questions concerning my departure from XYZ University. I would be pleased to address them as we move forward in the search process.”
  • Including a reference who can speak objectively about the bad experience is also useful. Just make sure the reference will speak factually and positively about you.
  • In the interview, look for a way to include the bad experience as part of your response to a question. Answer any questions about bad experiences directly. If no one asks, include a short reference to it in the period allowed for questions and summary statements.

An excellent way to refine your response to is develop a two-minute drill, a concise statement that addresses the issue without speaking ill of anyone. Committed to memory and recited without hesitation, the two-minute drill says “I own the facts. I have honorably dealt with the problem. I’ve moved on and am ready to serve.”

Thanks to Richard Wueste, AGB Search consultant, for this month's question. For more information on leadership development, read Trusteeship's article on "Meeting the Leadership Challenge: Why the Most Effective Presidents and Chairs Seek Coaches."
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