It sounds counterintuitive to discuss firings in a job interview, right? Ordinarily, you might be asked to explain any firings in your own past—but you might also be faced with a question about firing others. Have you done it? How did you do it? If you haven’t done it, could you do it? How would you do it? Pretty macabre turn for the interview to take, but if it happens, don’t sweat it—here are some strategies you can use.
DO understand why you’re being asked.
It’s unlikely that the interviewer is thirsty for corporate blood, and looking for a kindred spirit. Rather, firing people is an unfortunate fact of life at any company. If you’re interviewing for any kind of management position, or a position that has the potential to grow into management level, it’s a valid test of your future management skills.
If you recoil and say, “Oh, I could never fire anyone,” you could look like a pushover. If you go the opposite way and talk about how much you love firing people, you could come off more like a sociopath than a tough boss.
DON’T try to seem like a shark.
This isn’t a test to see how badass you can be. It’s a test to see how you would handle a real-life situation. You don’t get extra points for making the metaphorical fired person cry, so make sure you keep a neutral, professional tone. Very few companies are looking for a tyrant to fill a position.
DO emphasize that you wouldn’t arrive at the decision lightly.
Make sure the interviewer knows that you would monitor the situation closely, and fire someone as a last resort. This is kind of a backdoor test of your problem-solving skills. If you have a real-life example of having to fire someone in the past, talk about the process that led up to the decision, and how you handled it. If it didn’t have a great outcome, don’t lie—talk about what you’d do differently in the future.
DON’T run down a laundry list of everyone you’ve fired.
If you’ve left a ton of firings in your wake, that could be a major red flag for the interviewer: why has this person made so many bad hiring decisions that led to necessary firings? Instead of running that risk, use specific relevant examples that show the firing as a good management decision for the benefit of the company and/or your team. The interviewer is most interested in process here, so pick quality examples that don’t make you look like a manager who can’t manage a competent and harmonious team.
DON’T be mean if you’re asked to “fire” the interviewer.
If you’re asked to give a demonstration of a potential firing, be sure to be firm with the person and make the reasons clear. Don’t let the role-playing get loud or out of hand, even though it’s just for show. This is not the time to channel your inner Donald-Drumpf-circa-The Apprentice.
So, to recap: be firm but empathetic in any examples you provide (real or hypothetical), and always emphasize the process you would use to arrive at the decision.