Hiring someone who has been fired is a risk—no question about it. But the truth is, you’re always taking a risk when you hire. Sometimes great people are terminated, but great people are not let go repeatedly. Determining whether a prior termination poses a risk is tricky. The best advice we can offer is to first try to determine what kind of exit your candidate faced. Understanding the situation will help you make a smart determination of what really went wrong and whether or not it will be a potential risk for your company.
1. The Wrongdoing Termination
It can be a challenge to determine if someone was terminated for wrongdoing. Most employers, especially large ones, will not tell you why a former employee left. One way to get around this is to do what we refer to as a “back door” reference. This means try to find someone unofficial who worked with that person at the same time—LinkedIn is a good tool for this. Sometimes people act sketchy when asked for a reference and it can be tempting to take this as evidence that the person is not a good hire, but often times it is just a fear of litigation.
2. The Culture Fit Termination
Sometimes people are not a culture fit and it isn’t always easy to determine this up front. Ask questions like, “What was it about the match between you and your previous employer that didn’t work well?” Then, rephrase that question and ask it again later in the interview. This often reveals more telling information. The first time you ask you’ll get a canned answer. The second time is also often a guarded response—but the third time you’ll usually get the real information! Another strategy is to have multiple interviewers ask similar questions and then compare answers.
3. The Performance-Based Termination
Be wary of terminations that were based on performance. If your candidate admits he did not meet his sales quota or failed to deliver results on a project, this is an obvious red flag. The only reason a performance-based termination would not be a red flag is if the previous role had nothing to do with the role at your company. For example—maybe your candidate was let go from a sales job that he took out of necessity, but his background is in tech support and you’re interviewing him for a tech support role. Does it matter that he was horrible at making cold calls…probably not, as long as he can prove prior stability and success in a tech support role. No one is good at everything. If someone took a risk on a different kind of job, don’t hold that against them.
4. The Political Termination
If someone claims they were let go for political reasons, your guard should be up! Even though this might be true, unless they take responsibility for not understanding the politics and behaving accordingly, this is just a bad excuse. Anytime a candidate blames politics or bad management it’s a sign of a lack of accountability and failure to learn anything from the experience—these are both HUGE red flags. Look for applicants who take ownership as opposed to placing blame.