Good employees get fired all the time, and in and of itself, being fired doesn't automatically make someone unhirable. 

I've personally been running companies for 23 years, and in my time I've fired maybe a dozen people. The majority of people I fired were individuals that were simply no longer a fit for the role the company needed at that time.

Sometimes it's OK to hire an employee who has been fired at one point in their career. Also, bad employees get fired too. "Bad" can mean a bad human, or it can mean bad at the role.

Let's look at an example. Say you are building out your sales team and you interview two candidates:

Candidate A was fired. He was employed by his company for one year and two months. When asked about his accomplishments during his tenure with the company, Candidate A tells you that he hit 115 percent of quota, quarter after quarter, and tells you a story about how he landed a difficult client, by gaining the trust of his co-workers, and crafting a customized pursuit plan.

Candidate B was laid off. He was employed by his company for one year and four months. He was on a team of two, and both him and his team member were laid off. During the interview, Candidate B reveals that the company he worked at laid off 5 percent of their staff. When asked about his accomplishments during his tenure with the company, Candidate B tells you that he had meetings with decision-makers and creating collateral for sales meetings that didn't exist before.

Candidate A has the potential to be an "A player." Candidate B does not. An "A player" is an employee who performs better than 75 percent of their peer group in their role. By definition, only 25 percent of employees can fall into this category. During the interview process, it's our job to identify individuals who have the capacity to be "A players" on our team. If we make the mistake of dismissing candidates due to their past career history, we will likely be missing out.

Even though Candidate A was fired, his answers early on in the interview process lead me to believe he has potential, and I want to learn more.  Candidate A talks about specific outcomes and can directly tie their work to results that positively impact the team.

On the contrary, Candidate B talks about activities he did, but doesn't tie them to outcomes. Candidate B is someone I would not hire.

Now that I know that Candidate A is a potential hire, it's my job to learn more. Even though Candidate A was fired, he is a contender to be an employee. But, this doesn't mean I take my foot off the pedal.

Never ever give candidates the benefit of the doubt. Meaning, when someone shows potential early in an interview, vet them thoroughly. As an interviewer, it's your job to dig in more, probe, understand if the is a culture fit for your team, understand if his past experiences lend him to be a productive team member, and so on.  

One of my biggest pet peeves is when an interviewer comes out of an interview and says "The candidate wasn't paying attention to my questions and didn't answer the questions well, but I'm sure it was because he was nervous or tired." Nope. Don't assume a candidate will magically turn into a better version of themselves after the interview is over.

When I interview someone who has been fired, I try to understand as much as possible about the circumstances they were in when they got fired. I try to put myself in their shoes.

So now the big question is -- with Candidate A, you find yourself in the position of interviewing a candidate who has been fired in the past, and who you believe has the potential to be an "A player." So, how do you ultimately decide if you should hire him?

If you believe the candidate is being truthful, and was fired because they weren't in the right role for them, and their skill set will be valuable to your team, go ahead and hire them. If, on the other hand, you believe the candidate was fired for reasons that would also get them fired on your team, you should walk away.

So, the next time you interview someone and find out that they were fired, take the time to understand who they are as a person. And above all, hire first for integrity, and the rest will follow.

Published on: Apr 19, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.