Fired? How To Explain It In An Interview

How to answer the question with confidence.

It's the dreaded question for everyone who has experienced a termination: "Why were you fired?" You know to expect it, and many people allow their fear of this question to throw them off their games. Worrying about this inevitable question can keep you off kilter at an interview, but preparing to address it can give you confidence, allow you to avoid interview mistakes and focus on positive aspects of your candidacy.

Keep the following tips in mind if you've been fired and you'll be ready to ace the interview:

Be honest
If you were terminated for cause, do not try to pass off your situation as a layoff or other, less inflammatory situation. That said, you are not under any obligation to get into the nitty-gritty details of your past work history. Describe your situation truthfully, but in a way that is as favorable to you as possible.

Be brief
One of the biggest mistakes many people make in an interview is that they expand their responses to this type of negative question instead of cutting to the chase and moving on. Plan to frame your answer in as few words as possible. There is no need to offer a five-minute monologue. Practice addressing this issue in no more than three to five sentences so you can quickly move on to the positive points you want to make regarding your skills and qualifications.

Do not badmouth your previous employer
When planning your short reply, eliminate any negative reference to your previous employer. One thing that will concern your interviewer, possibly even more than why you were fired, is if you are quick to dish dirt about your previous boss. If you lapse into a negative monologue about your past situation, you can kiss this job goodbye; no one wants to hire someone they fear may be quick to badmouth and gossip about them in the future.

Keep in mind: it does not matter how justified you would be in telling the tale about how wronged you were in your past job. The difficult truth is that you'll need to bite the bullet and take the hit from being fired. You can share the whole, terrible truth with your closest family members, friends and confidants, but keep in mind, anything negative you say about an employer to anyone can come back to hurt you later.

Do not blame anyone else
Once you wrap your head about the fact that you cannot badmouth your previous employer, keep in mind that includes blaming anyone else for your situation. In your short explanation, it's best to take responsibility, even if you skirt the specific details of what happened.

Do not sound bitter
No one wants to hire a bitter employee – or an employee who is quick to sound bitter. Again: it does not matter that you were right and your past employer was wrong. At this point, your job is to minimize the impact and value of being fired. Using language that makes you look like a sore loser will only emphasize the "loser" part of that phrase and will not help you land this new job.

Describe what you learned
Hopefully, you can use part of your description to indicate that you learned something and know how to approach situations different in the future. Be as positive as you can be and you can help turn the question of being fired to an opportunity to showcase one of your assets: you know how to learn from mistakes.

Focus on what you offer
Be quick to segue your reply into a discussion of what you offer as it relates to what the organization needs. If you have the skills needed to solve this company's problems, focus quickly and elaborate on those points in order to keep the interview moving. Explain how you are a valuable employee.

An example of what someone may say in reply to "Why were you fired?"
"I misunderstood my previous employer's goals when I accepted that job. As it turned out, they were moving in a direction that wasn't a good match for my skills and accomplishments, so staying on wasn't a good option for either of us. Luckily, I've learned a lot from this situation, and I'm extremely careful when I apply for positions to be sure they are great matches. For example, before I applied for this job, I met several past and current employees and did a lot of research online. I know you are seeking someone with a background in X, Y and Z, and my work history and accomplishments are well matched to your needs. I'm excited to have this chance to talk to you about how I can help address your issues, such as A, B and C."

More from Miriam Salpeter
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Most revealing interview questions
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What if you were fired for reporting an employee harassing another employee? I was harassed, and treated like garbage from my manager for months. I was a new employee he did not interview me for the job the head manager and partner of the company hired me. After reporting him (me being there for 10 months) him being there 15 years. I was let go. The reason they stated was I did not have the company's best interest in mind. Meaning I didn't care for the job or position. HA I was the TOP producer for 7 of those 10 months!!!
Now tell me how to explain that one in an interview. I'd love to know!!

February 26 2014 at 4:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Firings are generally a final option response to a failure of the employee in their job responsibilities, not malicious acts of evil, impulsive, ego-maniacal managers. Though the latter may occur occasionally, good company policies should prevent capricious acts. The larger the company, the more likely good policies will be in place. Employees should understand that if they make their employment relationship with the company an adversarial one, they will certainly find more scrutiny by management concerning their job performance. No management team wants employees who view the company as the enemy. They want the employee to view their role as a team player working toward a common profits from satisfied customers. In the end, the employee who is a team player reaps their fair share of those profits and the gratitude of management. The adversarial employee will earn exactly what they deserve, to the penny, without any expectation of advancement. Choose your attitude wisely.

August 21 2013 at 7:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While trying to be helpful, this article is nonsense. The fact is one needs to be able to defend oneself in these circumstances. Many times there is no job - related reason for a firing so why allow that sort of inference. The problem is that a firing is generally a malicious event which is extremely difficult to overcome. There are many ways a parting can be achieved without resulting in damage to the parties involved, so it becomes very obvious to a potential employer that an extremely serious problem developed between two people (employee and supervisor). This also causes problems even after a hiring when references are checked! Organizations must not allow firings to occur easily, and a defined personnel policy must be adhered to. Unfortunately this is often not the case. My advice is to tell it like it was, and do not soft-pedal the firing circumstances. You may not get this job, but there is always another. Again, a firing was done intentionally to harm you so do not hold back.

August 21 2013 at 2:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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