How Do I Talk About Being Fired in an Interview?

There may come a time when you are fired from a job or asked to resign.  Honestly, it’s not the end of the world and you can recover from it.  The important thing is how you handle it in the interview.   You actually FIRST should decide if you want to put the job on your resume or not because the resume is what gets you an interview (in most cases).  If you were fired from a job where you worked for 6 months or so, you can probably leave it off without having a huge gap in employment. But if it was somewhere you worked for a number of years, eliminating it will cause a gap on your resume that will require an explanation.  Now, if you are filling out a job application, there is a way around putting the actual reason when asked why you left a job.  You can simply put “Will discuss in the interview.” I have been a hiring manager before and when I saw that on an application, it didn’t stop me from calling the person in for an interview.

So once you have made it past the resume/application phase, the most important thing you can do to overcome  this “termination problem” in the interview is to be prepared.  You know you could be asked why you left a job so prepare for it.  If you can speak about it calmly and professionally it won’t be that big of a deal. Trust me, you aren’t the only person that has been fired before.  Be able to talk about what happened without giving away too much information and WITHOUT being negative about your previous job or supervisor.   Also, be sure to mention what you learned from the experience.

For instance, if you were fired for extreme tardiness or absences, you can say “There was a point where I having some personal issues which were causing me to arrive to work late and miss days.  I was let go due to this.  I am fully aware that my absences were affecting the team because business must go on. So I understand my boss’ decision to terminate me.  I have resolved those personal issues I had at the time and if I were given the opportunity to work here they will definitely not be an issue.”

If you were fired for breaking a company policy or not following the rules, you can say “At my previous job we had  policy for __________________________________. While I was aware of the policy, I did not follow it completely because I got careless and was trying to take a shortcut.  This mistake caused customers to complain and I was terminated because of it.  I now fully understand that policies are in place for a reason and it is best to follow them.  Customer satisfaction is always the #1 priority so anything that makes customers upset costs the company money.  This was a great lesson for me and if I’m given a job here I will be sure to follow all policies and ask questions if I don’t understand why a policy is in place.”

If you were fired for consistently not meeting your quota, you can say “When I worked for _____________________, we had weekly sales goals.  It was a fast paced environment and the expectations were very high.  While I did well at first, business was very slow during the last few months I was employed there.  I tried different strategies and getting ideas from team members, but I wasn’t able to close the deals necessary to reach my goals. I was ultimately terminated for this reason.  I really enjoyed the job for the most part and I have no regrets.  I am hoping to take some of the strategies that did work in my previous job and apply them here if I am hired for this position.”

Maybe you were fired because you just didn’t feel motivated any more and were not making valuable contributions.  It happens to the best of us.  You sometimes lose interest in a job or the company makes changes you don’t agree with.  You can say “I pride myself on having a strong work ethic and being a contributor to the team.  There came a point where I was no longer able to give 100% and it really started to affect my job performance.  I had a talk with my supervisor and we realized that the best thing was to let me go so that I can pursue a job that I am passionate about.  I believe I found that job when I saw your job opening.  My previous boss and I actually still have a good relationship and he/she offered to provide a recommendation for me.”

So you see being fired/terminated does not mean your career is over.  It just means you were in a situation that was no longer working for whatever reason and it had to end.  If it was your fault, admit it and take responsibility for your actions.  We all make mistakes, but the most important thing is keep moving forward.  Talk calmly and positively about the termination and what you learned from it. Let your potential employer see the “brand new and improved” YOU!!

8 thoughts on “How Do I Talk About Being Fired in an Interview?

  1. Excellent article. I would just caution against leaving a position off your resume, even if the employment was brief. Many employers do background checks and compare the information from the report to the information provided on the resume and job application. Discrepancies suggesting dishonesty or an intent to deceive will often lead to an offer of employment being rescinded.

    • Thank you for your comment Yvette. The resume and job application are 2 different things. A resume is what YOU want them to know and a job application is what THEY want to know. On a job application, I agree you must include whatever they ask for which is usually your last 3 jobs. A resume is different in that it is a marketing tool and never suggests that it is a comprehensive document on your background – it is just what you deem relevant to the job you are applying for. Employers don’t typically do background checks against your resume itself. So it is absolutely acceptable to leave a job off. I have left about 5 jobs off my resume and it has never been an issue.

  2. Good article! My top question for anybody in general is how do you explain being terminated in the case of a paid 4 month internship that you were in and where everything usually went fine between you, rest of your team and superiors, but suddenly and unexpectedly the direct supervisor called you in and let you go unexpectedly by month 2 with no clear, valid reason and still acknowledged you with appreciation of hard work? Also, what to do when he/she mentioned this and said “We just don’t see you working in this area and sorry it didn’t work out.” ? Lastly, in these kind of cases what to do when the innocent terminated one even wrote a nice, thankful and gracious letter to the COO and VP of HR who created the paying internship, but there is no response?

    I read above how you mention how a 6 month gig can be left off, but doesn’t that vary with everybody? I even see how a month of experience can be so valuable as the economy is so tight and every experience is said to be counted and with younger folks with just close to 2 years of work or volunteer experience after college are trying to make every bit count.

    Thanks for the time!

    • Thanks for your comments and questions Sam! Based on what you described, it seems as if the internship termination had nothing to do with the actual intern. It may have had to do with finances and they didn’t have money to pay the intern or some other behind the scenes reason. The advantage of an internship is that it can be as short as 6 weeks or as long as 1 year. So if you list an internship on your resume it doesn’t raise a red flag that it was only 2 months and it may not even be necessary to say there was a termination involved. So definitely for a student having a short internship it is no big deal. As far as the COO and VP of HR not responding, that’s not surprising seeing that they doesn’t necessary respond to full-time staff either. So it doesn’t surprise me that they wouldn’t respond to an intern.

      My junior year in college I got a CO-OP at IBM in Maryland. I flew from Mississippi to Maryland and signed a lease for an apartment thinking I would be there for 6 months. My first week on the job, they told me the CO-OP positions were being discontinued. I ended up working maybe 4 -5 weeks and left and came back to Mississippi. I still put the job on my resume because it was IBM and that was a top notch company for Information Technology. So it shows something about me that I was even accepted. When asked about it in subsequent interviews I just explained to them that the position was discontinued. It didn’t hinder me from further employment.

      Hope this helps!

      • Thank you very much for your feedback as that means a lot. So from your feedback it seems to me that I should list it on my resume even if that was just a month and got terminated unexpectedly for no clear reason. At times I wonder what they could be saying to other employers who call them for reference-checking? What is the best thing I should do if I put this gig on my resume and on applications, but haven’tbeen in touch with them since having been unexpectedly terminated? Is there a top secret 3rd party I should utilize that is free or less cost? Thanks so much and keep up the amazing work! Lastly, even if I graduated with a Bachelor’s in 2010 and this short paying internship was in Winter 2013, should I still list it? Thanks!


  3. Whether you want to include it on your resume or not is up to you. If it will help you get to where you want go ultimately then by all means put it on there. If you decide to list the internship on your resume just put the year – not months – and that way it gives the illusion that you worked there longer. You don’t have to say you were unexpectedly terminated when asked about in a job interview. Just describe what you did for the company and say the position ended. Employers are only supposed to do references check on jobs where you have given them your consent. They don’t normally check references for jobs on your resume in general. Normally you submit 3 references for them to call. If you feel that the company you interned for could say bad things about you, don’t list it as a reference.

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