How to Explain a Firing in a Future Job Interview

It happens even to the best employees. Your manager asks to speak with you, and the Human Resources staff member is in there as well. They use those dreaded words, “we have decided to let you go.”

It certainly isn’t as dramatic as “You’re Fired” with a frosty glare as seen in on the TV show The Apprentice. Nonetheless, the words can be stinging to hear, especially the first time. What comes next can be a blur of official steps you must take before departure, asking questions and wondering what went wrong. It can be a difficult transition to bear.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this news more than once, unfortunately. It doesn’t get easier any time, even if it wasn’t always a surprise or your fault. Questions that run through my head – and probably yours:

What did I do wrong?

Is there something wrong with me?

Why did they not share their displeasure with me or my performance sooner?

What are people going to think when I tell them?

The truth is, sometimes jobs just end–as relationships end. And it’s how you move forward after the loss that will serve you best in the future. The biggest worry is how will this affect my future employment opportunities? And how should I speak about it when it inevitably comes up in an interview?

So What Do I Say?

Career-based websites, such as Indeed, Job Hunt, and Career Sidekick offer the following as advice when faced with this question.

Be honest. The consensus amongst HR professionals and job-hunting websites is honesty is the number one factor. Companies and hiring managers  find you more credible and will more likely consider you for their company and position if you are upfront. Honesty is the best policy. Besides, if they ask and you are caught, it could be far worse.

Edit your Resume. You do not have to list every job you've ever done on your resume. You should tailor your resume to the specific position you are hoping to get, and even narrow the focus for each job and company. If the company or position that fired you wouldn't be beneficial to the position you are seeking, you can leave it off. If they do show your experience in that area, you can still tailor the description of duties in the resume to more specifically target your position. Again, never lie, but if it doesn't need to be at the top, you can leave it off.

Keep it simple. Be concise and present the basic facts. Keep the explanation on the brief side, as there is no obligation to provide full details about the situation. If you are a storyteller like I am, this can be difficult, but writing out the answer ahead of time will help.

Stay positive. Hiring managers are looking to make a positive addition to their team, so avoid saying anything negative about your former employer. I have found that a simple smile and keeping my tone upbeat when speaking are essential.

Highlight personal growth. Describing how the situation helped you grow as a person and employee will reflect positively with a future employer. After all, every life experience—good or bad—is a learning experience. For example, I use this when asked how I learned to improve communication skills as a learning experience.

Focus on your skills and experience. You can tactfully change the narrative of the conversation by turning the discussion around to what you can offer the new company in terms of skills and how it relates to the new position. If it played a factor, you could also explain how your skills are a better fit for this position than the previous one. I often mention my advanced skills and forward-thinking were underappreciated or utilized in a previous role and how I am seeking to better that in my new role.

Consider Meeting with a Career Counselor or HR Professional

I chose to find a career counselor to discuss my situation. Think of it as a therapist for career issues. The first consultation is typically free, with per session fees after that. Alternatively, if you have a friend or associate who’s an HR professional, you could seek advice from them.

During my session with the counselor, she put my mind at ease about the reasons for my separation. She assured me there was nothing “wrong” with me. In my case, she believed it was more about issues internally with the organization, and I was likely better off in the long run. The outside perspective was very valuable.

She also helped me craft specific answers to many common interview questions, including how to answer about being let go. Anticipating the questions and having them written out, allowed me to practice reciting them aloud. This is one we came up with:

“As much as I successfully accomplished the tasks I was responsible for, it came down to a ‘fit' issue with my boss. Overall, we had communication issues. Expectations were not met or sometimes not communicated. Because, on her end, it was understood that I knew what they were, and on my end, I did not know they existed.

“We worked together to get things done as long as we could, but she decided to let me go in the end. This situation has helped me understand better the importance of clear communication. I’m eager to start again in a new setting where I’d be a better fit.”

Another piece of advice the counselor gave me was how to handle that dreaded box on the online application (often required), asking if you have ever been fired or asked to leave a job. Her advice was to type “To Be Discussed at Interview,” but only if required.

Additional Resources (with sample answers):

As you approach the job market again after a job firing, being prepared to answer why this happened is crucial for preparing for the interview process. Whether you do this on your own or consult with a professional, being prepared will help you confidently step in front of the hiring manager.

If you’ve already made it past the application and phone screening, then they must want to hear more about you. A blemish or two on your record—presented honestly and as a learning experience—shouldn’t deter you from getting that position.

I have grown as a person—both professionally and personally—from a job loss and now feel more confident in interviews than ever before.

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This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

Featured image: Unsplash.


Kelley Dukat
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Kelley Dukat is a freelance writer, photographer, and event planner currently based in the United States. She has spent the last year as a nomad travelling and house sitting. She holds a Journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder and previously served as a trade magazine editor. Her favorite include dog friendly travel, road trips, nomad life. She is currently working on a memoir, and a series of personal essays.