Job seeker nervous about discussing why she was fired from a previous position

How to Talk About Being Fired in an Interview

Your interview is going really well! You and the recruiter hit it off right away, and you have all the skills they’re looking for. And then you hear the dreaded question, “Why did you leave your last job?”

If you were fired, this may seem like the end of the road. You could be afraid that no one wants to take a risk hiring you, or feel overwhelmed by your emotions. These reactions are perfectly normal, but don’t let them stand between you and your next great job. Take charge of your career future with these strategies.



Before you can begin to plan what you’ll say, you have to think about what happened. While this can be difficult, it is important that you take a step back and look at the situation from different angles. Then consider every layer of each reason you were fired. Dig deeper and deeper until you can go no further. For example:

flow chart showing how to put a positive spin on being fired


Consider your situation

Now that you are aware of some of the factors that influenced your termination, it is time to plan how you will address the matter in your interview. Write and practice a script for answering a question about whether and/or why you have been fired. Exactly how you should go about this varies.

Laid off job seekers can simply state that the company was reorganizing, downsizing, etc. This happens often enough that hiring managers are unlikely to be concerned. To be on the safe side, however, try to have someone from the company write you a recommendation. Since your behavior wasn’t the motivating factor behind your termination, there shouldn’t be any reason not to get one of these letters.

If fired for cause, you should spend most of your answer discussing what you learned from the experience. Avoid examining what you did wrong too closely, or debating whether the employer’s reaction was fair.

Wrongful terminations can be touchy subjects for employers concerned about risk and lawsuits. Keep your description of the incident as broad and unbiased as possible, simply stating that you were fired illegally and took steps to settle the matter.


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Advice for any circumstance

While each situation above requires a different approach, there are some qualities that every previously fired interviewee’s script should have.

  • Honesty: Most importantly, don’t lie or fudge the truth. The danger that a potential employer will call up your previous manager and ask why you were fired is just not worth it. Think of this as your chance to put your termination in a more positive light.
  • Positivity: Try framing a short, succinct negative with more extensive, positive ones. For example:

chart showing positives and negatives of specific work situations

This outline can be applied to any number of circumstances. Try to focus on the future, something you learned, or a reason why this position is a better fit than the last one was.

  • Brevity: You don’t want the hiring manager thinking too much about why you were fired, or growing bored while you ramble about your old job. Besides, do you really want to keep dwelling in the past? Mention the relevant topics, and move on.
  • Unbiased: A good script should be calm and focused. Though it may be difficult, don’t get angry or blame your previous boss.


Above all, be prepared to show that you are a competent professional excited to get to work. Your preparation for the interview and confidence during it will work to reassure future employers that your past is not necessarily an indication of whether you will benefit their organization.

By Erin Coursey, iHire | August 22, 2016
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