Were you let go from your last job? Not sure what to say in your next job interview when the interviewer asks you about it?
You’re not alone. We get this question a lot, so we’ll take you step-by-step through the best way to answer it.
If you’ve ever been laid off or fired, you’ll probably need to explain that situation to a potential employer in the future. Because this can be such an uncomfortable question, and, let’s be honest, a deal-breaker, you need to prepare your answer.
In this article, we:
- Explain why recruiters ask you about having been fired.
- Show you the best approach to answering when you’re asked, “why were you fired from your previous job?”
- Include 5 examples of great answers to tackle this tricky interview question.
Preparing for your job interview is one of the most critical steps in reaching your career goals. Use our career counseling service to get ready for your next interview or any other career steps you’re thinking about.
We’ve helped thousands of people succeed in their job search, prep for interviews, negotiate the details of their contracts, and otherwise hit their career targets. Get in touch with us if you want to do a deep dive on how to succeed in interviews or if you're curious about other ways to navigate your career path better.
Why do recruiters ask "why were you fired from your previous job”?
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There’s no mystery here. There are two straightforward reasons why recruiters ask this question.
First, to learn what happened
Naturally, the employer wants to get the basic facts about what led to your termination. A good recruiter will want to get at least your side of the story before deciding whether you’d be a good fit for their team.
In many cases, people are let go for internal company issues beyond their control, and almost as often because it’s a poor fit or some other valid reason. Recruiters are on the lookout for cases when a person was fired for something that reflects poorly on their character or work habits.
Second, to see how you dealt with it
A recruiter also wants to see how you reacted when faced with one of the most challenging situations anyone will ever face on the job. Some people handle it with poise and grow from it; others freak out, make a ton of noise, and point fingers.
Taking responsibility for the situation, looking at ways to improve yourself in light of it, or doing other work to learn from it all demonstrate professionalism and personal growth. These are great qualities that a recruiter will be impressed to find in you!
If you need to do a deep dive with an outsider who can be objective (but kind) about why you were fired and how you can learn from it, connect with one of our career counselors. We’ll work one-on-one with you to find the best path forward from a termination, no matter why or when it happened.
The best approach to answering "why were you fired from your previous job?”
There’s no way to sugarcoat it; of all the tricky questions that tend to come up in job interviews, this might be the toughest one. Use the following steps to plan your explanation for why you were fired from your last job.
1. Be honest
The recruiter knows there are two sides to the story, and they really do want to hear yours; you wouldn’t be in the interview otherwise. This is your chance to show them your soft skills including integrity and honesty.
Always be honest about why you were let go. There are so many reasons this might have happened, so give the recruiter the most objective explanation you can for it, and the rest of your answer will come naturally.
And remember, just like you should research the company you’re interviewing with, they will look into you. There’s a good chance they may contact your previous employer to verify your story, so be sure you’re not making anything up or hiding any major details.
Maybe you’ve heard this before: Keep It Simple, Silly (or maybe something meaner!) While the recruiter wants to know what happened, and you want to tell the truth, nobody wants you rambling on, making excuses and explaining everything away.
Present the basic facts and keep your answer as short and sweet as you can while still making sense. Don’t think you need to include every detail.
And remember, there’s a difference between being honest and shooting yourself in the foot. Don’t offer information the recruiter didn’t ask for or doesn’t need - that extra detail might lose you the job.
3. Stay professional
The word integrity keeps coming up. You want to show the recruiter you have the integrity to speak respectfully about your former employer.
When you’re explaining what happened, staying calm and positive is important. Don’t say anything negative about your previous employer.
Remember, the person interviewing you is reading into your explanation. They’re seeing whether and how you’ll fit on their team, and you definitely won’t if they hear you bashing your last one.
4. Emphasize the positive
Showing the recruiter what you learn from past experiences is critical to turning this potential pitfall question into a goldmine for you. The interviewer will love seeing how you took responsibility for your part in the situation and used it to improve professionally.
Start by accepting responsibility for any mistakes and explaining how you might have done things differently in retrospect. If it applies, either emphasize steps you've taken to keep it from happening again or work you’ve put in to overcome shortcomings in your training or experience.
Showing the potential employer that you’ve turned a bad situation into a growth opportunity presents you as a valuable addition instead of a liability. And if you can build your answer using the STAR method, you can completely turn this question around and make it a win for yourself.
5. Promote yourself
Turning this question around to highlight your positives is where we’ve been directing ourselves the whole time. Once you’ve gone over the basic details and presented yourself as self-aware and motivated to improve yourself, it’s time to take control.
Practice pivoting the conversation to the value you present for the company. And to clarify, I mean literally practice this out loud in front of a mirror or to your bestie over and over again.
On the one hand, pivoting the conversation keeps the focus on your past problems or shortcomings as brief as possible. On the other hand, it refocuses the conversation to how you’ll help the company because your skills and experience suit the role they need filled.
We know this is a sticky question, but there’s no way around it: if you were fired, you’ll have to explain why. If you’re not sure about your answer to this question, contact us for one-on-one help planning and practicing your answer, it’s too important to leave it to chance.
And if you have any other questions, we’ve put together the best of our expert advice on the most common interview questions to help you ace your interview.
Example answers to "this question?”
Example 1 - Taking accountability
Looking back, I realize that I didn’t understand and should have clarified my employer's expectations. My shortcoming in that situation was not asking for more clarification. Moving forward, I know how important it is to be sure that I communicate regularly with my supervisor so I understand my work goals, and that I ask for feedback to make sure I’m meeting expectations along the way.
This answer tells the employer that you’ve acknowledged your role in the termination, reflected on why it happened, and learned how to improve your work habits from it. By taking responsibility instead of being defensive, you prove your professionalism and come across as a model employee.
Example 2 - Promoting yourself
Of course, I regret how things turned out at Silicon Design. There were some great aspects of my role there. That said, I also found that my role didn’t give me as much opportunity to use my extensive coding background as I would have liked. I have spent many years practicing and honing my coding skills, so I’m excited about the opportunity with you here where I’ll get to put those skills to work every day.
Like we said, once you briefly explain why you were let go, turn the conversion toward the ways you’re a good fit for the current opportunity. This takes a bit of research on the company and role in advance, which you should be doing anyhow, but it will pay dividends if you can shift the focus to your positives instead of your previous shortcomings.
Example 3 - Being positive
The truth is, I was let go for something that was entirely my fault. I loved my work, the company, and my colleagues. I had a great rapport with my supervisor, and we were all encouraged to share ideas to improve our work. But one day I got overly passionate about one of my suggestions. My supervisor justifiably felt I was resisting her authority, and even though that wasn’t my intention, it put a strain on the work environment, and I was let go for it. Since then, I’ve worked to put distance between myself and my suggestions so that I don’t personalize it when they’re not used.
This response heaps praise on your former workplace and shoulders the responsibility for the events that led to you being let go. You take accountability, but also show you were a committed employee, all while staying positive about your former employer.
This level of respect for what turned into a bad situation shows that you’re the kind of employee they can trust to make positive contributions in the workplace and who’ll work toward positive interactions with them going forward.
Example 4 - Show how you learned from it
When I was hired at Alliance Manufacturing, there was a disconnect between the workplace description and the actual operations there. Once I started in the role, it was clear that my supervisor and I were having communication problems. After speaking with our mutual superior, we realized it wasn’t a good fit, and I was the one let go. Since then, I’ve volunteered and taken classes to improve my communication skills. I’ve also clarified my professional goals and expectations, and I feel we’re on the same page here.
Offering concrete examples of how you’ve worked to improve the problems you encountered in your last role proves that you’re a motivated and ambitious employee. These are desirable but not-so-common characteristics that the recruiter will love seeing in you.
Example 5 - Being the bigger person
I was fired after the company I had been working at for years merged with another firm that had a totally different culture. This caused major changes in the way things were done, and I ended up having differences of opinion with my supervisors. In the end, I was let go.I take responsibility for my part in the way things turned out. I learned a lot from the experience, and in retrospect, would have handled it differently. I’m glad I got to learn that lesson, and I’m ready to move on in a work environment where I can thrive.
The reality is that not every work environment is a good fit for every employee. Recruiters know this, and they’re always looking to make sure there’s a good fit between their company culture and the people they hire.
Showing the recruiter you accept responsibility for your part in a situation that was caused by something out of your control demonstrates strength of character.
- If you were fired from a recent job, chances are you’ll be asked about it in your next interview.
- This can be a very uncomfortable question, and it’s critical you prepare and practice your answer in advance.
- Recruiters want to see that you’ve taken responsibility for your part in the termination and learned from it.
- Always be respectful and positive where you can about your past employer - never be negative or disrespectful about them.
- Keep your answers short and to the point, and explain what you learned from the situation.
- Turn the conversation to your selling points as quickly as you can once you’ve explained what happened.
We’ve helped 1000+ people just like you find success in the hiring process through our career counseling service. Whether you need help on the job search stage, prepping for interviews, or while you’re trying to negotiate your compensation, we’ve got experts who are ready to give you advice and help you strategize your next move.
Make one that's truly you.