How to Explain Why You Were Fired

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How do you explain you that were fired to friends, professional contacts, colleagues, and prospective employers? What should you say, when should you say it, and how should you share the fact that you've lost your job? It's definitely not an easy task. In fact, responding to questions about the circumstances surrounding a termination can be a serious challenge. 

For most of us, emotions run high in that situation, and there can be a temptation to vent those feelings. However, acting on this impulse can be damaging to your reputation and could even sabotage your efforts to restart your career.

The Best Way to Explain That You Were Fired

When you’re talking about your experience of being fired, it's important to be aware of who you're talking to. Sharing your reaction with a small inner circle of close family, friends, confidants, or a counselor can be an important and necessary step as you recover emotionally from a termination.

You should limit that group to just a few individuals who have an unshakeable, high regard for your abilities and who you trust, absolutely, to keep your feelings confidential.

The people that care about you the most, and who you trust, are ones you can tell how badly you feel, how frustrated you are, and will help you get over the fact that you were fired.

When discussing your firing beyond that inner circle of special people, try your best to carefully gauge what you say about the incident. For example, when talking to someone you don't consider to be a close, trusted friend, be mindful of what role he or she might play in your job search.

Job leads can emerge from the most unexpected people and places, so when you discuss your firing, frame the situation to minimize any negative perceptions about your ability to perform on future jobs or your ability to connect with coworkers.

Best Options for Discussing a Firing

1. The Job Wasn’t a Good Fit 

While you're trying to figure out what to say, start by reflecting on your termination and determining if it would be a good move to redirect your career based on your firing. One of the easiest ways to explain a firing is to characterize the past job as a less than ideal fit for your interests and personal abilities.

This explanation works best if you have decided to pursue a significantly different role. The key is to differentiate your current career goals from the failed job experience.

2. You Needed to Work on Your Skill Set 

What should you say if you're sticking to the same career path? If you were fired due to a personal limitation and have taken steps to upgrade your skill set, then you can share a story about how you have addressed any weaknesses in your abilities. For example, perhaps Excel skills were essential for success in your past job, and you have since taken a workshop to enhance your proficiency.

3. The Company Wasn’t a Good Fit 

Another angle is to explain your termination as the result of a poor fit with your company. Again, this will play better if you can describe a different size employer, industry affiliation, or organizational culture that you are now targeting. 

For example, if you were in a conservative industry like healthcare and your efforts to introduce change were not well received, then you might mention an emerging focus on a more entrepreneurial industry like technology. Or, perhaps you felt suffocated or isolated in a large, corporate setting and wanted to move to a smaller, startup environment. Focus on how your strengths match up with the new type of environment you're seeking, rather than how you didn't fit into a past role.

4. It Wasn’t Your Fault 

In some cases, a termination can be explained by unavoidable factors such as budget cuts, elimination of product or service lines, mergers or acquisitions. Even if the termination was the result of a situation beyond your control, be ready to convey evidence of your personal success in the role and to provide a clear explanation of why you lost your job.

Don’t Be Negative

Regardless of your reasoning, it’s perhaps most important to avoid criticizing past management, supervisors, or colleagues. If you talk badly about your situation, you might seem like a pessimist with a poor attitude. This can lead to questions about your ability to develop positive working relationships.

Also, keep in mind that you never know what information might get back to your employer. Even if you left under bad terms, you don't want to fuel the fire. Of course, you can convey your disappointment in losing a job, but avoid speaking negatively about the situation. While it's important to be genuine, try to seem as neutral, and as positive, as you can.

Have a Conversation

Even though it's easier to send a quick email or social message, it's better to have a conversation. Either in-person or on the phone works best – especially if you're spinning the terms of your departure. You shouldn't put anything in writing that isn't 100% accurate. You also don't want to share the hard feelings about getting fired that you have at the moment, which may be tempered once some time passes.

How to Handle Interview Questions

You may need to know how to answer questions about how your job ended during interviews. Review these tips for answering interview questions about termination and examples of the best answers for questions about why you were fired, so that you can frame your departure as positively as possible.

Key Takeaways

  • Don't dwell too much on the negative.
  • Shift the focus to more positive topics, such as your excitement about the new skills you've learned since your termination or your new job interests. 
  • Practice your delivery prior to meetings and interviews, so you can tighten your story and stay on script.