Interview Question: "Why Were You Fired?"

The Best Answers to Explain Why You Were Fired

Businesswomen are meeting and interviewing in the company office
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Have you been fired from your job? If so, you might be wondering how to explain your situation in a job interview. After all, it’s likely to come up. What's the best way to respond to the inevitable question of why you were fired?

Being asked about why you were terminated is among the most challenging interview questions to answer. It's uncomfortable to talk about losing your job under any circumstances, and it's even harder when you're trying to explain it to someone you are hoping will hire you.

What the Interviewer Really Wants to Know

Beyond the circumstances of your dismissal, the interviewer is looking to see how you cope with adversity.

Sure, first and foremost, they want to know that you weren’t fired for some egregious misbehavior, e.g. stealing. But beyond that, they’ll want to know that the issue is no longer a problem and that you can take responsibility for your actions – and demonstrate personal and professional growth.

How to Answer Interview Questions About Being Fired

The best strategy is to keep your answer short and to the point.

There is no need to give a lengthy explanation or too many details about what transpired.

It's better to state the reason, then try to move the conversation forward to another topic.

If you're tempted to give a different reason than being fired for leaving your job, know that your previous employer may be able to disclose the reason for your termination during a reference check. Remember too, that being dishonest during the application process can result in not getting a job offer, having it withdrawn, or being fired should your deception be discovered.

You'll need to tailor your response to fit your own circumstances and how your termination was handled, but these examples of answers will give you a starting point for framing your response.

Examples of the Best Answers

Being cut loose was a blessing in disguise. Now I have an opportunity to explore jobs that better suit my qualifications and interests. My research suggests that such an opportunity may be the one on your table. Would you like to hear more about my skills in working with new technology?

Why It Works: This answer deals with the issue quickly and positively and moves on to your skills and qualifications. While you don’t want to seem dismissive of the question, the goal is to pivot as smoothly as possible to why you’re the best candidate for the job.

The job wasn't working out, so my boss and I agreed that it was time for me to move on to a position that would show a better return for both of us. So here I am, ready to work.

Why It Works: This reply hints at ongoing and constructive communication with the boss. It also shows that you bear your former employer no ill. It’s honest and positive.

My job was outsourced to India. That's too bad because people familiar with my work say it is superior and fairly priced.

Why It Works: If you were laid off through no fault of your own, definitely say so as soon as possible! And if you can throw in a plug for the quality of your work, so much the better.

I outlasted several downsizings but the last one included me. Sign of the times, I guess.

Why It Works: Again, employers and hiring managers understand that layoffs come for even the best workers. If you were laid off, say so. (But don’t use this answer if it’s not true. Lying during the interview process has a way of coming back to haunt candidates later on.)

I was desperate for work and took the wrong job without looking around the corner. I won't make that mistake again. I'd prefer an environment that is congenial, structured and team-oriented, where my best talents can shine and make a substantial contribution.

Why It Works: Nearly everyone has had the experience of taking a job that wasn’t a good fit. This answer shows that you’re able to learn from the bad and focus on the good.

Tips for Giving the Best Answer

Practice your response. The more comfortable you are discussing the topic of your termination, the more comfortable the hiring manager will be with your response. Come prepared to explain the situation and practice until you overcome any feelings of embarrassment. Remember that some of the best and brightest workers in history have been let go.

Keep it brief. You want to be forthright and honest in your response, but there’s no need to belabor the point. Say your piece and move on to the good stuff – your qualifications and how you’ll use them to solve the company’s problems.

Emphasize your positive attributes. Pivot to your skills and abilities and make sure to tie them to the qualifications listed in the job description.

What Not to Say

Avoid the word “fired.” Remember that an interview is at least partly a sales pitch. Market yourself by avoiding terms that have a negative association for many people. Use phrases like “let go” instead of words like “fired.”

Don’t dwell on the negative. Now’s not the time to disparage your former boss or employer – even if they deserve it. Keep things positive.

Don’t lie. Resist the temptation to present a firing as a layoff, for example. You’re likely to get caught, and if you are, you’ll lose the opportunity.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Key Takeaways

BE PREPARED TO ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT BEING FIRED: Assume that this question will come up and have a brief explanation ready.

BE HONEST: Never lie about why you lost your job. Your former employer may reveal the details during a background check.

BE POSITIVE AND PIVOT: Turn the conversation to your skills and qualifications as soon as possible.