Careers advice

How to explain being fired in a job interview

“So, why did you leave your last position?”

While you don’t need to mention being fired on a CV or cover letter, the same isn’t true in a job interview.

If the interviewer asks why you left your last job, you need to be honest. This means telling them you were fired.

We get it, that sounds a bit scary. So why do you need to be honest, and how do you minimise the potential damage this revelation could inflict upon your chances of landing the role? Let’s take a look.

How to interview after being fired: dealing with the killer question

1. Don’t make something up

Of course, it’s tempting to come up with a more palatable reason for leaving your last role – you outgrew the job, you wanted new challenges or you wanted to move up the ladder.

Resist – it’s all too easy for the interviewer to find out you’re lying. It’s very likely they’ll ask for someone from your former company to provide a reference to support your application. If you’re hesitant about doing this, they’ll suspect something is up – and if they do contact your old boss and discover you were dishonest, this won’t help your chances.

It’s also important not to deliberately confuse being fired with being made redundant. The two have quite different implications, so you need to be totally straight up with your interviewer. If you were made redundant, you really have nothing to worry about – the hiring manager or recruiter should know that you can’t be made redundant for poor performance.

2. Don’t be bitter, or pass the blame

Even if you think your firing was totally unjustified, slagging off your former boss or colleagues will do you no favours in a job interview. Similarly, blaming anyone and everyone except yourself isn’t a good look.

The employer will want to see you have the self-awareness to understand the part you played in your termination – they’re unlikely to be impressed with claims that you were totally guilt free.

In fact, the best answers to the question “why were you fired” address the issue head on. Don’t look for another way to say ‘getting fired’ – be straight forward and show you take ownership of what happened and have learnt from it.

Lying might be tempting, but is a bad move in the long run.

3. Show what you’ve learnt

Everyone makes mistakes, it’s how you treat that mistake going forward that counts.

Showing you’ve taken the time to assess what went wrong, and take lessons from it demonstrates that you’ve grown from the experience and wouldn’t make the same mistakes (whatever they were) again.

Being objective and self-reflective are real positives from an employer’s perspective, and including this growth element in your answer provides an opportunity to shift this question into more positive territory.

4. Try to keep the conversation moving

While you need to take the question seriously and answer it thoroughly, this obviously isn’t a topic you want to spend too much time on.

As well as showing what you’ve learnt, a good way to wrap up this question and segue into something more positive could be going back to the skills you picked up in that last role.

For example:

“I was really sad to leave COMPANY, and there are definitely a few things I’d do differently if I had my time again. However, I still learnt a lot about X, Y and Z which has set me up well for my future career”.

With these tips you should be feeling more confident about how to explain being fired in a job interview. We understand that searching for jobs in this circumstance can be daunting. But if you can convince an interviewer you’ve taken responsibility, learnt from the situation and are looking to the future, there’s no reason why this should stand in your way.