How to Talk About Being Fired in Interviews

Job interviews can be nerve-wracking, especially when you’re faced with questions about past experiences that may be sensitive or challenging to discuss. One such question is explaining why you were fired from your last job.

While it’s a delicate topic, approaching it with honesty, accountability, and a focus on growth can help you manage this question effectively.

1. Deal with your emotions before starting to interview.

If your firing was unexpected, you might still be in a state of shock and denial. You may also be angry and bitter toward your previous employer.

It is important to control these emotions before you set foot in an interview room. Any display of these emotions during the interview could be a deal breaker. Take the time to understand the circumstances that lead to your termination. Interviewers will expect you to be poised, confident, and ready to answer questions like a professional.

2. Prepare your answer without sounding too scripted.

Before the interview, practice articulating your explanation for being fired clearly and confidently. Anticipate potential follow-up questions and prepare thoughtful responses.

Then, rehearse your answers in a mock interview with a friend or colleague. Ask them to listen to your answer, observe your body language, and give honest feedback.

Remember: Keep your answer simple and to the point. Long, carefully rehearsed answers will make it seem like you are hiding something. Keep the tone positive, emphasizing that the past is behind you and that you are moving forward.

3. Bring it up before the interviewer does. 

If you mention the issue first, you will come across as confident, truthful, and open. Interviewers will appreciate your frankness and likely move on to the rest of the interview.

4. Take ownership.

Never blame your former boss or employer, even if you feel you were wronged. Accept at least some of the responsibility for the outcome.

For example, instead of saying, “My manager didn’t give me clear instructions,” you could say, “I acknowledge that I could have sought clarification on certain tasks to ensure I was meeting expectations.”

5. Don’t lie and make up stories.

Some job candidates say things like, ”We agreed mutually that it was time for me to leave.” Interviewers know that is seldom true.

One lie usually leads to another, and before you know it, you are in over your head. Remember: references can be checked, and any indication that you lied in the interview will mean you won’t get the job.

6. Verify what your previous employer will say.

A potential new employer will want to speak to your previous employer and ask about the circumstances around your departure. This is why you need to have this conversation with your former employer and learn what they will say about you in a reference check.

A final note.

No doubt, you’ve heard someone say, “It’s easier to find a job when you have a job.” While that may have been true in the past, it’s no longer relevant.

The stigma associated with being fired and unemployed is not what it used to be. That’s because, with all the corporate restructuring that has taken place, many people have been laid off, fired, downsized, or dismissed at one time or another. How you deal with it during the interview, though, will determine the outcome.