Even if it’s for the best, getting fired stinks. Sure, it can free you from a bad situation, and help you find a better workplace, but in the moment it’s usually unpleasant. Many successful people have gone through it, so if it happens to you, know you’re in good company.
There’s usually something to learn from getting fired. You might find out what is and isn’t a good fit for you when it comes to a role, manager, or company, or how to identify warning signs that you’re in a toxic environment, or just how to professionally handle being fired. What you learn can help when you interview for your next job and have to tell them you were fired.
Yes, you should be honest. No, you shouldn’t rant about how unfair it was. Here’s what to say when your interviewer asks why you left your last job.
Address your firing honestly and positively in a job interview
It might be tempting to say you quit instead of saying you were asked to leave, but it’s best to stick to the truth—you just don’t need to give all the details.
“Don’t lie about why you were fired,” says career and interview coach Paula Christensen. “Being honest will build trust and avoids harming the employee/employer relationship down the road. Even if your dismissal may seem negative, taking responsibility demonstrates maturity.”
“Absolutely be honest, and be short and concise,” says career coach Jenna Cantwell. “As a former recruiter, one of the biggest things that drove me and a lot of other recruiters crazy is when someone rambled about details that are not pertinent, like about what Sally in Accounting used to do.
“And be positive,” Cantwell adds. “Don’t bash the employer or your former manager.”
Christensen agrees, saying it’s also best to keep your feelings about getting fired out of your interview.
“While it’s necessary to provide some context, resist the urge to overshare,” Christensen says. “Keeping your emotions in check and providing an honest yet brief answer is key when addressing why you were fired. Avoid negativity; it’s difficult to be negative without that pessimism being associated with you.”
Read more: The Best Answer To: Why Are You Looking for a New Job?
Don’t be afraid to own your part in getting fired
Next, accept responsibility. You can use your answer as a chance to show your growth.
“Don’t pass the blame, even if it’s true,” Christensen says. “Shifting responsibility to others or external factors comes across as petty and unprofessional. Demonstrate emotional intelligence by sharing what you learned, what you would do differently, or how you wish you would have handled things.”
Own your part in what didn’t work—but with a positive spin highlighting what the situation taught you.
“If you were fired for not meeting a quota, tell them how the job was not in alignment with you, or you should’ve done a better job selecting a company to work for, but since then you’ve gained this skill and that skill, or you are going to work for a company that is in align with your skill set. Talk about how you are eager to learn,” Cantwell says.
Now that you’ve answered the question honestly, move on. You want to talk about why you’re a good fit for the role you’re interviewing for, not rehash the past. And if your interviewer continues to ask about the firing, keep focusing on what you can offer in your next role.
“After you address the situation, shift focus to your future work with the company,” Christensen says. “Keep calm and show that you can handle difficult conversations. Frame the termination as a learning opportunity rather than dwelling on hurt feelings and negative interactions. End by redirecting the conversation to your qualifications and your enthusiasm for the job.”
Read more: How to Answer: Why Are You the Best Person for This Job?
An example script about what to say in a job interview about getting fired
Putting the dos and don’ts together, Christensen offered this example of what to say:
“While I was disappointed to leave my previous job, I found out I wasn’t cut out for cold-calling sales. I am grateful for the experience I gained at Acme company, where I collaborated with clients, team members, and stakeholders on sales projects. I noticed that your position requires project management skills. While at Acme Company, I spearheaded a lead-generation project from start to finish, including building email lists, organizing marketing campaigns, and tracking our progress.”
You can use this to plan out your own response, which you should be ready with.
“Don’t wing it,” Christensen says. “I don’t often recommend scripting the exact answers to interview questions, but when asked about a termination, it’s best to have a well-thought-out plan for what you will say.”
When you know what you want to say, go through it a few times out loud to feel more comfortable with it.
“Practice the interview. You can do a Zoom recording and see how you look when you answer questions,” Cantwell says.
So, don’t let getting fired ruin your job interview process. You can address it like a professional and land a great role!
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