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What Do I Say in an Interview When I've Been Fired?

What Do I Say in an Interview When I've Been Fired? By Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist

Q: I was fired from my last job. How do I explain this in a job interview without losing my chance at the job?

A: First, let's talk about what you mean when you say, "I got fired." In today's struggling economy, your company may decide to terminate you because of a merger, or due to cost cuts – both these situations are beyond your control, and have little to do with your job performance. Recruiters are aware of the current job market horrors, and will rarely hold a layoff against you. In fact, many of your interviewers probably have found themselves in the same position.

A genuine firing, on the other hand, occurs when an individual has done something illegal or unethical, is clearly falling below a job's requirements or can't get along with colleagues, especially those in management. While explaining your termination under these circumstances can be awkward, it's still possible to do so in a way that won't hurt your chances in a job interview.

Unless you've done something truly awful, chances are your former employer will want to facilitate your moving quickly into a new position. To make this easier, try to work with HR to come up with a mutually agreeable reason for your leaving. This will help you get on with your life and your job search, since you won't have to worry about getting a poor recommendation. Plus, if an interviewer asks you why you left your last job, this way you'll have a good answer ready to go.

Whatever you say, however, try to keep it short and move on to the next subject. A long, excruciating explanation will focus your interviewer's attention on a subject you don't want to emphasize. If you're struggling to find the right way to explain a firing, try using some of following reasons – all sound truthful, and won't make you look defensive:

  • "I left XYZ company as part of a company-wide downsizing which eliminated my department."
  • "My division was acquired and the new CEO wanted to bring in his own team."
  • "My position was realigned. Both my manager and I realized my job no longer matched my skills or interests."
  • "I had done what I set out to and was ready for a new challenge."

A word of warning: never make disparaging remarks about your former company or management. It's only human for a potential boss to identify more with them than you. Even during hard times, no one likes a complainer.


Taunee Besson, CMF, CareerCast.com Senior Columnist Senior Columnist Taunee Besson, CMF, is president of Career Dimensions, Inc., a consulting firm founded in 1979 that works with individual and corporate clients in career transition, job search, executive coaching, talent management and small business issues. She is an award-winning columnist for CareerJournal.com and a best-selling author of the Wall Street Journal's books on resumes and cover letters. Her articles on a variety of career issues have appeared on numerous career/job websites and trade and business journals. Ms. Besson has been quoted numerous times in The Wall Street Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Time, Smart Money, and a number of other websites and publications.

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