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What to Say When a Job Interviewer Asks “Why Were You Fired?”

By Nicole Cavazos

One of the worst parts about losing your job is trying to find a new job with a termination on your record. In every job interview, you’ll have to answer the question, “Why were you fired?”

Although it doesn’t feel like it at the time, sometimes being fired is a good thing. Use your job loss as a learning experience. Reflect on what went wrong. Recalibrate your goals and expectations. Tweak anything that stands in the way of you reaching your full potential.

Part of your introspection exercise is figuring out what to say to future employers about why you lost your job. Consider these guidelines when crafting your narrative before a job interview.

1. Be Honest

You may not want to admit you were fired, but don’t lie about it or act as if you’re evading the topic. At some point, the question “Why did you leave your previous job?” will come up in a job interview.

When it does, have an answer ready. Be direct and honest while trying to spin the situation in your favor as much as possible.

For instance, say something like, “I misunderstood my former employer’s goals when I was hired. Although I was qualified for the position, it soon became clear that my skills were incompatible with her objectives.”

2. Be Concise

A job interview isn’t the place to rehash the details of why you were fired. Furthermore,  you have no obligation to provide a detailed explanation of what happened.

Offer a brief account of the past. Then segue into what you learned from the experience and how it makes you a stronger and wiser employee.

You could say, “I’ve learned a lot from this situation. Now when I apply for a job, I do my homework to make sure it seems like a great match. In my research, it seems my work history and accomplishments are well matched to your needs. I’d love to discuss how I can help you grow your company.”

3. Be Positive

Badmouthing a former employer is one of the fastest ways to turn off a prospective employer. Focus on the positive things that you learned in your previous job. Detail what you contributed while working there.

Flip the narrative about your termination into a good thing. Explain that losing your job has given you a perspective you wouldn’t have had otherwise.

4. Be Accountable

Taking responsibility doesn’t mean accepting blame when it wasn’t yours. Yet you do need to acknowledge your role in events and not blame others for what happened.

This can be as simple as admitting that your skills weren’t the right fit for the job or your personality wasn’t compatible with your supervisor.

There are times when the blame is all yours. Examples include:

  • Chronic lateness

  • Failure to meet deadlines

  • Inappropriate conduct

In this case, avoid acting defensive in a job interview. Own up to your past mistakes, and explain what you learned from the experience. Show your future employer that you’re responsible, reliable, and ready to move forward.

You could say something like, “As you can see from my past work history, this event is an anomaly. I regret that it happened, but I’ve learned a lot from the experience. I’m confident that it won’t ever happen again. As my references can attest, I’m a reliable employee. I’ll work hard to prove to you that this incident is completely behind me.”

Stick to the Truth

When you have to answer “Why were you fired?” in a job interview, always stick to the truth. Speak with pride about the rest of your work experience and accomplishments. You deserve to feel good about your achievements as you move onto the next phase of your career.

Nicole Cavazos

Nicole Cavazos is a Los Angeles-based copywriter and blogger. As a former contributor to the ZipRecruiter blog, she covered the job market and wrote advice for job seekers.

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