How to Answer the Question

Posted by in Career Advice

"Have you ever been fired?"


If you have ever been fired from a job, this is probably the question you dread most of all during an interview. You don't want to ruin your chances at the new job, and you don't want to make it sound as though you are a less-than-desirable employee. Plus, such low points usually bring up feelings of shame or embarrassment. 


When you're asked the question, don't lie. There's no point in saying that you left voluntarily or that you weren't challenged in the position. It's so easy for a prospective employer to find out why you left a job, so if you're being asked – assume that they already know.


So, what should you do?


First, before you start interviewing for a new job, you need to come up with a cohesive story that briefly explains what happened. Your story should also include what you learned from the experience without talking bad about a previous employer or co-worker. It sounds like a tough job, but it's actually fairly easy.


First, write down what happened, including all of the little details. Since no one will see this aside from you, feel free to let yourself vent all over the page. Then, take a deep breath and look at the situation from the company's perspective. Notice where your actions made things worse or where you could have done things differently.


Once you've gone over everything, you'll probably see the exact reason that you were fired. Maybe it was because you weren't able to get along with your boss or had been late to work too many times. Whatever the reason, write it down. For example, in my case, I was fired because of poor attendance. The company I worked for had a brutal attendance policy and after three unexcused absences employees were fired. After working for the company for several years, I found myself in the midst of a difficult separation and divorce. My daughter struggled with the changes in our lives and began having panic attacks at school. Often, the school nurse would call me at work, telling me to come pick up my child because she was having trouble breathing. I was overwhelmed and struggling myself and while there was a process to excuse qualifying absences, the process involved a great deal of red tape and sending papers back and forth to a third-party company. Even though I thought that I had sent all the necessary papers, I ended up missing the deadlines on three absences. And I was fired.


The only thing that matters here is poor attendance – the reasons don't matter to a new employer.


Once you have your reason, consider what you've done to improve your skills in order to make sure that you won't have the same issues with a new employer. In my case, since then I have learned to ask for help when I need it and I've learned some effective time management skills.


Now that you have a reason for your termination and what you've learned for it, it's time to write out your answer. The key here is to put a positive spin on the situation and show it as an experience that helped you grow and become a better employee. For example, my answer would be: “I was fired from XYZ company for poor attendance. I went through an extremely difficult time in my personal life and it spilled over into my professional one. Since then, I've learned better time management strategies and have worked to maintain a more effective work-life balance.”


It's short, sweet and tells a prospective employer that I admit to my past mistakes and that I've learned from them. The main thing about crafting your answer is to take as much blame as possible. It's not necessary for me to explain that the absences weren't always my fault or that the company had unrealistic expectations for attendance. In an interview, any sort of negativity only serves to make you look bad – so don't fall into the trap, even though it may be tempting.


By planning your answer before it comes up, you'll be able to talk about the experience professionally and without emotion, which allows the hiring manager to see that you've put it behind you.


How do you answer this questions? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks Mike. It sounds like the job you had just didn't work out, but that they valued you as an employee. That's worth a lot and it's great that at least you were given a severance package and a good reference. You may not want to use them as a work reference specifically, but you can list them in your work history knowing that they will say that you are a good person. That's very valuable and says a lot about your work ethic and who you are as a person.
  • Mike W
    Mike W
    Melissa,Thank you for this article. Like a couple others here, My last job did not work out and was given the choice of a "probationary period of reevaluation" or resigning with the urging to resign as almost always the reevaluation did not work out and the person was terminated anyway. As it turns out, I did get a severance package and they let me stay 3 weeks longer than my initial end date as well as being allowed to look in other departments for a different position. Which to me states that the position truly did not work out but they did value my work and experience in some way for the company. My manager even said she would give me a positive referral but I figured it would not be in my best interest to do so and I truly feel the job just did not work out. Your reply to Reg was just as informative as your article.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks for all of the comments.@Reg - since you were asked to resign and given a severance package, you were given the opportunity not to be fired. It's a very valuable thing. When asked why you left the company, you can honestly say that you realized that you had progressed as far as you could with that company and decided to seek new opportunities. It's true and you don't have to give the details about why you decided it was time to leave.@Natasha - what a horrible situation. I don't know all of the details, but if I were you, I would try to reach out to your previous supervisor. Ask for a meeting and explain the situation and ask what you can do to change it. Maybe your previous boss is giving you a bad reference. Reaching out goes a long way toward fixing it. Even if he doesn't change his opinion about you, just having talked with you face to face will calm some anger. It's much easier to hold a grudge against someone who doesn't talk back.
  •  John C
    John C
    I too was let go because of poor attendance. I also burned bridges by not telling the truth on job applications. I didn't lie, I just didn't explain myself. Since I was fired, I have gone back to college and just recently graduated. My attendance in college has been excellent, will this "new attendance record" dismiss my old record in the eyes of an employer?
  • Lorna E
    Lorna E
    These are the best answers ever. Really helpful.
  • Reg M
    Reg M
    I thought I would write you for help in my case, as it is sightly different. I was asked to leave my last job, and was given a severance package to leave. I am often asked why I am not working for my last company. The problem is that I really do not know what I did wrong as I thought I was doing the right things, as a manager even praised my work a week earlier.I work as a Heavy Duty Mechanic in a very "safety" enviroment. I have had several insidents that should not be grounds for dismisal.What I think happened, was that I witnessed two guy horsing around, where one guy sprayed the other with brake clean and lite him on fire. Every one thought this was funny (but me). Company rule state I have to report this (or be fired) I did with out naming names. A few weeks later I was unhappy with the langage and the name calling in the shop. I reported this to the safety officer and happened the use the fire as an example of how bad things were. He did not know about the fire. He was not happy and took me to the branch manager, who asked me who was involved. The two guys were interviewed together. I do not what was said, but one the these guys said he was going to get even, and several of his buddies would not work with me. The branch manager told me that no one was upset for being called a fag or other names, and I was to stop causing problems.About four months latter I was let go.I am now employed, and I work daily with one of two of my former co-workers(who are still employed with my former company), with no problems. What do I say when I am aked why I am not working for XXX company?Thank youReg  
  • Phyllis H
    Phyllis H
    Excellent Advice. I was just fired after 12 years and was wondering what to do when this issue came up.Thank You
  • Natasha H
    Natasha H
    I have a problem I have started to run into. I actually gave a two-week written notice of resignation for a Sales Associate job I was working while I went to school for my Bachelor's. The manager refused to give me less hours and I was struggling, so I felt I had to resign in my last semester. I found out from an Assistant Manager that the Store Manager actually filled my paper work out as "Terminated". This means I am not rehireable with that company. I wrote to the corporation, but received no word. I have applied for so many jobs that I have lost count and I have received 0 calls back for interviews. That's right... zero. I know that my work history otherwise is exemplary. What can I do about that? How do I handle that without sounding dramatic if questioned?
  • Jeffrey V
    Jeffrey V
    asked to resign, is just that, a resignation, plain and simple, IE) I found a better work environment, wanted a change or even hygiene factors were better at a different location,  it's not a negative to say, it was time to move on for personal reasons, 'NUFF said...
  • Phillip B
    Phillip B
    How can I prevent age from preventing me from being hired? I'm only 61 and have good 40 years of field and office experience. Everyone is so happy and professional till they find out my age. Then the room cools off about 30 degrees and I'm either shown the door or the "project has just been filled"
  • Melissa K
    Melissa K
    What if you were asked to resign for mistakes that you warned them may happen because of not understanding or being to rushed,hurried and understaffed or with staff that didn't work as hard as you? I know that my story is truth I did that what they were asking was over my expertise how ever he is going to twist the truth that is what he did with unemployment.
  • Willie S
    Willie S
    Ms Melissa KennedyThank,you so much for this article it's going help me a lot
  • Thoko M
    Thoko M
    Great answer,
  • ANNA W
    ANNA W
    This article was helpful. Honesty is always the best policy and the tips on how to go about choosing the right responses with positive feedback is good. Thank You
  • Samuel A
    Samuel A
    Great information Thank you very much
  •  Deborah S
    Deborah S
    It doesn't matter what kind of background and whether or not you can answer the questions probably employers don't want to hire older people bottom line . Employers tell you that they don't look at age but I don't believe that.  I have good credit nothing against my past history and I can't even get the company that I worked for 17 years to rehire me in a different department. They need to write laws to protect the older employees
  • Zakiyya A
    Zakiyya A
    This is great advice. Thanks!
  • vanessa j
    vanessa j
    I have been struggling with how to answer that question for 3 months, had already did several wrong things you had mentioned and was at the point you mentioned.Thank you for an excellent article that came at the right time.
  •  Gina E
    Gina E
    Great advice, tell the truth, put a twist to the Story, closure, where he thought he did every-thing right but obvious his best was not good enough.
  • Rebecca B
    Rebecca B
    I will take this article to heart
  • Tsegaye Y
    Tsegaye Y
    Hi Melissa!It is a wonderful advice which would help me a lot.Thanks.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Thanks Jeannie, I hope it helped. Best wishes.
  • Jeannie B
    Jeannie B
    Very very good advice.  It helps me a lot.  Tnx

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