Interviews are nerve-wracking as is it; you want to say the right things to convey you’re the best fit for the job. But if you’re interviewing with a company after being terminated from your last role, there’s a whole different level of anxiety. Beyond preparing for the standard “tell me about yourself,” you now have to figure out how to answer questions about being fired.
Determining how to explain being fired in a job interview can be tough. How honest do you need to be? Should you bring it up proactively? Will your interviewers ask a string of probing questions? Will the termination affect your chances of getting an offer?
According to Alexandra Dickinson, a career coach and Member Strategy Lead at SoFi, it’s not an uncommon situation to be in—and easily navigable with these tips.
Anticipate the Question
While your interviewer may not directly ask about your termination, there is a good chance he or she will pose a related question, like “Why did you leave your last job?” or “Why are you looking for a new role?”
So, just like you would prepare a response for any other common interview question, you should anticipate a question about your departure from your last company. The worst thing you can do is be caught off guard.
Choose the Right Way to Phrase It
As you’re thinking about how to explain why you were fired, Dickinson recommends that you choose your phrasing carefully.
“‘I was let go’ has a different meaning than ‘I was fired,’” she explains, “and I wouldn’t conflate the two.” The former, she says, gives the impression that the situation wasn’t your fault—perhaps that your position was redundant and therefore eliminated. It doesn’t convey that you were fired for cause—so if that’s the case, and it comes out later in the process, it likely won’t bode well for your candidacy.
Instead, she suggests using a phrase like, “It didn’t work out,” “I didn’t leave on my own terms,” or even “I’m not there anymore.”
“It’s kind of vague,” she admits, “But there’s really only one reason why you would be that vague—so it answers the question without really answering the question, which could make you feel more comfortable.”
Practice Your Delivery
Whatever phrase you select, practice saying it out loud a few times so your delivery feels natural.
“For some people, being fired can be a really emotional thing to go through,” says Dickinson. “And then to have to talk about it in a situation that’s already stressful? That can be really difficult.”
So, grab a friend or a family member—or even just a mirror—and practice delivering your explanation. Get to the point where the answer feels natural and unrehearsed, so you can go into the conversation with confidence.
Be Honest, but Don’t Share More Detail than Necessary
When you’re considering how to explain being fired, you’ll probably wonder how much detail you have to share about the situation. Unfortunately, says Dickinson, there’s no standard requirement.
“It depends on the nature of what happened,” she explains. She suggests thinking about what might come up in a background check or employment verification. That can guide how much you need to disclose about your situation. After all, she says, “you don’t want them to uncover some giant surprise.”
But in many cases, you won’t need to go into a lot of detail, and ideally, they won’t question you further. “If they do press you in a way that makes you feel uncomfortable, is that a place you’re going to feel great about joining?” Dickinson asks.
Don’t Show Any Ill Will
Going through a termination can leave you feeling raw and defensive—but don’t let those feelings infiltrate your interview.
“You don’t want to sound bitter,” says Dickinson. “You may be bitter or defensive, and it’s fine to have those feelings and work through them. But you don’t want that to come across in an interview, because it’s not relevant. The point of an interview is for you to determine if you’re interested in working at this place and for them to determine if they’re interested in hiring you.”
Focus on that, rather than on your feelings toward your past employer, and you’ll be much more likely to impress your interviewers.
Pivot the Conversation
Most importantly, says Dickinson, don’t dwell on the subject. Yes, figuring out how to explain being fired is important, but once you’ve provided a sufficient answer, pivot the conversation to what you can bring to this company.
“Even if you have to be kind of forthright about it, it’s okay to change the subject,” she says. “You can say something like, ‘I’m not there anymore, and I am really excited to talk about this job; this is one particular aspect of job description I’m interested in, can we dive into this more?’”
That can help you get back to the real purpose of the interview: allowing both parties to determine if the role will be a good fit.
Don’t Let It Impact Your Confidence
After getting fired, you may feel like you’ll never bounce back—but according to Dickinson, that isn’t the case.
“Many of us have been let go from a job,” she says. “If that was such a black mark that you could never get a job again, a lot of us would be out of work forever.”
If you’re feeling low, especially before heading into an interview, seek someone out to provide a pep talk. “Talk to some people who love you. Remind yourself that you are loved, even if not by that particular boss. Do what you need to do to feel good about yourself.”
Then, go into that interview with your head held high.
Nailing an interview can be tough, especially if you didn’t leave your last job on your own terms.
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