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Fired! What do you say in an interview?

FIREDNowWhat“Why were you fired?”

This could be the worst ever interview question. If you’ve been fired, it’s certainly the one that’s going to keep you awake the night before a job interview.

The best thing you can do to help you sleep is to prepare your answer long before the sheep-counting commences.


The first thing to decide is whether you will bring up your termination or if you’ll wait for the employer to mention it. I tend to lean toward beating them to the punch. I appreciate straightforward answers and a no-nonsense approach. I also could have a coronary if I waited for someone else to bring up the subject, so I’d rather get it over with.

That’s just me. You might have a good reason to wait for the employer to ask the question. If, for example, your termination isn’t public knowledge, and there is no reason to believe the new employer will ask at all, then you might wait for the question.

If you decide to bring up the subject, consider how you are feeling about being fired. The more neutral your feelings about the situation, the better you will interview. If you are still extremely hurt or angry about the termination, your feelings are likely to color the conversation. Read through this list of ways to take care of your emotions and use a few of them before interviewing.

What not to say

When someone, especially the person you’re hoping will become your new boss, asks why you were fired, the first thing you want to do is defend yourself. “It wasn’t my fault.” “My boss was a complete idiot.”

It’s human nature. It’s also the worst thing you can say. A rant about your old boss is not going to endear you to someone considering whether they want to be your new boss.

Saying you don’t know might seem like a way to avoid the subject, but it just makes you look disengaged and uninformed.

Any sort of excuse is simply unacceptable.

What to say

The best thing you can do when talking about why you were fired is to take responsibility. Now, I’m not saying you have to fall on your sword, accept your place as the village idiot, or admit to genetic deficiency. Quite the contrary.

What’s going to get you the most respect (and get you off the topic in the biggest hurry) is admitting your part in the fiasco. If you lost an account, say you lost an account. If you and your boss had a personality conflict, say so (without blame).

Then, say what you learned from the experience. This is the most important part of your speech. It is also where you recover your respect. Admitting you made a mistake is humbling. It’s supposed to be. It’s where the pieces hit the floor. Saying what you learned from it is where you get to pick up the pieces and show how you’ve put them together again.

The best possible outcome of this answer is to let your new boss know why the same thing would never happen again because you’ve learned how to handle this circumstance successfully.

Look at this list of possible reasons for leaving a job. Some of these reasons to use on job applications can also be developed into a reply to the “Why were you fired?” question. The application answer is necessarily short. Your interview answer needs to have more substance while not turning into a 5-minute dissertation, however humble. You don’t have to apologize or agonize. You do have to show that you’ve taken care of whatever caused the firing. That’s all.

Remember, many people have been fired and moved on to stellar careers. Harvey Mackay of “Swim with the Sharks” fame is one. He wrote “We got fired! And it’s the best thing that ever happened to us” about many famous people who have been fired at one point in their career. If you need some encouragement before your interview, read Harvey’s book.

Your career will not end with being fired – unless you let it.

If you’ve been fired and have found it difficult to move on in your career, contact me today to talk about how to get your career back on the road to success.


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