How Do I Talk About Being Fired When I Interview?

Dear Work Coach,

I work retail and just this passed Thursday I was let go from my job. The reasons that they stated is that I did not fit in the new company direction and I was not doing my job properly.

Even after a month ago they sent me to train other managers, I was praised by the CEO, and not to mention I was asked back to the company after I left. Nevertheless I have another interview soon.

How can I put all of that into a positive nature and not sound like I’m bad mouthing the company? I work long and hard for this company and I don’t want three years of managerial experience to go to waste. I need any help so I can have a great interview.



Hi Jennifer!

I can only imagine how frustrating that must have been for you. I’m so sorry.

You’re right. You want to leave any hard feelings behind you during an interview, and be as positive as possible about this new job being exactly the right match for you.

If they ask you what happened, (using your own words, of course) you can say something like you actually had a good experience there, but they’re moving in a new direction and, although it took you a little by surprise because you’ve always had good feedback, this turned out well for you since this new job is much more in line with where you want to go with your career. And be prepared to tell them why!

As an old song says: “Accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative” – at least as much as possible. 🙂

You might want to take some time beforehand to prepare and practice your answer until it feels comfortable and still natural. Practicing with a friend and/or using a recorder can be very helpful.

I also hope you have solid references from the last job (as well as others) that will tell the new employer just how good you are. And when asked why you were fired, I hope they’ll simply say it was about a new management direction or changes in management or some such thing – and leave it at that while heralding your many good qualities.

Here’s a post I found that offers more possible answers for you and other people in your situation. (Remember to look at any such answers and then come up with your own ideas and ways of phrasing it so it doesn’t sound canned.)

Job Interview Answer: Why Were You Fired?

I hope this helps. Many people have been in your situation – including me early in my career. Sometimes a good person just doesn’t fit what management wants for the company, but they may be precisely what another company is looking for!

Quite honestly…for me it’s always been a blessing; since if I don’t fit their corporate image there’d be no room for me to grow there and I wouldn’t be happy. And there have been plenty of places where I did fit. Just like with dating, it really is about finding the right match. 😉

So congratulations on a chance to find a job where you’ll really be appreciated!

Good luck, Jennifer. And please let us know how it goes.

Ronnie Ann


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Every event that unfolds is full of blessings in disguise. Whether or not you realize it, you always get what you wish for. It may be helpful to reflect on transferable skills you detect you have developed in your last job. You may have evolved inside and outgrown the environment. If you make a list about positive things you’ve learned and reinforce ways you coud re-apply your transferable skills, you’ll open your mind to positive ways of viewing where you are now.

  2. Thanks for joining in the conversation, Liara! The nice things about dreams is they are great motivators and, if we don’t set any limits, they can lead us to other dreams we never even knew we had.

    Ronnie Ann

  3. I just wanted to say I really appreciated this post. I have been searching through a number of websites to help me piece together what to say on why I left my job. This, by-far, is the best article I’ve seen. Thanks again for the help and the uplifting thoughts.

  4. Hi K!

    Thank you so much for letting me know. I’m so glad the article helped you. I understand – from a good deal of personal experience as well as from readers – just how hard all this is. And so more than having answers, I try to help people keep going. I know they’ll get there, but sometimes it just helps to have someone tell you that. 😉

    Best of luck!!! Please keep in touch.

    Ronnie Ann

  5. Hi I am stuck just like everyone else I was previsouly working in retail when I was termintaed for a lost and found violation .But It not like every item that was found I just took.. it was two happy meal toys found and being played around and used as little decortions at the register and after three week was going to be throwed away when I asked if I can have how can I explained this without looking like I’m theft or something..

  6. liz R,

    The article above and the linked article explain how to handle situations like this. It helps, of course, if you admit to yourself this was wrong, you learned your lesson, and will be a stronger employee from now on becausse of it.

    I wish you much luck!

  7. Hi,
    Out of curiosity for future interviews which i am in the process of sending my resume to different companies. I have one question that i do not know how to answer without making it about disability discrimination. I was once fired from my job because i “can’t hear very well” is what the person told me when he fired me. He knew about my disability which i am a deaf speaking person. I worked in a doctors office/hospital and he hired me to work along with him under the doctor’s license. I knew why he fired me because he told me and couldn’t handle the fact that i didn’t hear very well, so i had it investigated and everyone in the office covered their mouth so they won’t lose their job. I respected the others because they had nothing to do with it. He claimed i was always late, which i never was and apparently had time cards that showed i was, which i of course think was fake. I was actually always 10 min early to work and was only late one time due to an accident on the way to work and it was only less than 10 min late.

    How do i explain in a job interview the reason i was fired from this job? And i was fired because of my “disability”? I know we are not allowed to talk or speak of our disability…but how do explain this?


  8. Hi Lia!

    This is a tough one. If you’re in the U.S., I don’t think an employer can fire you for a disability, especially if they knew about it when they hired you since you’re protected by the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). If that really was the case, you may be able to still contact the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or your state Division/Department of Human Rights.

    As for interviews…your former employer will not admit having done that for legal reasons, so you really can’t say that’s why you were fired. You can say that it turned out not to be a good fit and then go on and explain why this new one is. If you want to mention that there was an issue with your hearing ability and then again explain why this would not be a problem in the new job, use your discretion. For the right employer, without actually saying that was the reason you were fired, they’ll get it.

    And if they press for details, you can say that you were told you had been late but always punched in early, so even you are wondering why. Again, a smart employer will read between the lines. Still, a short answer and focusing on your strengths for the new job is always the best first approach.

    Good luck finding a great job where you’re appreciated for who you are! 😉

  9. I was placed on leave pending possible termination and was eventually fired for lies the supervisor told about me and my performance. I believe this stemmed from my refusing to compromise my work ethics and integrity. He plays favorites and I have never been one of them, but after that, he was just gunning for me. The question: Before I was terminated, but while I was on leave I applied for other jobs in my field in anticipation of the possible termination. I was still employed when I applied and submitted my application as such becuase I was in fact still employed and not positive I was going to be fired. Anyway, after I got officially terminated, I got 2 call backs for interviews on those pre-termination applications. The interviews are coming at the beginning of this week and I am wondering how to handle this interview process. Any advice would be much appreciated. Most specifically my question is: If they don’t ask or mention anything that leads into my needing to reveal I was fired, should I volunteer that information? Or should I take a don’t ask, don’t tell approach? Also, I know that I may eventually have to address this firing on my record with a potential employer, based on what I have told you, what is the best response I could use that won’t work against me?

  10. Hi JN!

    I’m so sorry you had this happen. I know how hard it must be for you.

    I really don’t have any foolproof answer to give you. I wouldn’t volunteer the information, but if they ask if you’re still working there, you can explain that you were let go, even though you did your best to makes things work out. They are going to call the company, so you know more about what they might hear than I do. Then the best advice I have is to read the article again. It tells you how to do the delicate dance of explaining and then moving on to the new job and what you can do for them. Never put down the other place or your former boss. And as I also say, you need some great references to help, so make sure to line those up ahead of time.

    Good luck!

  11. Hi, i have been scrambling to look for this post and realized you are no longer blogging on here. But just in case you come from time to time to check this, Yes, i am in the USA, Texas actually. I did file a complaint with the disability act and they investigated. Nothing happened and they denied everything. No one in the office came forward because they didn’t want to loose their job. Nothing ever went through due to that.

    I like your approach. small and brief short answers!

    I know it is against the rules not to say we have a disability and against the law. But I want to know how I can prevent something like this happening again. From my understanding, the only one that knew about the disability when i was hired was the person that wanted me for the job. It was all jealousy because i did a better job than he did as well as patients requesting me because i was nice and gentle. I am not sure he told his main boss and that is where things got stirred up. There were no findings in the investigation.

    How is a company or job supposed to know about our hearing disability and know that it won’t affect my work? Do i tell them in an interview or after being hired? Or Never?


  12. Ronnie Ann-

    I was wondering if stupid mistakes you make at previous jobs that led up to you being fired can catch up to you?

    • chandlee says:


      It depends on what the mistakes are and how you present them in a job search. If you were only at the job for a short-time and it was an entry-level position, you may be able to get away with not putting the job on your resume.

      If the job didn’t work out but you’ve learned from your mistakes, you may also be speak of that directly in an interview.

      Good luck and all the best,

  13. Lora Bauman says:

    Dear WorkCoach:

    I was recently let go from a nursing position where I was “written up” for 3 separate instances. I am a brand new nurse and this was my first nursing job. I believe that one of the “reasons” for being written up was ridiculous. I also feel that my preceptors did not give me the correct instructions as to how I was supposed to perform my duties, especially since each time I came to work, I had a different preceptor and too many different people telling me what to do and how they do it. No consistency, so how can I be expected to know what is the right or wrong way to do things?

    Anyway, I’m afraid that this employer is now giving me a bad reference. I certainly learned what NOT to do at this position, but I also feel that I was not trained properly and because I really took the time to care about my patients, that I was a “threat” to the other nurses who were more worried about getting their jobs done as quickly as possible and treated the patients as if they were “just another number”. How do I deal with questions about why I was terminated? I realize that I could have made better choices, but all of us have to start somewhere and many nurses fail to remember that they were once new nurses too….


  14. Dear WorkCoach,

    You responded to “just wondering” about how to address the question “Why were you fired from your former employer?” I appreciate the guidance and suggestions here.
    However, I just recently found myself in a situation that, although similar in topic, very EXTREME!
    I was terminated from my employer, for “poor sales performance”.
    Held two positions with this company, Sales Manager and Sales Associate.
    Began my employment in 1993, promoted to Sales Manager in 1994, stepped down to Sales Associate, part-time in 2005. Reason being a single parent, provider for disabled daughter.
    I am well versed in the polices and procedures of this company for 22 years.
    Being terminated for “poor sales performance”, a MONTH early from my review period, and only 15% below my standard, never occurred before!!
    Ten days later, and I am having my first interview in over two decades!
    My experience and proven accomplishments do speak volumes to my qualifications for this, as well as other positions applied for. I was fully aware of the do’s and don’t in an interview. Yet, when asked why I was terminated from my position, I found myself not having an answer, that made any sense to me. The interview went extremely well, I thought. Up to this point, anyway.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Yes, you need to have a good, short, positive answer ready to give. Was your manager new (and inexperienced or wanting someone else in your job or someone full-time wanted your territory or ??)? Or, was financial performance slowing? Is there any rational reason why they decided to terminate you?

      You need to have a reasonable explanation ready that doesn’t reflect poorly on you and doesn’t trash them. “Bad chemistry with the new sales manager” is a common explanation — if that’s what happened.

      Just be sure to keep your answer short, reasonable, and positive, and then MOVE ON. Don’t dwell on it, and don’t ramble. If they don’t have another question ready, wait a reasonable amount of time and ask a question of your own.

      A job interview 10 days after you lost your job is GREAT — a very good sign! Be sure to send a thank you to each person who interviewed you, ASAP.

      Don’t wait for these folks to get back to you. Keep looking!

      Good luck with your job search!

  15. GlamourLyss says:

    Hi Susan!

    I was working for Taco Bell for almost 3 years. I bent over backwards for the job, and I had a great professional relationships with my team members, and was highly valued by my managers. And after almost 3 years there was a slip up with my till since a few of my co-workers would use it (I know, bad idea), and I tried calling in sick on a holiday even though I was scheduled for work. Anyway, after working a really long shift, my line was incredibly busy that the line was going out of the drive thru (I was the only cashier working the drive thru: taking orders, handing the food out and handling the money). Anyway, long story short I accidentally accepted a counterfeit $100 bill which led me to my demise. Once my shift was over on Saturday at 3am and I realized that I had done so. I went to the bank and tried putting $100 of my own money in my drop. Sadly, the shift leader that was on duty had already called my manager and had left her a voicemail that my drop was short. I then had to wait the weekend till my manager got back from her off days. She called me into her office, and told me the situation. She went to her manager, to try and see if there was anything she could do, and the manager she went to tried going to his manger to see if there was anything that he could do, and the last manager asked how many strikes I had which by then the counterfeit bill made 3. Then, at that point there was nothing that they could do and had to let me go.

    My manager cried, and really tried to save me, but there was nothing she could do and had to let me go. My problem is trying to explain that In minimal terms on a job application let alone in a job interview because I feel that once they read that I was terminated on a job application they look away.

    Please Help.
    Thank You.

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi GlamourLyss,

      Rather than putting you were “fired” on the job application, use the term “let go” as in “I was let go from that job.”

      If you must select an option from some choices, rather than being able to type in your answer, choose the options that is true. Under NO circumstances should you lie! You were not laid off, and you didn’t quit. So, own up to being fired, if you have no option.

      Ask your former manager if she will serve as a reference for you since she is so disappointed that you were fired. Her support should go a long way to helping a new employer see you as a good potential employee.

      Then, of course, be MUCH more careful in your next job! You don’t want to be fired again — being fired twice will be much harder to explain.

      Good luck with your job search!

    • Susan P. Joyce says:

      Hi GlamourLyss,

      Rather than putting you were “fired” on the job application, use the term “let go” as in “I was let go from that job.”

      If you must select an option from some choices, rather than being able to type in your answer, choose the options that is true. Under NO circumstances should you lie! You were not laid off, and you didn’t quit. So, own up to being fired, if you have no option.

      Ask your former manager if she will serve as a reference for you since she is so disappointed that you were fired. Her support should go a long way to helping a new employer see you as a good potential employee.

      Then, of course, be MUCH more careful in your next job! You don’t want to be fired again — being fired twice will be much harder to explain.

      Good luck with your job search!

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