Losing your job is a hard pill to swallow. But explaining you were fired to new prospective employers can be downright nauseating. Interviewers will often ask why you left your last job, so it pays to prepare your answer to this question.

First, it’s okay to admit you were fired or laid off. It happens. Sometimes the fit just isn’t right, the job wasn’t what you expected, or a hiring manager misunderstood your qualifications. The needs of a company or position can change. Companies go through rough patches, downsizing and restructuring.

Having been let go from a previous position won’t instantly put a nail in the coffin of your application, but how you communicate it to the interviewer might!

Important points to keep in mind:

  1. Be positive: Give a short, honest answer with a positive spin that shifts the direction of the conversation. Don’t focus on negative aspects of the experience or “bad mouth” your previous employer.
  2. Demonstrate what you’ve learned: What did you take away from the experience? Did you discover anything about the kinds of jobs that you do or do not want? Did you gain insight into what “fit” looks like for you? Have you worked on any specific skills since the termination happened?
  3. Think about your references: You need to know that your references will align with what discuss with the interviewer. If you’re not sure whether a reference will paint a positive picture, choose another supervisor who has something valuable to say about you.

Example responses for different situations:

  • Other employees were laid off too:
    “Actually, I was laid off, as was the Controller, Financial Analyst and Accountant, during a company restructuring – but I really enjoyed working for them.”
  • You didn’t get along with your boss or coworkers (focus on the job):
    “I loved the position that I was in, I enjoyed overseeing both accounts payable and accounts receivable, and that I was involved with training new members of the accounting team. That said, cultural fit is really important to me, and unfortunately the team wasn’t quite the right match.”
  • You didn’t perform well in the position:
    “When I was first hired, I expected the job would be primarily marketing, which aligned well with my previous experience. But once I was in the position, I realized it was actually more of a sales manager role with a small marketing component. I tried my best under the circumstances, but it wasn’t the right fit for my skills and background. I have since learned how to ask better questions before accepting a job offer.”
    “I was dealing with some personal circumstances at the time. I thought I would be able to juggle everything, but unfortunately started dropping balls at work. In retrospect, I should have inquired about taking a leave from work. I learned a lot about balance and self-care.”

Most interviewers won’t want full details, but they are watching for any warning signs that you are too negative or overly defensive. It’s important to be honest, but not complain about your past employers. Focus on any positive aspects and learning experiences you took from the situation.


For more interview tips, check out our Career Resources

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