Ask The Work Buzz! How to Answer “Have You Ever Been Fired?”

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questionNicole asks an excellent question: When an interviewer ask if you have ever been fired, are you honest or do you want to present yourself favorably?

Well…


Here at The Work Buzz,we’re anti-lying, and here’s why:

1. Once you lie, you have to keep it up. (Too tiring.)
2. If  you get caught, you can lose the job offer/job. (Bummer.)
3. If you get caught, your professional image is damaged and can haunt you. (Booooo.)
4. After you lie, you spend a lot of time worried that you’ll get caught the aforementioned reasons and always have that anxiety in your mind. (Waste of energy.)

That said, we don’t think you need to expose all the skeletons in your closet unless necessary. In other words, don’t walk into an interview and say, “First things first: I was fired from my last job.” That’s like opening a first date with, “My last breakup was heinous!” Big no-no.

Answering this question can definitely put you on the defensive, and you’re guaranteed to get some follow-up questions with it. How and what you say is really circumstantial.

Were you fired in 10 years ago when you were a high school or college student who was more concerned with partying than working? If so, admit it was a folly of youth. You were young and didn’t have the right priorities, but your work history since then can prove you’ve rectified the situation.

Were you fired for something more serious, such as failing to achieve goals or job duties that were your responsibility? Explain why you messed up and what you learned from it. Don’t make excuses. Put the facts out there as gently as possible and then give examples of what you’ve done or will do that proves you understand the importance of job performance.

Were you laid off? That’s definitely different than being fired and you should be aware of that. Tell the interviewer that due to a reduction in work force, you were let go/your position was eliminated for purely financial reasons and not due to your performance.

You might be thinking, “Can’t you just lie and get away with it?” Technically, you might be able to. If you were fired from your babysitting job in junior high, I doubt anyone’s going to notice, and that’s not really relevant. But if  you were fired from a job that’s part of your work history, the employer will likely find out. With job seekers outnumbering job openings at a great rate, employers are going to make sure they’re taking the best of the best. One call that reveals a lying candidate makes their decision that much easier.

To get back to the last part of Nicole’s question, you do want to portray yourself favorably. Part of what makes a good candidate is experience because it’s not just what you’ve done, it’s also what you’ve learned. Don’t let one firing characterize your professional life.

29 Comments
  1. I’ve never been fired but I don’t worry about that now I am in the business of helping people starting their own business. Work from home, you are the boss!

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  3. I unfortunatley worked for a wacky company that tarnished my excellent work history when deceided to fire me even though I didn’t deserve to be fired. I collected unemployment after, so I definately proved that I was not in the wrong in any way. Never tell a potential employer you have been fired, I learned that from experience, you will get a shocked look then, they will immediately think that something is wrong with you and you won’t get the job!! It is worth the risk if you want the job!

    • I also received unemployment despite the fact the union lied about my eligibility. My former principal ended up “reassigned” to another school, so that is pretty much proof she was in the wrong even if I didn’t get my job back thanks to the rigging of my termination hearing (I was a teacher). SHE is the one who should have been fired, not me.

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  7. what i tend to do is leave the job i was fired from out of my work history and put the date down as unemployed, then i say what i did whist i was unemployed, 1, what they dont know wont kill them and 2 it looks like even though you was unemployed you kept yourself busyx

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  10. I wish I would’ve read advise like this several years ago. Several years back, I got fired for misconduct. I put on my application for my next job that I had been laid off due to “Economic Reasons”. I got the job, but about 3 years into my employment there, it was discovered that I had lied, so I was immediately fired. I’ve been unemployed since November now.

  11. I feel you need to straight up about your work history. Your new employer will find out anyway. When I was fired, I told them the reason and the responses from the interviewer/s has been You’ve been there 12 years and they fired you?” “Who had it in for you” Or, “Wow anyone could have missed that one” and, “Dont worry about the reason they fired you I’ve done that one myself.” Prepare for the interview, go in confident and be straight up. Let your abilities get you through it. People make mistakes so, don’t beat yourself over the head with it. That’s what worked for me.

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  14. Nikki – In addition to unemployment, mentioning severance helps if you got any, or any other consideration that has monetary value.

  15. What is this obsession about “being fired” with employers, really? I worked for several years in a manufacturing facility, and never had a problem with anyone, and I then suddenly get a boss who is somewhat of an “Attila the Hun”. He fired one person because things were not moving fast enough on a project, and then he fired me because I was 20 minutes late with a report. I had it ready, but he didn’t like the format. I had to reformat, which took about 35 minutes. He was a perfectionist, but refused to review reports submitted on his behalf prior to submission. He was fired himself one year later. I have since seen his LinkedIn profile as having worked for one company for the past 9 years, but that, I know is a total lie! I also heard that a former HR worker for the department told one of my former co-workers that he had the highest record of firings in the plant.

    My last firing occurred when I asked my boss about a move which had been mentioned many times in the past month. My error was in asking a person who’d just probably heard some bad news from his divorce attorney, and owed money to the state and was behind on his taxes. It was through a temporary agency, so I can truly say it was a temporary job.

    What I mean with all this, is what can you say when your firings were due to the guy being an absolute jerk.

    • When interviewing a reasonable persons,you must also consider what the person who fired them was like,there is good and bad supervisors and some have no commonsense or intelligence to handle situations.

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  19. I was discharged for some BS almost 5 years ago at a position in this company. I’ve held several positions in other companies that never came back to me when I jut checked “no haven’t been discharged.”

    I’ve had pretty good working relations with companies since and even that specific company I have many managers I listed on my reference because I was a good worker.

    I actually was already hired, but now I have to give them the formal application and it is asking if I have ever been discharged and I don’t know what to put. check yes and just put “will explain during interview.” ?

    Problem is in the interview with the assistant coordinator it became a little informal and by the time I got back to the position he asked what happened I told him it was time to move on and I wanted other things, which was true. When I then did a follow up interview with the senior manager he never asked me what happened. And after speaking with him he hired me.

    I kind of quit, but I think I was technically discharged. Any suggestions? I think it is just smarter to check yes on this and write in the explanation field will “explain during interview.”

    mainly I understand lying on it is just their way to cover themselves if they need to fire you

    • sorry adding more, but I am confused because I have always just checked no on other applications and nothing has came back on me about it.

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  21. The assumption is that a person who is “fired” is always in the wrong. It wasn’t true in my case, and I will bet many, many others. I was a victim of outright discrimination, yet I could get nowhere in the courts.

    My principal screwed up, and my old school district tried to cover up for its wrongdoing. I don’t owe any employer any explanation. If they don’t want me, they can shove it.

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