How To Explain Why You've Been Fired

by Lara Rutherford-Morrison

For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.

A lot of us have been there: You don’t mesh well with your boss, your company undergoes reorganization, or you simply have a bad month and aren’t at your best, and you get let go from your job. It happens. But how do you explain why you’ve been fired to a potential new employer? Do you try to skirt over the ugly bits, or do you go into grisly detail? Is there a way to spin it to your advantage? Will anyone hire you ever again??

Deep breaths. The answer to that last question is “Yes.” People get fired all the time, and they go on to have fulfilling careers. Getting fired sucks, but you absolutely can move forward into a new job — you’ve just got to find the right way to talk about your old one.

Getting fired is “not a problem if you frame it professionally,” Laura MacLeod, HR expert and founder of From The Inside Out Project, tells Bustle. “You want to be transparent, because there's nothing worse than getting caught in a lie. But there is no reason to offer more than is necessary.”

Depending on the circumstances that led you to seek new employment, the question, “So why did you leave your last job?” can be particularly fraught, but the key to addressing it is balance — you need to be honest, without oversharing. Here’s how you do it:

You may be tempted to simply lie about being fired. After all, your potential new employers might not know about the firing, and might not contact your previous employer about you — but then again, they just might. As MacLeod points out, getting caught lying is bad news. It’ll make you look unprofessional, untrustworthy, and insecure. Instead of lying, get out in front of the story and tell the truth, but in a way that positions you as a good fit for the new job.

Ashley Batz/Bustle

Getting fired can be really shattering, and you have every right to feel upset about it — outside of a job interview. When you’re interviewing, stay professional and pleasant. If you still get upset talking about being fired, take some time to practice discussing it before your interview. Go over it enough times that you can address it with detachment.

You may be more than justified in hating your former boss or company with the fire of a thousand suns, but, if you bring that bitterness into your job interview, all your interviewer will see is someone who is very, very angry. And who wants to bring that negativity into their office?

Address your former employer professionally, even if you are still seething on the inside. “Use phrases that are less harsh — but still true,” MacLeod advises. Use phrases like, “We parted ways,” or “For both me and the organization, it wasn't the right fit.” Then say something positive about your work at your former job. “This shows that you have no hard feelings, the split was amicable and you are someone who keeps a positive attitude — even about a place that wasn't right for you,” MacLeod says.

There’s no need to go on and on about why you were fired. Keep your response succinct. (If your interviewer wants more info, he or she will ask.) “Get right back to YOU and what you have to bring to the new organization,” MacLeod says. You can frame your firing as a learning experience: It’s taught you what kind of job you want and where your talents are the most useful — and you can make clear that the job you’re interviewing for is the right fit for you.

Because “Why did you get fired?” is a tricky question, it’s worth taking the time to prepare an answer and practice it. Come up with two or three sentences that answer the question honestly, put a positive spin on your experience, and transition the discussion back to what you have to offer the new job.

Good luck job hunting!