How To Explain Employment Termination During a Job Search

by Guest Author, Miles Oliver

It is hard to be terminated from a job, but it is often even more difficult to explain why you were terminated during a future job interview. If an interviewing manager asks you about what happened, it can be easy to quickly get defensive or try to make up stories about your former employer, but you must resist the urge. Instead, you need to handle the situation tactfully so you can impress during the interview and get the new job that you know you deserve.

If you have been terminated from a previous job and you are unsure about how to broach the subject with a new employer, then consider our advice below.

Understanding The Logic

Before you start to think about how you might discuss a previous termination during a job interview, it is important that you understand that you are not alone. Studies show that 40% of people have been fired at least once during their lifetime. According to that same study, 91% of executives that were let go from one job were able to move onto a new position at a different company that was as good as the one they left. So, not only are you not alone, but you could actually end up in a better place.

It is also important to remember that even though you were let go, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you were bad at your job. Instead, you could have simply been laid off. The difference is that when you are laid off, it is typically not your fault. It may be that the company needed to save money or simply had to restructure, and you were collateral damage. It is important to know the difference so you can answer accordingly during your job interview.

You should also understand why a potential employer might ask about your termination. It’s important to know that, while it may make you feel uncomfortable, employers often ask about reasons for termination because they are practicing risk management — each time a company hires a new employee, they are betting that they are making a good decision. Fully vetting candidates in the hiring process and determining if they are a good fit are part of managing human resource risks in business. If you were terminated due to an innocent mistake, then they may be able to look past it, but if you were fired for fraud or misconduct, then they likely won’t want to take the chance that you might behave the same way if you are hired at their organization.

How To Appropriately Answer The Question

Once you understand your situation, you can start to think about how you will answer the questions about your termination when it inevitably comes along. The first step is to understand why you were terminated. Call the HR team at your previous job if you need clarification.

If you are asked about it during your interview, then you need to be honest and direct. Do not lie about being terminated. Even if you don’t think they will find out on their own, an experienced interviewer may be able to tell that you are lying, and you don’t want to start a potential work relationship on the wrong foot. Basically, you want to accept responsibility and discuss what you learned.

Remember that it is human nature to make errors, so if you learn something in the process, then you could become a better person because of it. It should be every company’s goal to reduce human error in the workplace, and if you can prove that you are looking to make a difference, then the interviewer may appreciate your honesty.

As an example, if you were fired due to errors in your daily reports and you believe it was because your workspace was cluttered and unorganized, then you could advise the interviewer that you now know how important organization is to a successful business and that you plan to bring that understanding to the new company.

No matter what you say, it is essential that you avoid the temptation to trash your past employer and blame them for all of your problems. If you do, then the interviewer may believe that you haven’t learned anything from the termination, and they may fear that you will badmouth them as well if you are hired and eventually let go.

Building Up Your Resume

You can actually make a difference before you even show up for the interview by building up your resume so that it shows your best qualities. Format it just right, and employers will be excited to bring you in for the interview. If they are truly impressed, then they may easily overlook the fact that you were previously terminated.

If you were terminated from a job, but are proud of the work that you did at that company, then you should include it in your job history. When you do, highlight the major accomplishments that you had while you were there, including the programs that you started or the big sales that you made.

It is also important to highlight the strengths that you bring to a new company. Talk about your attendance, the software that you know like the back of your hand, and the skills that you’ve learned during your professional life. Then, as you are discussing the termination, you can refer to the strengths on your resume as proof that even though you had a setback, you are an asset that they should consider for employment.

In the end, you cannot change the fact that you were terminated, but you can move past it and find the job that you deserve. Consider these tips during your job search, and you will get through the next interview with confidence.

Need more job search advice?

Join Our DiscussionDoes your linkedin profile need a makeover

For more insights and a community of like-minded professionals join our LinkedIn group Resume Help and Advice for Professionals and Executives

About the author: Miles Oliver is a freelance contributor whose writing focuses on professional development. You can reach him at

Leave a Comment