How to Talk About Getting Fired (Part 1)

Were you fired or let go from your previous job? Not sure what to say in your interview when you’re asked, “Why did you leave your last position?”  The Public Speaker has tips on how to handle this dicey situation.

Lisa B. Marshall,
November 29, 2012
Episode #180

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A few weeks ago I got an email from Andy. He had bought my book, The Public Speaker’s Guide to Ace Your Interview, but had a question that I didn’t address in the book. Unfortunately, Andy’s last job didn’t end well and he wanted to know how to handle the questions he was receiving at interviews about why he left his last job.

When you’ve been fired, landing your dream job becomes a bit more challenging—but not impossible. In this two-part series, I’ll talk about how to get past being fired and still get the job you want.

I wanted Andy to be sure he was clear on what happened. In situations like this, it’s important to clarify the circumstances. Sometimes people are so emotional when they lose a job, they think they were fired when in reality the paperwork says they were laid off.  

It’s important to review what was said when you were let go. If you were given something in writing, read it over more than once. Does it clearly say you’re being fired or terminated for a specific behavior, or are you being laid off due to budget cuts or other factors beyond your control?.    

Prepare Your References

Next, as you begin your job search you should get in touch with your references. You’ll need to contact a few people who will testify to your strengths, experiences, and skill sets. Although reference checks don’t typically happen until the end of the interview process, don’t wait until you’ve been asked to give references to start this process. 

Particularly when you’ve been fired, it’s even more critical that you contact everyone ahead of time. Reach out to your network of past co-workers and clients to confirm that they will still speak highly of you. Don’t just send an email message. You need to talk to each person and, if necessary, briefly explain your situation and make sure they feel comfortable recommending you. Listen to your gut. If you feel like one of your references is unsure or noncommittal, cross them off your list.

The Screening Process

Today, most companies start the interview process with a screening interview by someone in the Human Resources department. The HR rep most likely reviewed the resume you submitted online, or found your profile on LinkedIn. It’s not likely they know you’ve been fired, but don’t discount that possibility.

At this point in the process, it’s highly probable that you’ll be asked why you left your previous job. My advice is, be brief and don’t lie.  You can say something like “I learned a lot in my last position, but it was time to look for new opportunities” or “Because I am very interested in working at an organization like yours...” Then specifically state something that is different from you last job. For example: “I’m interested in working at an organization that is much larger [or smaller, or much more focused on the marketing side of things, or allows for greater travel opportunities]…or whatever makes this new opportunity different from your last position. You definitely don’t want to voluntarily share the specifics of your firing, but you should be prepared to explain a bit more if questioned.