How to Explain a Past Job Termination on a Resume, Application, and Interview
How to Explain Being Fired
There is one question that most job applicants fear when they are filling out a job application or going in for a job interview:
Were you ever terminated from a job and why?
This is a difficult question to answer. The obvious answer is to be truthful about it, but in some cases that can cost you the job you are applying for. So how do you explain a past job termination on an application? Should you divulge why you were fired from a previous job? This article will cover exactly what you should do on you resume, application, and interview. There are different things to do at different steps, so it's best to be prepared for all circumstances.
There's nothing wrong with being fired.— Ted Turner
Have you ever been fired from a job?
My Experience Being Terminated from a Job
I was terminated from a job during my probationary period. In fact, I was just a week shy of passing my probation. When I am asked to explain a past job termination on an application, I always state that, "I was terminated from Pacific Bell (now AT&T) during my probationary period for failing to meet their selling standards."
This is a true statement. I worked at a call center as a customer service representative. People would call in with issues about their phone service and we were expected to sell them products. We didn't have quotas, but we had goals. I had the second highest number of calls in our call center, which a new employee shouldn't have. I should have had just one call per hour, trying to sell all the products I could, multiple times. But I was not a good salesman, so if someone immediately said no, I would finish the call quickly.
So, I was let go. My resume doesn't state why I was fired, but if it's asked on an application, I am straight forward about it. This hasn't prevented me from landing other jobs. I have even earned promotions despite my employer knowing I was terminated from a job.
A Resume Example
Explaining a Past Job Termination on Your Resume
This is an easy one, but I will still outline what should be on your resume when you explain the job you were terminated from. On your resume, you should include:
- The company name.
- Your title.
- The time period you worked there.
- Your job duties.
See how it wasn't mentioned that you were terminated? You should not include that you were terminated from that job on your resume. Your resume showcases the best things about your work history. Stating that you were fired from a job will result in the prospective employer to throw your resume away without giving you a chance.
An Online Job Application
Explaining a Past Job Termination on Your Job Application
There are three ways you can explain why you were fired from a job when filling out your job application:
- Hide the fact that you were fired. Basically, this is lying. If you are caught, you have guaranteed that you won't get the position. With the internet, background services, etc. your prospective employer will find out that you were fired from a job. Even if you get the job, you risk getting fired in the future and jeopardize obtaining other jobs because of this. I do not recommend this.
- Explain in detail why you were fired. While this one can be better than not stating it at all, I wouldn't recommend this one either. Giving away too many details can look bad because when the prospective employer reads the application, they have no way to ask you follow up questions at that time and it may seem like you are trying to find excuses why you were terminated.
- Briefly explain why you were let go. This is the way I go. Explain why you were terminated with brief details. Don't divulge too much information but don't ignore important facts either. Be concise when revealing about your past job termination. This will give your possible future employer a good enough explanation, without having the need to focus on it.
What if you are not asked about a past job termination on a job application?
If your application doesn't ask why you were fired from a job, then don't reveal that information! It's up to the employer to ask that information, so don't feel like you have to be forthcoming with that it. But be prepared to be asked that question during the interview.
How to Avoid Using the Word "Terminated" in a Job Interview
Explaining a Past Job Termination on a Job Interview
If you are fortunate enough to land an interview, here are some tips to remember when explaining why you were terminated from a job:
- Be honest about why you were fired. If your interviewer is asking about it, they will want to know the details. Don't hide anything at this point.
- Don't insert any opinions or feelings as to why you were fired. Don't state, "I feel I was fired because..." or "They didn't like me." Just stick to the facts.
- Don't insult your previous employer. This will only give those interviewing you a bad opinion about you. Don't state, "They were a bad company" or "I was just too good for them". Keep your opinion about your previous employer out of it. If you talk bad about a previous organization, they will wonder if you will talk bad about them if they were to hire you.
- If possible, explain what corrective actions you took and what you learned from being fired. If you went back to school that helped you gain more knowledge, bring that up. If you held another job that was in the same field as the one you were terminated from, then state that. Employers want to hear you learned from the experience. That can be impressive enough to get you the job.
Has being fired from a job ever prevented you from getting another job?
What NOT To Do
I once interviewed a person who was explaining why she was fired from a job. She stated she was late often, so they had to let her go. She stated it was still a problem for her that she was trying to resolve.
This was during a panel interview, and the entire panel voted against her because of this one reason.
What was her mistake? She stated she was still trying to resolve the issue. Instead, she should have stated she had taken steps to fix the problem. Trying to resolve a problem doesn't go far, it sounds like nothing has happened at all. That instantly disqualified her.
Don't make this same mistake!
If you have any tips on explaining a job termination on an application, please share them in the comments below.
Questions & Answers
I was terminated due to addiction. I was repeatedly let go and hired back, as he loved my work and was wanting to work with me. However, things got to the point where he couldn't take the risk anymore. Since losing the job, I have successfully completed rehab, and currently, have nine months of clean living. How much should I disclose if asked? Are personal issues specific enough or is it too vague? Also, can I get away with saying it was a mutual decision?
Your addiction is a medical condition, which you don't necessarily have to disclose. Now if you had arrests, convictions, etc., they may put two and two together. However, you can state you had a medical condition which caused you to lose your job, but, you have rectified that condition, and it will no longer be an issue.Helpful 2
I have two jobs at the same time. I was let go from one of the jobs. Do I have to tell my other employer about it?
Good question. Unless it affects what you do at your current job (like if you lost a license or certification for something, for example), I'd say no.
Now they may do a background check on you randomly to see if anything new has come up, so you may have to prepare for that. Plus, word gets around. You may have to explain yourself, if asked. If you are up for a promotion, you may also have to divulge that information.
However, if it won't affect your current job, then I don't see why you'd have to tell your other employer.Helpful 1
I was told I fell asleep in a 6 1/2 hour meeting. My eyelids where heavy but I couldn’t leave the meeting. How do I handle this?
Ouch, that's a long meeting.
First off, you can fall asleep without realizing it, even for a brief moment. On your application you can state you were terminated due to improper protocols during a meeting. Then you can explain yourself in an interview. You can state the meeting was six and a half hours and you became tired. You regret it and know how to properly prepare yourself for any future long meetings, ensure to get enough sleep, etc.
Taking an active role in meetings like that is good as well!
If my termination was due to a time clock issue and being late, how should I word this on an application and during an interview?
Application - "I was terminated due to being tardy for work."
Interview - State that you were late due to a technical malfunction with the time clock. Now, this is key. State you should have arrived early enough to even compensate for the time clock issue.
Did it happen more than once? It's rare to be terminated for one tardy, so had there been other issues? Have they been resolved? You need to state that during a job interview.
Which do you think would be seen in the most ‘positive’ light when asked on an application the reason for leaving my last role - ‘termination’ or ‘group dismissal’? I was one of 3 people fired for theft as they could not identify the perpetrator.
Either way, you'll have to explain yourself in the interview. Group dismissal is technically correct, but it's vague. If I saw that, I would question what it was. Were you laid off? Why was it a group dismissal? It leaves too many open-ended questions.
You can state termination for violating policy, which is technically correct since theft is against all employer's policy. Then in the interview, you can indicate that you and two others were terminated due to possible theft. You can say you did not steal anything, but you can't prove it either way. It's up to the interviewer to determine what is right and what isn't.Helpful 10
© 2012 David Livermore