How to Explain a Past Job Termination on a Resume, Application, and Interview
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? What do you say in an interview when they ask why you left your last job?
This article will cover exactly what you should do on your resume, application, and interview. There are different things to do at different steps, so it's best to be prepared for all circumstances.
Here are some things you'll find in this article:
- How to explain a past job termination on your resume
- How to explain a past job termination on your job application
- How to prepare for your next interview if you've been fired from a previous job
- How to explain a past job termination during a job interview
- What not to do in a job interview
- My experience dealing this is exact issue
How to Explain 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:
- company name
- your title
- your job duties
- when you worked there
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 likely result in the prospective employer throwing your resume away without giving you a chance.
An Example of a Resume
Have you ever been fired from a job?
How to Explain 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 (if they ask for a reason):
- Option 1: 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 most likely 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 option.
- Option 2: 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. When the prospective employer reads the application, they have no way to ask you follow up questions at that time. It may seem like you are trying to find excuses why you were terminated.
- Option 3: 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.
Note: If you're concerned about how you should word your response to "reason for leaving," you can go with trusty phrase: "involuntary termination."
Tip #1: Be Honest, but Brief
Be honest about what happened at previous jobs, but be brief about it. No need to overshare details that could jeopardize your chances of getting the job.
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.
An Example of an Online Job Application
How to Prepare for Your Next Interview if You've Been Fired From a Previous Job
If you've been fired for any reason from a previous job, it's probably best to prepare for questions about it from prospective employers. Here's what you need to do before you head to your next interview:
Check your state's labor laws.
A common question that job hunters often want to know is: "What can employers say about former employees?" Though there no are no federal laws dictating what employers can or cannot say about former employees, there are indeed various laws at the state level that do. Since they vary depending on where you live, however, it's worth checking out some of the specific labor laws in your state to be sure of what employers can and cannot disclose about their former employees.
Depending on which state you live in, an employer can disclose information not just about job title, salary, and when you worked there, but also potentially about your responsibilities, performance, professional conduct, and the reasons why you were fired.
Know your former company's policies about disclosing information.
Though most companies are fairly cautious about what information they share about former employees due to fears of potential lawsuits, it's still important to know the general policies of your former employer.
If possible, try to contact your former boss and HR department to see if they'll let you know how the company will represent your termination. You can even try to negotiate with them to lessen the amount of details they share. (Even if you left under difficult circumstances, you could still ask a former coworker that you were on good terms with to call the company in an effort to check your references.) This is important for aligning both their version of the separation and yours, so as to avoid any potential conflict between both parties and ensure that you don't accidentally lie during a later interview with a new company.
As an added bonus, if you're lucky enough to find out that they do not intend to disclose that you were fired or the reasons why, then you can prevent yourself from accidentally oversharing any potentially harmful information in any future interviews.
Make sure you've processed your termination.
This is a much difficult preparation to pin down, but it is very important nonetheless. Not all that unlike moving on from a previous romantic relationship, it's crucial that you go through the whole course of processing your thoughts and emotions from your previous termination before talking to any prospective employers face-to-face. You don't want to drag a bunch of baggage into an interview. It can be a real turn off for interviewers and possibly even prevent you from getting the position.
Of course, if you're low on funds and need an income again immediately, your available window for this processing might be fairly small. But you should nevertheless try to sort through how you feel about the whole matter beforehand, lest you sabotage any future prospects with unaddressed bitterness.
Practice your responses beforehand.
You want to come off as composed and fair in your interview. So it's best to plan and practice what you might say beforehand. If you leave too much room for improvisation—especially on matters of where you used to work—you really leave yourself open to becoming overly emotional and dismissive of previous employers.
Tip #2: Practice Beforehand What You Plan to Say
Before you head to your next interview, practice what you plan to say when talking about your work history. That way, you don't accidentally come off as overly emotional or bitter about your previous employers.
How to Explain a Past Job Termination During 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, but brief, 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. You want to come off as truthful and trustworthy—admitting what happened, but while still providing unbiased context to the situation. There's a very real chance that they might find out the truth anyway, and if you get caught in a lie, you're pretty much guaranteed not to get the job.
At the same time, however, you don't necessarily need to go all out describing every last unsavory detail of your previous employment history. If you keep it truthful but brief, you'll not only avoid the pitfalls of trying to get away with a lie but can also appear emotionally healthy by being honest about—but not obsessed with—your past. Additionally, being transparent about your work history will help end that line of questioning earlier, whereas being cagey and suspicious will only prolong it further.
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. Inserting too many opinions may come off as you trying to spin or distort the facts, which doesn't reflect well on you.
Don't insult or blame 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.
You want to convey self-awareness, personal growth, and self-reflexivity. 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.
Pivot back to why you're a great fit for the position.
After you're done explaining elements of your work history, you can pivot the interview back to the present and why you'd be great for the job you're applying for. No need to be pushy about it, as that might come off as a bit suspicious. But conveying that you're less interested in your past endeavors and more so excited about the potential opportunities that may be presented to you at this position can really help you seem like an eager, enthusiastic candidate.
An Example of What Not to Do in an Interview
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!
Tip #3: Don't Blame Your Previous Employer
Though it might be tempting to badmouth and distance yourself from a previous employer, that approach is almost certain to backfire. It will likely only make the interviewer wonder if you would do the same about their company. Keep your explanations brief and unbiased, avoiding placing explicit blame on any single party.
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 straightforward 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.
Has being fired from a job ever prevented you from getting another job?
- Moore, Emily. (2018, February 27). Got Fired? Here's How to Talk About It in Job Interviews. Glassdoor. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
- Scivicque, Chrissy. (2013, August 15). How to Explain Being Fired on a Job Interview. U.S. News. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
- Employment and Work History Verification. A Matter of Fact. Retrieved December 18, 2018.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
I was terminated because I missed too many days because of health issues. How do I handle this on an application?
You should state, "I missed work due to a medical issue, which has been resolved." That's assuming it's no longer an issue.
Depending on your location you don't have to state what the condition was unless you wish to (I don't recommend it). But if it's been corrected, you can state it has, and it won't be an issue in the future.
RN at the same position and facility for twenty-five-years. Terminated for inadvertently taking medicine home with me, (non-narcotic or controlled). I understand stating “violation of policy” as a reason, anything else I should do?
Nope, I think that's good enough. But you'll need to justify it in an interview and state how you will ensure it won't happen again.
I was recently fired because my boss asked me to break a company rule. We were both let go for it. How do I explain this on an application or to an interviewer?
You were given a directive from your boss and were terminated following it. You can state in the future if you feel it would break company policy, you may ask for clarification. However, some places expect you to follow the directive and then ask for clarification after. I would state that you would ask ahead of time what to do in situations like that so you know ahead of time.Helpful 1
I was terminated for HIPAA violations that the employer never proved I did. How do I explain my termination in a job application?
State that's why you were terminated, then explain it in an interview without blaming your last employer. State you take HIPAA very seriously and will take all steps never to commit a HIPAA violation.
I didn't add a job to my resume because it is irrelevant to the position I'm applying for, plus it was from eleven years ago. I was fired from that job for being short on a register. Should I tell them about it?
That depends. Does it look like you have a gap of employment in your work history? Then yes, you should. Otherwise, it will look like you are covering it up.
However, if it doesn't appear as if there is a gap in your work history and they don't ask about it, you don't have to give up those details. You risk them finding out later, but, it's on them to inquire about your work history.Helpful 5
© 2012 David Livermore