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How to Explain a Past Job Termination on an Application and Interview

Updated on February 06, 2016
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David has over 10 years supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge in how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Explaining a job termination can be the most difficult thing when filling out a job application.
Explaining a job termination can be the most difficult thing when filling out a job application. | Source

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 an 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 ahead of time.

There's nothing wrong with being fired.

— Ted Turner

Have you ever been fired from a job?

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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

There is no need to explain why you were terminated on your resume.  People have gaps in their work history for a variety of reasons.
There is no need to explain why you were terminated on your resume. People have gaps in their work history for a variety of reasons. | Source
Just because you were fired from a job doesn't mean you should put it on your resume.
Just because you were fired from a job doesn't mean you should put it on your resume. | Source

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

An online application that asks the prospective employee if they have ever been terminated from a job.
An online application that asks the prospective employee if they have ever been terminated from a job. | Source

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.

Explaining a Past Job Termination on your Application

There are three ways you can explain why you were fired from a job when filling out your job application:

  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 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.
  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 because when the prospective employer reads the application, they have no way to ask you follow up questions at that time.
  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.

How to Avoid Using the Word "Terminated" in a Job Interview

Even if you don't agree with it, you should accept full responsibility for your job termination when asked about it during an interview.
Even if you don't agree with it, you should accept full responsibility for your job termination when asked about it during an interview. | Source

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.

If you have any tips on explaining a job termination on an application, please share them in the comments below.

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    • davidlivermore profile image
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      David Livermore 10 days ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      @Sesdakota

      I'm sorry to hear that. I can tell it still bugs you a lot, and I don't blame you. Just make sure if you communicate that story in any interviews you make it brief and don't place blame on anyone!

    • Sesdakota 11 days ago

      I was terminated by an employer over a decade ago. A cashier had issues with me and would come into my work area to say rude things to me in a deliberate effort to provoke me. Coworkers of mine noticed that she was doing this. I ignored the cashier for about a month, until she said something really rude to me on a night when I was really stressed out. I made a negative remark about her as I was walking away; and, the cashier made a complaint to the management. Normally, the cashier wasn't very articulate; but, her rude remarks seemed unusually well rehearsed (and often out of context); so, I always suspected that the cashier was being used as bait by an assistant manager to get rid of me. A lot of my coworkers had quit without notice because of that assistant manager; and, I once had to calm a coworker down when she was sobbing uncontrollably for half an hour after an encounter with the assistant manager in question. I had been working at the place for nearly eight years; so, nobody had any issues with my workmanship.

      On one hand, that job is more than a decade behind me. On the other hand, I spent nearly eight years at that place; and, I hate not mentioning that length of job experience in my work history. My biggest regret is that the job ended in termination when I had seen early signs of something going wrong at that workplace and could have resigned.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 7 weeks ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      @Michelle Unfortunately there is no good way to put it. That is a touchy subject, and while FMLA is there to protect you, excessive abuse is not. Was it the only incident you had? Did something lead up to it? Did you exhaust all of your time?

      You can put down, "Terminated due to FMLA issues". Then describe what happened in your interview and what you learned from it.

    • Michelle 7 weeks ago

      I was terminated for FMLA abuse and I'm not sure how to put this on my job applications. I had a migraine & was unable to perform job duties but I then went to my daughters game.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 2 months ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      @Loc123

      That's a tough one. Own up to it. State you had a disagreement with your boss, and due to other internal politics, you were separated from your employment. Let me make this clear - do not blame your boss, at all. If you do, you will kiss any job goodbye. Instead, state you learned from the experience and know how to handle it in the future tactfully and respectfully.

    • Loc123 2 months ago

      I was terminated because my boss and I had an argument, which essentially was about:

      1. Him not paying me for work rendered, and

      2. Him only supporting the men on the job and not me--the only woman on his full-time staff (i.e., only writing letters of recommendation for them, only advancing them, even though I was doing much more work)

      How do I speak of this? When I asked for a statement of separation, the reason my employer listed for my being terminated was checking the box "Lack of Work", but this is not true and I don't feel comfortable lying. Any help you can offer is greatly appreciated.

    • seekinghelp 4 months ago

      I was terminated from my job of over 10 years due to be accused of calling the manager something terrible. Basically fired for "hearsay" The manager would not listen to me or tell me who accused me of saying it. My termination letter states unprofessional communication and verbal abuse of staff. How do i explain that on applications that asks why I was terminated?

    • stresstomax 7 months ago

      i was recently laid off but a pending investigation is still undergoing how do i put that in a job app??

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 20 months ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Exactly as you stated in your question to me. State you attempted to explain the situation when you were questioned about it, but now you realize you didn't explain it very well at that time.

      Then you'll want to explain what you have learned from the incident and what you have done differently to overcome whatever problem there may have been.

    • Abbya86 20 months ago

      I was recently terminated from a school due to a couple bad marks on an evaluation by childcare licensing. I didn't explain my side of the story very well when licensing questioned me about the 'incident'.

      Any ideas on how I could explain this on an application? Specifically an application for a teaching position?

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 2 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      That depends. You can provide the job history without revealing you were terminated, since they didn't ask for it. You don't want to hide it, but if they didn't ask for you, you don't have to divulge that information. However, if they find out later, you may have to explain yourself.

    • Workingrl13 2 years ago

      Great article. What if you were fired from a job four years ago, but the application states that they would like history for the last ten years? The position isn't relevant to the position that I have an interview to. But also, I was there for a long time before getting the boot.

    • brownin329 2 years ago

      Thanks David. I appreciate your help.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 2 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      That's a hard question to answer. When I applied for a job recently, I put that I was terminated, and it was brought up during the interview. In this case, I admitted I was terminated for not performing my job duties, and that the job wasn't the right fit for me, which they seemed to accept. I would try to justify why you were terminated, but I wouldn't say that your last employer was lying, even if they were. That may not give your future employers a good impression on you, even if you are right.

    • brownin329 2 years ago

      David,

      If the reasons for the termination are in dispute, do you also state this on the job application? My last employer fired me for reasons that were not true and now an internal investigation is pending. Thanks for your help.

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      Glad you found it useful. I hope you ever don't find yourself fired either - it's not a pleasant feeling! Thanks for your comment.

    • iguidenetwork profile image

      iguidenetwork 4 years ago from Austin, TX

      I haven't been terminated yet, but I thought I might need this just in case (but I pray I won't be sacked, but I have to be realistic). Thanks for sharing. Voted up and useful. :)

    • davidlivermore profile image
      Author

      David Livermore 4 years ago from Bakersfield, California, United States

      I've had enough dealings with my own termination to know exactly what to do at this point. Thank you for your comment!

    • Dreamhowl profile image

      Jessica Marello 4 years ago from United States of America

      This is good advice. I like how you included screenshots of examples from job applications. And I agree 100% - if the job doesn't ask, then they don't need to know. Voted up!

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