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
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 9
I was fired for not following the rules, as I did not clean up after myself. How do I explain why I left the company to a new employer during an interview?
You simply state you failed to follow procedure. Then, in a job interview, state that you did not clean up appropriately. You understand and accept why you were let go, and will ensure it won't happen again in the future.Helpful 7
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.
I was fired due to "perceived" poor performance, however, never in employment history has this been the case. How do I explain this since I will be applying for the same type of position I was released from?
Instead of focusing or blaming others, even if that's the case, focus on what you have done to improve. State you learned why you were terminated and made efforts to rectify the situation so it won't happen again.
If you throw blame to what others saw in you, even if it's correct, you won't be hired because any employer will think you don't own up to your actions.
I was fired because of a drug test. What can I say when a new job asks why I left my old job?
Here is the issue - if you were fired for that, you were taking a substance which made your test dirty.
There isn't much you can say except for the truth. You can state you were terminated due to a drug test, but you have resolved the issue and have no problems being tested again or randomly.
However, if you are still taking drugs, that's on you. There is nothing you can do about that.
© 2012 David Livermore