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How to Explain a Past Job Termination in a Resume, Application, or Interview

David has over 15 years supervisory experience and has extensive knowledge in how to handle personnel issues across many areas.

Even if you've been fired from a previous job, this article will tell you everything you need to know about how to handle the situation in your resume, on job applications, and in your next interviews.

Even if you've been fired from a previous job, this article will tell you everything you need to know about how to handle the situation in your resume, on job applications, and in your next interviews.

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
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.

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

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.

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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 for why you were terminated.
  3. 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 information 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 the trusty phrase: "involuntary termination."

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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. But be prepared to be asked that question during the interview.

An Example of 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.

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.

Interviews can often feel like a lot of pressure is placed on you—especially if you've been fired from a previous job—but if you practice beforehand and be honest about your work history, you might surprise yourself with how well you do.

Interviews can often feel like a lot of pressure is placed on you—especially if you've been fired from a previous job—but if you practice beforehand and be honest about your work history, you might surprise yourself with how well you do.

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. There's 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!

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, "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 that I was terminated from a job.

Works Cited

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

Question: I was terminated due to lies by my manager, she and I were the only females and it seemed like she had it in for me since she came, on my termination statement she stated that I did not follow protocol but I know I did and she gave other blunt lies but everyone believed her, how do I explain that in an interview?

Answer: First off you won't state any of that. State you had disagreements with your previous supervisor, and while you didn't want to be fired, you felt like it was a good outcome because it allowed you to move on.

Question: If an older person with a long job history and the job applying, for now, has the question of were you terminated/discharged as an open question (as in ever been), how to answer and not give away your age since my first job was over thirty years ago now and some discharges were over a decade ago and many people are saying not to go beyond a decade on resumes and applications if possible. How do I proceed?

Answer: That's your choice. You can simply state why you lost the jobs. If they ask how long ago, you can say the most recent one was a decade ago.

Question: I was fired from my teaching job because I was using a curriculum other than the textbooks. I didn't know I was required to teach primarily from the textbooks. The principal said "I don't buy that" because there was a curriculum committee, therefore I must have known that I was required to the texts. I immediately stopped using the other curriculum, but I was still fired. What do I put down on the application, and what do I say if I get an interview?

Answer: "Failure to follow the proper teaching curriculum" or something along those lines on the application. Then in the interview, explained what happened just as you said. You were teaching your own curriculum, then was advised to use material from the textbooks, which you started to do. However, you were still terminated. Then shift the focus to state you will abide by whatever curriculum you are given, and will ensure to verify if you plan to deviate from that material.

Question: I was terminated for misuse of a gas card at a police department. I wasn’t the only using the gas card, however higher administration was being investigated with gas and take home vehicles so I was the only one made of an example of. How do I tell a new police department of this termination? I currently work for a sheriffs department with full access to gas again and have never made the same mistake.

Answer: Then state that. State you never did it again and acknowledge it was wrong for you to do so.

Question: I was terminated because I returned a few minutes late from lunch due to falling asleep but also being interrupted with a phone call from my child’s daycare regarding a family matter. I have been at my current job for almost 3 years, but I have a job interview next week and just want to be honest and fully prepared to answer this question professionally. How do I explain this situation in an interview?

Answer: Being a few minutes late from lunch is a bit of an extreme reason to be fired. However, in an interview you can state you were late coming back from lunch. If you feel it's appropriate, elaborate and state you received a call from your child's daycare about a family matter. Usually that's the best way to go. I wouldn't mention the sleeping part, unless, of course, your previous job knew about that and will tell this prospective employer. Otherwise, state you won't do it again.

Question: How do I say that I was terminated because of not meeting the monthly requirement in my last job when I'm interviewing for a new job?

Answer: I assume you mean like a quota or some other requirement. State that you failed to adhere to a quota (or whatever it's called) of the organization.

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: 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?

Answer: 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.

Question: 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.

Answer: 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.

Question: I was apparently fired for non-compliance to procedures. How would I explain this on an application and an interview for a new job?

Answer: Honestly without more details it's hard to say. State you were terminated due to failure to comply with procedure, and in any future job you would ensure it won't happen again.

Question: I was terminated for unprofessional behavior and dishonesty. How could I explain the reasons I was fired to an employer if they were untrue?

Answer: It's your word against theirs, which you will probably lose. There isn't much you can do except try to explain the termination without putting your employer in a negative light.

Question: 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?