Interview Question: "Why Were You Fired?"

Businesswomen are meeting and interviewing in the company office
Photo: Kamon Supasawat / Getty Images

Have you been fired from your job? If so, you might be wondering how to explain your situation in a job interview. After all, it’s likely to come up. What's the best way to respond to the inevitable question of why you were fired? How can you explain a firing, so it won't negatively impact you during the interview process?

Being asked about why you were terminated is among the most challenging interview questions to answer. It's uncomfortable to talk about losing your job under any circumstances, and it's even harder when you're trying to explain it to someone you are hoping will hire you.

Review advice on how to answer interview questions about why you were fired, with examples of the best answers.

Key Takeaways

  • Assume that you'll be asked about being fired and have a brief explanation ready.
  • Be honest when you respond. Never lie about why you lost your job. Your former employer may reveal the details during a background check.
  • Keep it positive and turn the conversation to your skills and qualifications as soon as possible.

What the Interviewer Really Wants To Know

What does the hiring manager want to know? Beyond the circumstances of your dismissal, the interviewer is looking to see how you cope with adversity.

First and foremost, they want to know that you weren’t fired for some egregious misbehavior, e.g., stealing. But beyond that, they’ll want to know that the issue is no longer a problem and that you can take responsibility for your actions—and demonstrate personal and professional growth.

How To Answer Interview Questions About Being Fired

The best strategy is to keep your answer short and to the point. This is a time when there is such a thing as too much information.


There is no need to give a lengthy explanation or too many details about what transpired.

It's better to state the reason, then try to move the conversation forward to another topic.

It's also important to be honest. If you're tempted to give a different reason than being fired for leaving your job, know that your previous employer may be able to disclose the reason for your termination during a reference check. Being dishonest during the application process can result in not getting a job offer, having it withdrawn, or being fired should your deception be discovered.

You'll need to tailor your response to fit your own circumstances and how your termination was handled, but these examples of answers will give you a starting point for framing your response.

Examples of the Best Answers

Example Answer #1

Being cut loose was a blessing in disguise. Now I have an opportunity to explore jobs that better suit my qualifications and interests. My research suggests that such an opportunity may be the one on your table. Would you like to hear more about my skills in working with new technology?

Why It Works: This answer deals with the issue quickly and positively and moves on to your skills and qualifications. While you don’t want to seem dismissive of the question, the goal is to pivot as smoothly as possible to why you’re the best candidate for the job.

Example Answer #2

The job wasn't working out, so my boss and I agreed that it was time for me to move on to a position that would show a better return for both of us. So, I'm available and ready to work.

Why It Works: This reply hints at ongoing and constructive communication with the boss. It also shows that you bear your former employer no ill. It’s honest and positive.

Example Answer #3

My job was outsourced to India. It was unfortunate, because people familiar with my work say I did my job well and I always got excellent reviews from my managers.

Why It Works: If you were laid off through no fault of your own, definitely say so as soon as possible! And if you can throw in a plug for the quality of your work, so much the better.

Example Answer #4

I outlasted several downsizings, but the last one included me. Sign of the times, I guess.

Why It Works: Again, employers and hiring managers understand that layoffs come for even the best workers. If you were laid off, say so. But don’t use this answer if it’s not true. Lying during the interview process has a way of coming back to haunt candidates later on.

Example Answer #5

I was desperate for work and took the wrong job without looking around the corner. I won't make that mistake again. I'd prefer an environment that is congenial, structured, and team-oriented, where my best talents can shine and make a substantial contribution.

Why It Works: Nearly everyone has had the experience of taking a job that wasn’t a good fit. This answer shows that you’re able to learn from the bad and focus on the good.

Tips for Giving the Best Response

Practice Your Answer

The more comfortable you are discussing the topic of your termination, the more comfortable the hiring manager will be with your response. Come prepared to explain the situation and practice until you overcome any feelings of embarrassment. Remember that some of the best and brightest workers in history have been let go.

Keep It Brief

You want to be forthright and honest in your response, but there’s no need to belabor the point. This is a time not to share too much information. Say your piece and move on to the good stuff—your qualifications and how you’ll use them to solve the company’s problems.

Emphasize Your Positive Attributes

Try to keep the conversation moving forward in a positive manner. Pivot to your skills and abilities, and tie them to the qualifications listed in the job description. This way, you can show the hiring manager how you're a good fit for the job.

What Not To Say

Avoid the Word “Fired” 

Remember that an interview is at least partly a sales pitch. Market yourself by avoiding terms that have a negative association for many people. Use phrases like “let go” instead of words like “fired.”

Don’t Dwell on the Negative

Now’s not the time to disparage your former boss or employer—even if they deserve it. Keep things positive, and keep your negative opinions to yourself. You don't want the hiring manager to wonder if you'll talk that way about the new company, if you were to be hired.

Don’t Lie

Resist the temptation to present a firing as a layoff, for example. You’re likely to get caught, and if you are, you’ll lose the opportunity altogether. Be honest, but don't overexplain.

Possible Follow-Up Questions

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can employers say you were fired?

Some state laws restrict what employers can say about terminated employees or require their consent before disclosing information about their employment history with the company. In some locations and circumstances, employers can disclose that an employee was fired and share the reason.

What's the best way to handle getting fired?

Employees are fired from jobs more often than you might think. In some cases, it's for cause. In others, it's through no fault of their own. The best way to handle a firing is to take some time to regroup, learn about unemployment and other benefits you may be eligible for, then focus on how you will find your next job.

Was this page helpful?
The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. SHRM. “Can Employers Give a Bad Reference for a Former Employee?

  2. "When Job Applicants Lie: Implementing Policies to Protect Your Company."

  3. NOLO. “State Laws on References and Statements By Former Employers.”

Related Articles