Got a Job Interview and Need to Explain Why You Were Fired? Here's How

Talking about being fired can make people apprehensive.
Talking about being fired can make people apprehensive. / skynesher/iStock via Getty Images

Being fired from a job is rarely a pleasant experience. The only thing more uncomfortable than being handed a pink slip is having to explain to a potential employer why your previous employer decided to part ways with you. While it’s a job interview question that applicants dread—with being asked about your "weaknesses" a close second—there are strategies to help you cope.

According to employment advice columnist Alison Green, who wrote about the topic for The Cut, the best way to approach an explanation of why you were fired is to be honest, not evasive, and take responsibility if the lay-off was due to your performance. You might, for example, say that you weren’t prepared to demonstrate the skills the job required because you were so eager to tackle the challenge. Or you might admit that the workload became too much.

In either case, you can admit you didn’t meet performance standards without coming across as lazy or incompetent. (If you are lazy or incompetent, be sure not to mention this during the interview.) You’re effectively stating that you bit off more than you could chew, but hidden in that message is an expression of ambition. Things didn’t work out, but you were looking to assert yourself. Now, you’ve learned to pace yourself.

It’s also important to know what not to say. If there were personality conflicts that led to your dismissal, it doesn’t do you much good to voice them. A prospective employer has no way of knowing whether the problem was on the previous company’s end or yours. And you want to take care not to be defensive in your answers. Saying something like, “They didn’t give me the right tools,” or that the company “was poorly managed” shifts blame, and employers may not consider that a positive character trait.

Being fired is hardly uncommon. Employers know it, and with a little humility, you don’t have to feel disadvantaged because of it.

[h/t Quartz]