How to Explain Why You Were Fired

Have you been fired or terminated from your job? Not sure how to explain it in an interview? I am going to give you some facts, strategies, and tips on approaching the subject of being fired and give you 9 true-story example explanations from some of my past clients to help you figure out how to explain your story.

One of the hardest things about being fired is trying to figure out how you’re going to explain it when applying for a future job am I right? Well, I want to start off by giving you a few facts and insights that might help you put things in perspective. The first fact is that the average worker currently holds 10 different jobs before age 40 and the average person will hold between 12 and 15 jobs in their lifetime

Time for change

People change jobs for a variety of reasons including:

  • Higher wage
  • Career advancement
  • Career Change
  • Company or personal relocation
  • Less stressful job
  • Toxic or negative work environment
  • Management/ownership change
  • Didn’t get the promotion they wanted
  • More challenge/variety
  • Not feeling valued or recognized for their contributions
  • Office politics / difficult co-worker/boss
  • Layoff – job redundancy / company downsizing / restructuring
  • Changing personal priorities / wanting better work-life balance
  • Fired for cause / wrongful dismissal
  • Company is declining / job stability concerns

As a recruiter and former hiring manager, when I am hiring for a position, my focus is on finding the candidate with the best overall fit for the position, the company culture, and the team, and my decision to hire is based on skills, abilities, education, attributes, personality, competencies and a certain degree of personal intuition because that’s one of my natural talents.  

Although I may ask why you left your last role or why you are currently looking for work, I am not focused on that as my sole consideration for hiring you.  If you tell me you were ‘let go’ from your last job of course I will be naturally curious and looking for potential red flags. 

Business man recently fired sitting on a deskHowever, people get fired, it happens! I know that and I know there are two sides to every story. Of course, recruiters will want to know what the reason was, and if it was something you caused, they want reassurance that you learned from it and won’t let it happen again. I am telling you this because I want you to understand that if you were fired from a job, you are not alone there are many reasons people leave a job and they aren’t all easy reasons to explain. When an employer is hiring, there are many aspects they take into consideration when looking for the ideal candidate so being fired from your last or a past job is not going to automatically disqualify you – got it?.


Now, here are some tips and strategies to implement when trying to explain why you were fired:

Tip #1:  If You Aren’t Asked Don’t Tell – If you aren’t asked why you left your last role or a past job, then don’t offer an explanation. This means don’t put it in your resume or cover letter. Some employers won’t ask because if they like what they see on paper and they like your first impression when they meet you, then they’ll be more interested in what you can do for them, than why you left your last job.  

TIP #2:  Tell the Truth – If you are asked why you were fired or why you left your last job then don’t lie!  You know what happens to Pinocchio! You will only get yourself in more trouble and jeopardize a job offer if you get caught in a lie. However, not lying is not the same as spilling all the beans, you don’t need to explain why you were fired in full detail.  


Strategy #1:

Keep it brief, factual, appropriate and keep your emotions out of it – Don’t place blame, don’t bad mouth your employer, take responsibility if you did something wrong, explain what you learned and what you would do differently to avoid it happening again.   

Strategy #2:

Develop a concise answer and practice it – Trust me I have seen it happen – where people are asked why they left their last job, they are already nervous in the interview and when that dreaded question comes up they panic and verbally vomit the entire story in full detail, including all the things I advise not to say…. out spills their anger, resentment, blame, defensiveness and often things that even the employer would keep confidential and you know what…. it’s a huge turnoff and can cost you the job!   

This is one of those situational answers you want to have well-rehearsed and feel comfortable answering quickly and concisely and if at all possible try to put a positive spin or segue to something positive….I will show you what I mean in a couple of upcoming examples.

Strategy #3:

Non-disclosure agreement  If you were fired for a sensitive issue such as inappropriate behaviour, bullying, harassment, or really any issue, you may have been asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement as part of your termination/release. It is a good thing if you have because that now becomes your reason for not being able to explain the details of why you were fired.  However, this also may leave a little too much to the imagination of your potential new employer….so what I recommend is to come up with a simple explanation and then move on.  

Here’s an example:

“I was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement when I left the company so I can’t get into the details but what I can say is it involved me having to file a harassment claim against another employee. It was uncomfortable for me to continue working with this person and the company and we came to a mutual decision that I would find employment elsewhere.” 

If you are fired for a reason you are embarrassed about or really any reason for that matter, as I mentioned earlier, you want to segue your answer to a positive statement or another topic such as a question like I’m going to show you in some upcoming examples. Depending on the circumstances of why and how you were terminated… sometimes it is simple enough to say “the position wasn’t a good fit”, “the company was bought out, the new management restructured and my position was made redundant”. 


Now let me give you 9 different examples of true story termination situations from some of my past clients that you may be able to relate to and find helpful in crafting your own story:

Story #1:

“My manager of 4 years who I had a great relationship with left the company, and unfortunately I just couldn’t build the same working relationship with the new manager – we continually clashed – it was one of those unfortunate situations that was bound to end in a parting of ways and he took action before I did.” 

Story #2:

“The company was sold and the new owners had a different business philosophy that I didn’t agree with ethically in how they billed customers, I voiced my concerns several times and was eventually asked to leave the company…but I learned a lot from the experience and recognize how important it is for me to work for an employer who truly values their customers. That is what attracted me to your company…the company mission and values as stated on your website align with my values and business philosophy.”

Did you notice how the last sentenced segues to a positive here?

Story #3:

“The company grew and a supervisory role was created. I applied for the role, but it was given to another co-worker. Unfortunately, the team dynamic changed, and my new supervisor had a micromanaging style which I wasn’t adapting well to after 3 years of doing my job well without supervision.  I was frustrated and wasn’t getting along well with my supervisor and she made the decision to let me go, but I think it was a blessing in disguise because am ready to take on the challenge and responsibilities of a supervisory role and it has given me the push I needed to explore other opportunities that better suit my qualifications and interests. That is why I am intrigued by your supervisory position in ___ .”

Story #4:

“As you may know, sales can be a very challenging field. I was in the top 5% in both of my first two roles as well as received an award for salesperson of the year 3 years ago.  My most recent job was in the ABC industry. I didn’t know much about that industry but was excited by the challenge of learning something new. I was given an assigned territory but soon learned it was very cut-throat with competitor companies and meeting sales targets was difficult to achieve. I gave it my all for 12 months and although I met my targets 7 out of 12 months and brought in several new key clients within that time, the company had higher expectations on achieving consistent monthly targets and they chose to let me go.  I think with a review and restructuring of the territory regions which I suggested but the company wouldn’t agree to, things could have been different. Nonetheless, it was a great company, I learned a lot and enjoyed the work because ‘sales is my passion’ and I am excited to bring my energy to your company and prove how I can be in your top 5%!”

Story #5:

“It was my first time in a role as a human resources Manager. While I liked the company and the staff, I was struggling with some aspects of the job because I had never done that type of work before.  The company did send me for training, but I guess I just wasn’t cut out for HR.  It was a great learning experience and proved to me that I am better to stay with what I am good at and go back into a role more similar to what I did before that, which is why I applied for your posting for an Administrative Assistant.  I really enjoy that type of work and my education, skills and natural strengths are better suited for it, so I am excited to learn more about your position in that field.”

Story #6:

Man holding papers and looking at watch running late for a meeting“I am embarrassed to say I was fired for being late too many times. I was using public transit to get to work and unfortunately, there were occasions where the bus was not running on schedule and it caused me to arrive 5 to 10 minutes late. It was my responsibility to open the office and turn on the phones for 9 am sharp so when I was late, the business didn’t open on time which was bad for customers.  The buses only run once per hour and although my employer knew I used transit when I was hired, we didn’t realize what a challenge it would be to accommodate the business hours. The only way I could avoid being occasionally late was to take a bus 1 hour earlier but then I would arrive to work an hour early and they didn’t want me opening the business that early so it was an unfortunate situation. Other than that, my job performance was great, and my former employer gave me an excellent reference letter.  The position you are hiring for is exactly what I did for my former employer and I love the work. The great thing is I only live 3 blocks away so I can ride my bike or walk, and I can assure you I will never be late!”

Story #7:

“I was fired for breaking a company policy.  Normally we always had 2 or 3 people working in the branch but if we happened to be working alone, for security reasons company policy stated we were not allowed to leave the branch during business hours.  I was a smoker at that time, and it is illegal to smoke in a public building.  By law, my employer was required to provide me with a break after 5 hours which wasn’t happening.  Our branch was short-staffed and on two occasions I had to work 13 hours straight without a break.  I couldn’t go that long without a cigarette so I was put in the difficult position of having to choose between breaking the law by smoking in the building (which carries a fine of up to 3 months in jail if prosecuted) or leaving the building and breaking company policy.  I was desperate and used my best judgment to quickly step outside the front door for a cigarette when there were no customers present.  I did technically break company policy by leaving the building and I was fired as a result.  Although my District Manager did not want to fire me because I was a great employee she had no choice due to the corporate zero-tolerance policy. This was a unique and difficult situation; I understood the reason and learned a lot from it and one positive was it gave me the motivation I needed to quit smoking!”

Story #8:

“I am used to working in roles where I have a clearly defined job description. I was hired for a newly created position and there wasn’t a formal job description developed so there was a lot of confusion over what was really expected of the person in the role and what the duties and responsibilities should be.  I had some good ideas but being new I was nervous about approaching management and questioning their decisions.  In hindsight, I should have taken more initiative to ask more questions and offered my suggestions to help my supervisor determine what the company truly needed from the role to develop and establish the position. After 6 months it was decided that the position wasn’t benefiting the company and I was terminated. That experience taught me a valuable lesson about not being afraid to ask questions, offer ideas and suggestions.  Because I have a tendency to be shy around management, I since joined toastmasters to build my confidence in public speaking and hired a career development coach who taught me how to develop a 30-60-90 day plan to ensure success in a position that I am excited to demonstrate.”

Story #9:

“Unfortunately, I had some personal problems come up that were upsetting my work life. I have since resolved these problems and they no longer exist, so it won’t become an issue again. I am ready to jump into my new job and exceed expectations.”


I hope these explanations and story examples help reduce your fear and anxiety when it comes to explaining to future employers why you were terminated and helps you develop a strategy and framework for crafting your story. Remember – keep it concise, factual, leave out your emotions and practice it until you can say it comfortably!


What you’ve learned here is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interview strategies and tips. To learn more, check out my YouTube channel (VirtualJobSearchCoach), where I post new content to help job seekers like you, determine, pursue, and land their dream job!

If you would like one-to-one coaching to equip you with the confidence, necessary tools, critical knowledge, and strategies to find and land your ideal job  – then let’s talk! You can book a complimentary 15 minute discover call directly in my calendar at and let’s chat about how I can help you fast-track your job search success.

Written by Stacey Davidson

Hi, I’m Stacey Davidson, after 18 years mostly in recruitment, HR, and management roles, I left the corporate world, became certified as a Professional in Career Management and started my own business in 2008 as a Career Coach, Job Search Strategist, Resume Writer, Contract Recruiter and I’m an expert in Behavioural-based interviewing. (I know, It’s a lot of hats!) For the past 12 years I’ve been teaching and empowering people just like you to define their dream job, power up their Job Search, and land in a career they love. My goal is to positively impact the lives of 1 million job seekers over the next 20 years. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more great info and resources.

March 7, 2021

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